This blog contains spoilers regarding the film The Garden Left Behind

The Garden Left Behind is a film by Flavio Alves, tracing the relationship between Tina (played by Carlie Guevara), a young Mexican trans woman, and Eliana, her grandmother (played by Miriam Cruz), as they navigate Tina’s transition and struggle to build a life for themselves as undocumented immigrants in New York City. A live Q&A took place after the film premiered on Bohemia Euphoria, with special guest host Danielle St James and cast members Tamara Williams and Kristen Parker Lovell, who also co-produced the film. The virtual event, which can be streamed here, was in partnership with two LGBT+ organisations – Not A Phase and Intermedia UK.

The Garden Left Behind explores the depth of all Tina’s relationships, from those with the passengers she transports around New York City in her gypsy cab, her Abuela Eliana, her boyfriend Jason and her trans friends. One of the most dominant themes we encounter with this film is trans rights and trans activism, emphasising the importance of telling trans stories. Encouraged by her friend Carol (played by Tamara Williams), Tina and her wider group of friends join a trans advocacy group who take to the streets of New York City, handing out fliers promoting trans rights, protesting with placards and even making it onto the local news. The demonstration follows a tragic instance of police brutality in which a trans woman is beaten to death by NYPD officers. Tina speaks up at the protest and on the news, stating that: “We are too often victims of violence and abuse. We experience discrimination on a daily basis. The homicide rate in the transgender community is the highest it’s been in its second year… It ends here. Now.”

Although the sentiment here is being conveyed by fictional characters, it is a powerful and true real life message. During the Q&A, actor and co-producer of the film, Kristen Parker Lovell, expressed her satisfaction with the warm reception the cast was met with from members of the public when they were filming and handing out pro-trans rights flyers in downtown New York City. Revealing that no extras or paid actors were used, that scene alone is a testament to the progress being made in society in regard to the acceptance of the trans community. It was important for her as a producer of the film to remain authentic, while making use of film as an art form and exploring the complexities of protesting as a minority group. Everyone involved in making the film recognizes visibility as a form of activism. “I don’t like to shy away from reality too much. When I think about film and trans people in them… If we’re going to discuss authenticity then we need to be as true to what our real lives reflect in the film, as painful as it can be. We all know that film is a medium for emotions. In order to get people to really understand us we have to show that as realistically as possible.”

Kristen revealed that the film faced some backlash because of its tragic ending. Tina does not live happily ever after, but instead is the victim of a brutal murder. Whether this crime stemmed from a romantic interest, or the perpetrator’s envy of Tina’s ability to live freely as a trans woman, we will never know – the filmmakers leave that open to interpretation. Let us know what you think in the community channel section of our website.

Although Tina’s only family was her Abuela, their relationship was shown to be strong and genuine. Her solid group of friends (“trans siblings” if you will) also felt like family, giving her support from relationship advice and group dates; to recommending a doctor who could help diagnose her with body dysphoria, an important step needed to proceed with the transitioning process. This ties into Danielle’s favourite scene from the movie. Eliana, seeking to understand her granddaughter a little better, asks one of Tina’s trans friends why they go through the transition and surgery process. The response she receives is simple yet poignant: “Instead of asking ‘why’, you should just ask if she is happy.”

During the Q&A, Kristen shared details about her personal relationships with trans people, a fitting parallel to those we see in the film:

“When I came into the city and started to meet other trans women… there was this level of sisterhood and comradery and that was just your chosen family. People had looked over me and made sure I was good over the years and I was able to reciprocate that. As I got older I worked in a shelter in New York City (that was named after Sylvia Rivera, it was her last wish before she passed away) for about 10 years. I kind of had this aunty role that I had to do every single day, listening to people’s problems… The people that I met over those years are still my family today. Whether we’re close or distant, I still have this bond and relationship with them which is so important because we need people in our lives to steer us in a certain direction sometimes… When I went to L.A., one of the people that stayed in the shelter is now living in Los Angeles. They came and picked me up and showed me all around Los Angeles and it was amazing. So these people will always be my family.”

Though facing some resistance, the film made it to some LGBTQ+ film festivals such as San Francisco’s Frameline and Toronto’s Inside Out, with the help of activists who defended the film’s message. Initially, some festival organisers expressed concern about the jarring nature of the film.

You can watch The Garden Left Behind and the full Q&A with Dani, Kristen and Tamara online here.