Filmmaker spotlights trans/immigrant experience in ‘Before and After Detention’

Ostracized from family and friends, discriminated against and beaten, it’s a common experience of trans women in Latin countries, many of them running for their lives seeking refuge in another country, and one filmmaker made it a mission to tell these stories, hoping to raise awareness.

In “Before and After Detention,” Armando Ibañez follows the journey of three transgender women as they seek a better life in the U.S. Along the way, they confront transphobia, racism and discrimination. In face of it all, Ibañez, highlights the hope and resilience these women carry with them.

“Before and After Detention” is just one of 49 films that will be featured during the Long Beach QFilm Festival this week, Sept. 10-13. The festival, which takes place completely online this year, is celebrating 27 years of LGBTQ independent films, standing as the oldest film festival in Long Beach and the only festival dedicated to screening films that showcase the diversity of the LGBTQ community.

Ibañez, who lived in Paramount for 20 years and identifies as queer and undocumented, offers a unique lens to his storytelling, cinematically showing the days-in-the-lives of trans women, whether it’s selling flowers at a swap meet or performing a drag show in front of an audience. While transphobia is a common topic of discussion among the LGBTQ community, Ibañez also focused on trans women feeling dehumanized in immigration detention centers when they come from their home countries such as, in their cases, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“It’s very different than for many of us,” he said about the LGBTQ experiences.

Though not mentioned in the film, Ibañez drew political relevance citing the migrant caravans from Central America two years ago, drawing a connection to the societal problem people have with members of the LGBTQ community, many of them escaping violence.

“Even in the caravan, trans women [and] the queer members of the caravan were still being discriminated, suffering transphobia and homophobia by their own caravan,” he said.

Hearing about that encouraged him to make the film and humanize their stories.

“There’s a lot of injustice that people just ignore in their everyday lives,” he said.

One of the documentary’s subjects, Fernanda Celerie, enjoyed being part of the film, helping, in her way, to raise awareness.

“Transphobia and discrimination, for me, I lived it more in a detention center than here in society,” Celerie said in Spanish.

Ibañez said he met Celerie and the other women of his documentary through LGBTQ-related organizations and collaborating with them in small film projects.

For “Before and After Detention,” Ibañez became a one-man-band directing, filming and editing the entire project himself. It took him nearly two years to produce the film, mostly juggling the editing while studying film at Cerritos College. His hard work paid off, helping him grow as a storyteller.

“From my experience as an undocumented filmmaker, I have learned that you have to work in every project with a lot of respect, and you have work extra hard to not only bring authenticity but to honor the community that you’re trying to portray on the screen,” Ibañez said.

“Before and After Detention” is a documentary in Spanish with English subtitles. For tickets to the film festival, click here.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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