The IFI Documentary Festival begins today, and as part of their amazing lineup of films, you can catch the unmissable Pier Kids – a striking portrait of homeless queer Black youth in New York.
Director Elegance Bratton shared with Conor Behan the film’s journey and how it tied in with his own experience.
“The movie comes from my own personal desire to make peace with my childhood. I was kicked out of my house for being gay when I was 16,” he explained, noting that his time around Christopher Street and the piers in New York City while homeless was where he found other queer people of colour.
While Bratton was drawing on personal experience he still had to pay attention to what those on camera were telling him in order for filming to really work.
“I learned how to make movies at first in the Marine corps as a combat filmmaker. It’s a very straightforward way of making films.” Bratton shared that Krystal, who features in the documentary, explained: “I can’t let you make this movie about me unless you’re my friend. You’ve got to be on my side when things are going bad. I’m a Black trans woman, homeless in New York City and I need people in my life that I can depend on and I can trust. If you could be that person in my life then I’ll give you access to it”
In one particularly moving segment of the film, we see Krystal with her mother and aunt who clearly care for her but also struggle to accept Krystal as a trans women. For Bratton it was “super triggering” as it brought up his own experiences with his family. He elaborated, “in that moment I was making that movie to have conversations with my family that I never got a chance to have, and I never had that conversation with my mother. I never got a chance to experience that nuance within my relationship. I was just under the suspicion of being gay and was pushed out of the house.”
It represented a challenge for Bratton who admitted “it was especially difficult because as much as I have to be Krystal’s friend, in my style of documentary I’m kind of on everybody’s side. So I have to create space for her family to say what it is that they have to say.”
For Bratton, this ties into a wider conversation about LGBT+ rights. Text at the beginning of the film notes the 50 some years which have passed since the Stonewall Riots and how queer youth homelessness is still an issue. Bratton pointed out that while strides have been made for LGBT+ equality in the US, “the people who started that revolution and the people who look like those who started the revolution are dealing with this epidemic of homelessness.”
Bratton added, “I hope that films like Pier Kids help those who are on our side be much more aggressive” citing the “disruptive” work of ACT UP as an example of holding institutions to account.
Describing the documentary as a kind of personal film school, Bratton shared, “What I’ve come out of with it is the certainty that queer Black American culture is the vanguard of this historical project of Black people using their creativity, their art, their imaginations to compel the people who hold our rights in their hands to release those rights and give us what we’ve earned.”
Speaking of Pier Kids screening as part of the festival, Bratton added, “I’m very grateful to be a part of the Irish Film Institute. I’m big on Irish history and the struggles that you all have had as people for your identity and it’s inspired me so much. So, it’s a real pleasure to share this with your community and be a part of your community in this way.”
To see ‘Pier Kids’ or for more information on the IFI Documentary Festival, you can visit their website here.
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