The tale told in this low-budget, award-winning documentary is so powerful, so compelling, that it overshadows any reservations about the quality of the filmmaking and storytelllng.Brandon Teena
was a Nebraskan teenager, born Teena Brandon, who decided to live her life as a man. Moving to a small town and forging a new identity, she fooled people to a wide extent and even had several girlfriends.
But eventually her secret was revealed, with tragic results; she was raped by two local young men, who one week later killed her, along with two other victims, to prevent her from testifying. Susan Muska
and Greta Olafsdottir's chronicle of these events is receiving its theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.
The 16mm film is crudely photographed and edited, and deviates little from the talking heads syndrome, but there is no denying the dramatic impact of the story and the tragic central figure who inhabits it.
The film begins in a lighthearted fashion, with testimony from Brandon's various girlfriends who affirm her sensitivity and her qualities as a terrific "boyfriend." We even hear from Brandon's killers, although the filmmakers don't reveal that fact until later on.
Brandon's story turns fateful when the small town of Falls City discovers her true identity, the result of her arrest for petty theft. Particularly incensed are two young men, ex-cons named Thomas Nissen and John Lotter
, who are deeply offended at their friend's deception. They brutally beat and rape Brandon, who reports the crime to the local authorities.
She is met with suspicion and outright hostility, however, as evidenced by a chilling audiotape of the interrogation conducted by the local sheriff, who is more accusatory than comforting. One week later, Brandon, 21, is shot to death, together with a pregnant woman friend and another visitor who happened to be at the scene. Nissen and Lotter are arrested, and are now in prison.Brandon Teena
's story is so dizzying in its implications, and touches so many chords, that it has the resonance of a great novel; it has been the subject of several in-depth journalistic pieces, and, not surprisingly, a feature film is in the works.
This extremely low-budget effort, which includes interviews with many of the principals involved as well as audio excerpts from the trial, doesn't do it full justice, and is often confused and scattershot in its storytelling approach. It also relies too heavily on cliched shots of barren rural landscapes and snippets of banal country music. But it nonetheless has a great power, and deserves wide theatrical exposure before its eventual berth on video and public television.
THE Brandon Teena
Producer, director, camera, editing: Susan Muska
, Greta Olafsdottir
Executive producer: Jane Dekrone
Music: Lorrie Morgan
, Dinah Washington
, April Stevens, the Brown Brothers
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating