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Interview by Samia Abuseif

Transfinite is a film comprised of seven stories about trans and queer people of diverse backgrounds who are all trying to walk in their own truth. I was so moved watching the film, because it had such an otherworldly, magical quality that I often felt like I was floating. The VFX, animation and camera movements added to the fluidity of the narratives. All of these elements, coupled with the score, helped bring out the strengths of each of the characters in the seven films. Transfinite is a visual representation of self-acceptance and becoming one with the self and nature: only then will you find and harness your power.

I had the honor of interviewing the filmmaker, Neelu Bhuman, via email about their inspiration for the film, their technique, and their own journey as a non-binary filmmaker.

Samia Abuseif: What inspired you to make this film?

Neelu Bhuman: Pain and uncertainty inspired me to make this film. In January of 2017, Trump took office, my 6 year old niece, Aditi, was undergoing chemotherapy for her brain tumor in the Bay Area in California. Aditi played the lead role of NOVA in TRANSFINITE. My brother’s green card was in limbo and I was

terrified that they would be sent back to India and Aditi wouldn’t be able to get the best medical care she needed. I was hearing more and more about Black and Brown trans women being murdered. And the global visibility of trans and non-binary movements is on the rise. Aditi was sharing her experiences of being bullied at school for wearing a leg brace and I was sharing my experience of perpetually feeling “othered” because of my non-binary gender, race, sexuality and immigrant status, etc. We would calm and uplift each other with Maya Angelou’s poem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All. I also seem to feel best when I have two romantic partners at any given time. This was the personal-political context that inspired me to write the screenplay for NOVA, one of the shorts in TRANSFINITE. Once I wrote NOVA, I decided to create a collective of writers of color to develop 6 others that would be part of TRANSFINITE. In the process, building connections, making joy.

SA: Name something you love about each one of the stories?


NAJMA: I adore the honest power of vulnerability of Najma’s character. The pain and pleasure that comes with being one’s own true self.

ASURA: Seeing a Japanese-American trans-femme in a kick-ass wise GRANDMOTHER role!

SHAYLA: The refreshing power of innocent love across class.

BAHARI: Love that binds regardless of immigration status and/or relationship status.

NOVA: My soulful niece Aditi, who played the lead role of Nova, says that “your disabilities are your possibilities”... “who needs legs when you can fly”. This film is dedicated to her and the deep unending strength she gives me with her powerful light.

MAYA: The tenderness of freeing love, that is rooted in lightness, wisdom, sexiness and reciprocity.

VIVA: The seven wishes of Honey are my fuel to continue to make work.

SA: What kind of challenges did you have getting into the business as a non-binary person of color?

NB: I don’t consider myself to be in the “business” film, as all of my work stems from a need for self-expression and not an intention to make money [or achieve] fame... Of course, having industry support would mean the world and would boost the pace/quality of my filmmaking dreams but I feel I am not quite “hot for the market” right now. I have applied to many grants, labs, tried pitching etc. but with no positive response from the industry. I have only spent hard-earned money on making my work. That said, I will continue to apply for film grants and labs and as I continue to grow as a filmmaker, I will receive the industry’s support on my creative terms.

SA: How did you get your start in filmmaking? Is there any advice you can give young women and non-binary youths that are trying to break into the filmmaking business?

NB: I held a video camera for the first time at the age of 34. Only one other estranged family member in my large South Indian family that spans the diaspora of three continents has ever dreamed of being a filmmaker. I am the only one in this large family out as a queer non-binary trans-masc person. To my knowledge anyway. This aloneness - not only in the family but also in the social and filmic environments - led me to create films. Having freshly watched and deeply moved by Nishit "Nish" Saran’s SUMMER IN MY VEINS in 2007, I was primed to begin filming.

I don’t know how to break into the filmmaking business yet as an immigrant, non-binary, poc. What I can advise is ask yourself “why do you want to be a filmmaker?” and “where do you fall on the ladder of privilege/access?” and take the path that best suits your needs/wishes/desires. For example, if you are there to make money, fame and have enough privilege to afford to go to film school - maybe you should start with a good film school like NYU, learn the skills, soul search, make industry connections and go from there. But, if your answer is “I want to be a filmmaker because I am not seeing myself represented or I am bored of the churn-of-the-mill films and I don’t have money or time to go to film school” then, start with short films that speak to you, begin by finding your tribe, collaborate with them. You can make excellent films with an iPhone, learn to market your content or collaborate with someone who believes in you and is good at marketing.

SA: What is one thing that you wish somebody would have told you about the filmmaking business that would have made it easier to navigate.

NB: That it will never be easy. This would’ve saved me all the pain stemming from expectation.

SA: I noticed that you have a lot of beautiful close-ups. How do you decide what camera angle to use?

NB: The story and the character’s emotions help me decide what camera angles to use. In general I love ECUs [extreme close ups] and CUs [close ups] as it allows the user an intimate experience of the character’s state of mind.

SA: I loved the animated segments in the film. Why did you want to add them in the film?

NB: Animation cuts through prejudices. Like children, it has the ability to serve up concepts that can be controversial with a playful childlike smile. It was also a great medium to express magical realism.

SA: Nova’s story really spoke to me as disabled person, especially because she was moving so gracefully and seemed in control. What do you hope that people take away after watching Nova’s story?

NB: I am touched to hear this and this is the main fuel for my filmmaking. Thank you for sharing.

Your “disadvantages” can be your advantages. I will quote my little niece Aditi Bhuman

here: “remember that your disabilities are new possibilities”.

SA: Do you have any ideas for future projects?

NB: Yes, I am currently working on a creative documentary feature film about my friend Adam Harry, 21-year old trans man striving to become India’s first transgender commercial pilot. I am also in very early stage research developing fiction stories, one similar to Hanif Kureshi’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Marion Hill’s Ma Belle, My Beauty.

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