In the early 1960s, transgender woman and gender pioneer Agnes Torres (Zackary Drucker) participated in a UCLA study conducted by sociologist Harold Garfinkle. Agnes wanted to get genital surgery for a condition she described as being “intersex,” and Garfinkle kept extensive interview archives on her and many other subjects.
In “Finding Agnes,” director Chase Joynt and co-writer Morgan M. Page comb through these documents and present the most compelling on screen. It’s a story rich in trans history that few have heard, and one that deserves to be told.
It’s a fascinating look at what it was like for people in the transgender community decades ago, but the format simply didn’t work for me. The impact of this compelling film could have been stronger if a more traditional documentary format was followed. Instead of letting the stories speak for themselves, Joynt uses a cast of transgender actors (which is, of course, commendable) in costume to recreate the stories, often injecting their own analysis about the people they are portraying. This makes for a very jumbled and confusing documentary.
There’s a lot of social relevance to “Framing Agnes,” and I hate that much of it gets lost in the hubbub. This is a documentary with big ideas that is in need of a more proficient execution. The gimmicky storytelling is unnecessary, and overshadows the important themes.