From the ominous opening to the unexpected ending that will leave your heart feeling throat-punched, The Garden Left Behind is an authentic and stirring creation.
The Garden Left Behind is without a doubt a “first chance you get” film to see. With a solid realistic story, beautiful cinematography, and genuinely interesting characters, it’s no wonder eBay’s first partially crowd-funded film (ebayfilm.com) has raked in awards from Woodstock Festival, Nashville Film Festival, and SXSW to date.
The film captivates attention right from the very beginning when, during a brief flash-forward sequence, we see a woman walking down the street as dark eyes follow her from a creeping car nearby. Snapping back to real time, we are introduced to the instantly loveable trans-woman Tina (break-out, Carlie Guevara) living her best life as a taxi-driver in New York City. Tina lives with her heartwarming grandmother (Miriam Cruz), whose excitement over Tina’s gift of a vacuum makes you want to reach out and hug the heck out of her. We soon find out that Tina and her grandmother are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, which complicates Tina’s dream to transition without the use of black-market hormones.
Tina’s plights throughout The Garden Left Behind are authentic representations of issues trans people face in reality.
The film depicts how her romantic and familial relationships are affected during her transition, while her friends remain fabulously and faithfully supportive of her through the thick of it all.
Particularly, the film hits hard on the adversities she faces as an undocumented minority trying to make a living in a trans-hostile social climate. When one of her acquaintances falls victim to police brutality, the trans community bands together to give birth to a grassroots “Trans Lives Matter” movement. The film has just the right amount of comedy peppered throughout to keep it light, just enough sass to keep your heart afloat through political and personal turmoil and enough emotional authenticity to propel your heart into the evening skies.
That ultimate blow is made possible by the film’s trans representation. Authenticity shines through the film’s diverse casting, as trans characters are actually played by real trans people. During a press-released Q&A, Producer Kristen Lovell stated, “Available roles are already limited for trans actors, why shouldn’t we be the ones to tell our own stories?” The film hosts a mix of new and familiar faces including a break-out performance by Carlie Guevara (Tina), who deserves a million snaps, and Tamara M. Williams (Carol), who is best known for her role on FX’s groundbreaking series, Pose. Other (non-trans) familiar faces include Hollywood veterans Ed Asner (Dr. Cleary) and Michael Madsen (Kevin).
It’s also remarkable to note that trans people were not only represented in front of the camera, but behind it as well.
On this topic Director and Co-writer Flavio Alves commented, “We were lucky enough to have the Trans Filmmakers Project join the production team of our film . . . we are honored to have been able to work with so many amazing people in the trans community.” The Trans Filmmakers Project was founded by producer Kristen Lovell, who also appears in the film.
Director and co-writer Flavio Alves and co-writer John Rotondo went to great lengths to create a fictional narrative with roots in trans people’s experiences, making laugh-worthy and tear-jerking moments genuine through the realism of The Garden Left Behind’s story. Says Alves, “In order to do the story justice, we met with more than 30 trans-led organizations . . . it was important that we do our due diligence by listening to and incorporating the narratives that the trans community themselves provided to us.” Which explains why the conflicts found in the film are truly so gut-wrenching to watch unfold.
The current political climate surrounding trans rights, the stringent pressures of socialized masculinity, and how that socialization can become toxic over time when sexuality is repressed are themes that all come to a head in the end. Sometimes, honest representation truly makes all the difference in the empathy a trans character can generate, and The Garden Left Behind delivers on that in abundance.