Cousins Briana Barsalou and Blair Hanner grew up playing hide-and-seek together in the Hill Country of New Braunfels, Texas. Years later, when Hanner, designated female at birth, admitted he had been hiding his identity his whole life, Barsalou knew she wanted to capture his journey on film.

“When Blair came out to the family, it wasn’t as shocking to me as it was to others,” Barsalou said. “I wanted to give Blair a platform to be heard and crossed my fingers that I’d be able to do him justice.”

Hanner’s female-to-male transition story inspired radio-television-film seniors Barsalou and Carlo Nasisse to make a 13-minute documentary about Hanner’s struggle to be himself in a religious conservative household. “Becoming Blair” premiered at Slamdance Film Festival and will now screen as the only student-directed documentary short at South By Southwest Film Festival this year.

“We’re not trying to make a film about what it’s like to be transgender,” said Nasisse, the project’s director of photography. “It’s a movie about [Hanner], his relationship with his family and his quest of acceptance for himself. Contained within that, I think there are themes and ideas that speak to a wide range of people.”

Nasisse, a former Daily Texan senior photographer, said the film’s biggest challenge was depicting Hanner fairly and telling his story in a way that was truthful to his experience.

“How can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes?” Nasisse said. “You can’t do that, but you can attempt to form a relationship with the subject and capture something on film that is deeply meaningful for people and feel they can
understand Blair.”

“Becoming Blair” was initially produced for Paul Stekler’s advanced documentary class. Stekler, radio-television-film department chair, said the film is powerful because it shares a personal, private story about a subject’s life struggle
and relationships.

“Those kinds of films have a greater potential to impact people because they get to meet someone and get to see what they’ve gone through and their own struggle to figure out who they are,” Stekler said.

Barsalou, the director, said the film offers a perspective from each side of the aisle as Hanner’s mom struggles to find a way to accept him and understand his world. Barsalou said she did not want to portray issues of acceptance and tolerance as black and white.

“Humans are messy and complicated, and I couldn’t have asked for two better subjects to portray such an intense yet beautiful relationship between a mother and her child,” Barsalou said.

Barsalou said she wanted to show the struggle of Hanner and his mom without exploiting their emotions for the sake of a more interesting final product.

“I was really hoping to challenge the beliefs of some of my more conservative family members,” Barsalou said. “But I also think it’s important to show both sides of the story.”

“Becoming Blair”

When: March 11, 10:45 p.m.

Where: Vimeo Theater, 201 Trinity

Admission: Badge-holders and film festival wristbands only

This story was published in The Daily Texan on March 10, 2016. 

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