Virginia Woolf´s 'Orlando' inspires transgender film at Berlinale

By James Imam

BERLIN (Reuters) - Philosopher Paul B. Preciado did not want to make a film about his own gender transition, because British novelist Virginia Woolf had already done so a century before.

"Orlando: My Political Biography", Preciado's playful debut film, explores the struggles of trans and binary people through Woolf's novel "Orlando". In its opening scene, two young non-binary people sit reading a book in the woods.

"The way we present trans people through films is by destroying them through their image. I didn't want to go into that tradition, but I didn't want to go into the victim setting either," Preciado said of his film, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday.

Woolf's 1928 novel tells the story of Orlando, a young Elizabethan-era nobleman, who one night turns into a woman living three-hundred years later.

In Preciado's film, 25 French-speaking trans and non-binary actors play Orlando, blending recited passages from the book with their own first-person accounts in a modernist shift of perspective that recalls Woolf's own experimentation.

Preciado says Woolf's vision resonates in the contemporary West, where people are only now beginning to accept the notion of non-binary categories.

"Orlando is still alive," Preciado said. "We are living an Orlando moment in history."

Preciado, who began his own slow transition in 2010, said the film aims to shift the discourse in a society that sometimes remains hostile to non-binary people.

"It's a crucial lifelong battle because for many transition people there's the impossibility of being recognised publicly, socially and politically," he said. "It means not having an identity card with your name, not being able to have a bank account."

This year's Berlinale is showing a number of films about non-binary and transgender people, such as "Kokomo City" and "Transfariana", reinforcing the German capital's status as a major LGBTQ+ centre.

Preciado said it was important to show his film in Berlin, the city that "opened up the horizon of sexology" by founding the Institute of Sexology nine years before Woolf's novel was published.

"The transgender revolution is not happening in the future," Preciado added. "It is happening now."

(Reporting by James Imam; Editing by Hugh Lawson)