VIFF review: No Ordinary Man, about jazz musician and trans icon Billy Tipton, packs a big punch of emotion

No ordinary man (Canada) 80 mins. Stream online at the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival from September 24 to October 7 on VIFF Connect

We talk a lot about the importance of screen representation, but No ordinary man aims to vividly capture the emotional impact of acknowledging aspects of one’s own story in the life of another.

Directed by Chase Joynt and Aisling Chin-Yee, the documentary portrays Billy Tipton, an American jazz musician active from the 1930s to the 1970s who was presented as a trans man when he died in 1989. Tipton’s Story quickly became a lecherous tabloid. . His widow and adopted children, who were previously unaware their loved one was trans, were asked about intimate family details on daytime television.

He has also become a cult figure among trans and queer people. No ordinary man covers major biographical points in her life – though her music is overlooked – using archival footage, but mostly from trans historians and Tipton admirers including Marquise Vilsón, Susan Stryker, C. Riley Snorton and Thomas Page McBee.

Although Tipton’s life has been documented – sometimes extensively, but often insensitively – his voice has been largely absent. To suggest what it might have been like to be locked up and trans in decades past, writer Amos Mac and the directors are holding auditions with trans actors for re-enactments. A bit like Kitty Green JonBenet Cast or that of Robert Greene Bisbee ’17the filmmakers chronicle the process of re-creation in order to unravel greater emotional truths, but also material realities that linger.

The scenes of the actors discussing what resonated are poignant and revealing. It’s an increasingly familiar, yet effective, documentary conceit that often packs a heavy emotional punch. In one of the most heartbreaking sequences, we see Billy Tipton Jr. describe his father’s death to talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael. Not only did Tipton’s death lead to the realization that Tipton was trans, but that the medical condition that took his life went untreated because he didn’t see a doctor, probably out of fear. of discrimination.

These overlapping genres of achievement create a complex picture while making No ordinary man both in the present and in the past. The film ultimately culminates in a moving and surprising climax in which Tipton’s empathetic trans views are finally able to eclipse the parochial tabloid tale.