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Riot Acts

A film by Madsen Minax
72 minutes, color, USA, 2009

Brief Synopsis:

Riot Acts is a 'trans-fabulous' rockumentary representing the multi-dimensional lives of transgender and gender variant musicians. A first-hand perspective of the intersections between gender performance and stage performance, Riot Acts suggests that identities and bodies are undeniably political, and the journey within a trans experience isn't always one of tragedy, but one of creativity and joy.

View the Trailer:

Extended Synopsis:

Representing the whole lives of transgender and gender variant musicians, each story is one of a journey in progress through a first-hand perspective of the intersections between gender performance and stage performance. The feature documentary Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance will allow a venue for a particular niche of trans existence to be revealed and celebrated.

The individuals and bands featured in Riot Acts are celebrated as talented, inspiring, sexy, critical and fully three-dimensional in a manner that purposefully counters the vision of isolation and destitution frequently portrayed in mainstream media. As transpeople ourselves, the producers seek to capture trans and gender variant identities as complexly as they are embodied and performed, both on and off the stage.

Discussion highlights include songwriting, voice presentation, coping with voice changes, passing/not passing, presenting a body/bodies on stage, audiences, venues, the idea of the spectacle, societal and media representation, performing gender and notions about "drag," and the personal as political, culminating with the notion that the trans experience isn't always one of tragedy.

Whether a personal journey, a political journey, or a literal journey, the aspect of travel, through years or miles, is a binding stylistic element throughout Riot Acts. In-depth interviews are spliced carefully abed travel and performance imagery, while sequences are juxtaposed visually by the mergers of 16mm film, super 8 film, video and still photography. Furthermore, experimental uses of audio and sound as well as the complexity of the original music of the interviewees themselves, forms a truly mixed media documentary. As trans people, our bodies are nontraditional and our ideas about culture and identity are non traditional. Why shouldn't our way of making art be non traditional as well?

Featured interviewees include Anderson Toone, Lipstick Conspiracy, Katastrophe and Trannysaurus Sex (San Francisco), Basic Fix (Portland), Ryder Richardson (Seattle), Tough Tough Skin, and Venus DeMars (Minneapolis), Adhamh Roland (St. Louis), Ryka Aoki De La Cruz (Los Angeles), Jessica Xavier (Washington, DC), The Shondes and Novice Theory (Brooklyn, NY), The Degenerettes (Baltimore), Systyr Act (Boston), The Cliks (Toronto, ON), and Coyote Grace (Sonoma County, CA).


what they're saying


"What director Madsen Minax doesn't do is label theperformers.  Riot Acts spotlights and identifies the names of a wealth of artists...but the movie never tries to shoehorn them into the biology-is-destiny square pegs of mainstream mediaspeak...RIOT ACTS is one of those few documentaries that succeeds because of what it choose not to tell you." 

Baltimore City Paper

"Riot Acts' enthusiasm is infectious!"

Jason Barker, London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

"(Riot Acts) discusses the realities of being a trans musician with the kind of candidness that only a "by us for us" project allows...!"

Baltimore Radar

"Riot Acts beautifully traces the meaning of "transition" in terms of bodies, music, voice, harmony, humor and grace. This is a (literally) moving account of the presence and impact of gender variant musicians upon a variety of music scenes and genres and it exposes audiences both to the gendering of music but also to the musicality of gender. A must see film!"

Jack Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity and
In a Queer Time and Place. USC

"As the corporate music business continues its long slow slide toward cultural oblivion, it's refreshing to know that the DIY ethic continues to flourish among trans artists in local clubs, cabarets, and dance halls. This fascinating and touching film introduces the viewer to a aspect of the music scene that they may not have previously encountered, or at least known that they have encountered, partly because its defining features are fluid and not always evident to an audience. Riot Acts smartly mixes analysis of transgender politics with an eclectic array of fantastic music. !"

Tom Shevory, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College, Author of Notorious HIV: The Media Spectacle of Nushawn William

"At a time when even Hollywood A-listers seem to want a don a wig and belt out a number, Madsen Minax has brought us the real story behind today's trans and genderqueer musicians. With candid interviews and explosive performance footage, "Riot Acts" is engrossing from start to finish. If all the world's a stage, these artists are truly making it their own."

Tavia Nyong'o, Professor, NYU Tisch School for the Arts

"Finally, a documentary about transgender people that highlights their talents, interests, and spirit, rather than focusing on them solely as political beings. This gender bending rock and roll fusion not only entertains, but also gives a backstage glimpse into the artistic and personal lives of working musicians who are trailblazers in their own right. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not walk away with at least one new favorite band. "

Tracy Nectoux, Editor, SmilePolitely.com, Reviews Editor for the GLBT Round Table newsletter of the American Library Association; librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign