Art Rhys Ernst headshot

Published on May 8th, 2012 | by Wild Gender


Sundance Afterglow: Rhys Ernst and the Wilds of Queer Filmmaking

LOS ANGELES, Ca. — Rhys Ernst’s films are a tactile fusion of art and
 queer theory with tones of subtle surreality that nudge at gender 
identity and real life fabulousness. Ernst’s recent short film “The Thing,” 
about a woman, a transgender man, and their cat en route to a
mysterious roadside attraction, was invited to internationally
 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

Rhys Ernst, headshot, rhys ernst wild gender

Rhys Ernst

Still basking in the Sundance afterglow, Ernst has now begun work on a
 short film called “She Gone Rogue” with celebrated artist Zackary Drucker.
 Ernst is also directing another upcoming short based on a segment of the documentary “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight,” about legendary trans
 performer Vicki Marlane.

“I don’t want to be sensationalist or reductive of trans stories in my 
filmmaking,” said Ernst in an interview with Wild Gender magazine. “I
 choose to downplay identity issues and focus more on the broader human
 struggle—larger than life characters in often close-to normal life 

Ernst, whose short with Drucker will debut at the first Los Angeles
 biennial, Made in L.A. 2012, organized by the Hammer Museum in
collaboration with LAXART, will have a shot at the Mohn Prize 
alongside Drucker, a new $100,000 award that will be given to a Los
 Angeles artist participating in the biennial. The winner will be
 chosen by the public after a jury of art experts
 narrows the choice to five finalists. 
Ernst and Drucker are two of 60 artists highlighted in the biennial, 
held June 2-Sept. 2 at the Hammer Museum in L.A.

“The film stars Zackary, Vaginal Davis, Holly Woodlawn and
 Flawless Sabrina,” he said. “It features some amazing trans archetypes from over the 
years in a wacky and surreal narrative. We co-wrote it, produced it, and I
 directed it. We are really excited.”

transgender film, zackary drucker, flawless sabrina

Zackary Drucker (left) and Flawless Sabrina in "She Gone Rogue"

As for showing films in a biennial, Ernst happily has one foot in the 
traditional film industry while still producing creative art-based 
 With the hope of bringing transgressive representation into the
 mainstream fold, Ernst recently applied for an HBO directing 

“I want to make more of these weird, outsider films,” he said, “but I 
also want to be a go-to director for more mainstream work that 
involves gender identity.”

As such, Ernst is beginning work on a yet
 untitled short film based on “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight,” the documentary on San Francisco drag icon Vicki Marlane. Michelle Lawler, who directed the documentary, wrote
 the short, and will serve as cinematographer while Ernst
The film depicts an early chapter of Ms. Marlane’s life, when she was arrested for wearing “women’s” clothing, escaped men’s prison, threw on
 a smuggled dress, and hitchhiked to freedom. She passed away last year 
after performing for the last time on stage at 75-years-old.

“With a lot of my work, I want to engender an empathetic reaction from
 a group of people who might never have heard a story like this
 before,” he said.

Rhys Ernst on the set of "The Thing"

Rhys Ernst on the set of "The Thing"

Ernst’s work is extremely personal, tactile and raw. His film “The
 Thing” featured a “traditional” cinematic boy-girl narrative.

“But it was actually this transgressive story,” he said. “Really, I am
 always trying figure out different ways of making art out of this 
ever-evolving dialogue with myself about the politics of gender 

Ernst also described a need on his part to investigate societal
 constructions of masculinity within his films.

“I think (masculinity) is really under-studied in our culture,” he
 said. “It’s like how whiteness is considered the norm that
 doesn’t need to be inspected while everything else (around 
masculinity and whiteness) is considered other.”

Post-Sundance, Ernst’s “The Thing” is enjoying an extended life, and 
will show at numerous film festivals over the next few years, the 
direct result of a “big note” debut at an internationally acclaimed 
film fest.

“It’s starting its festival life,” said Ernst. “The slow 
trickle out that happens after Sundance is an amazing thing.” 
Ernst’s personal path to film started with a deep interested in art-making. “I was a musician, multi-instrumentalist, I did video art,
 photography, and was really invested in queer theory, but I didn’t
 know how to tie all those things together,” he said.

Ernst saw what seemed like disparate mediums gel as soon as he began 
making movies.
 “I realized, ‘oh I can score this film, write it, animate it, and tell
 really personal stories with it,’” he said. “That’s what I want.”

Visit the “She Gone Rogue” Kickstarter page to help fund the project, which already has 164 backers and $7,683 as of Tuesday morning. The group needs $8,000 by Saturday.

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About the Author

Wild Gender

is an online magazine and creative hub born out of gratitude for the gift of full expression. We are dedicated to creative practices that celebrate gender fluidity, identity and expression. Wild Gender prioritizes visual art, creative writing, and journalistic work by trans/gender-variant individuals who have never before been published in a public venue. Run entirely by volunteers,we are always in search of writers, thinkers, and creators hoping to participate in our growing community.

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