MOORHEAD — A year in the making, filmmaker Raymond Rea is one step closer to bringing his experimental nonfiction film following rural transgender subjects by airing the interviews on Prairie Public radio.

Awarded the 2019-2020 Lake Region Arts Council McKnight Foundation grant for literary and performance works, Rea’s plan to create a film around the interviews was derailed in March after the COVID-19 outbreak — but that didn’t stop him from getting the message out.

“Our lives are so much more than just being transgender,” says Rea about his finely detailed and human-centric project.

Entitled “Put the Brights On,” Rea presents the perspectives of four transgender people living in rural areas. In their own words, the subjects invite listeners into their worlds, from taking a drive down a gravel road to day-to-day happenings, the stories cut through stereotypes with a heightened sense of relatability.

“If you’re somebody who just has no transgender people in your life, then every piece of information that you’re getting about transgender people, you’re getting it through this media filtration, and so often all of that stuff is way off or very broad at the least,” Rea says.

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He harnesses details to tell a new kind of transgender story. In details that may seem mundane at first, he has a way of floating truths to the top of the murky waters of life, reaching out to the typical person in an intimate way.

While his plan to shoot a film that corresponds with interviews he conducted with four transgender subjects was derailed in March after the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has been made available as a radio segment on Prairie Public. Special to The Forum
While his plan to shoot a film that corresponds with interviews he conducted with four transgender subjects was derailed in March after the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has been made available as a radio segment on Prairie Public. Special to The Forum

Focusing on the rural transgender community, Rea’s project poses big questions: Should they relocate to the urban culture, and will they be safe if they choose to remain in their rural hometowns? He also examines common negative stereotypes reflected in both sides of the rural versus urban discussion.

That’s where the title of his project, “Put the Brights On,” comes in.

RELATED LINK: Listen to "Put the Brights On" on Prairie Public's website

Exploring the rural life of a transgender person in the interview, Lucid Thomas explains unspoken aspects of living in the country that anyone could relate to, like putting on the brights when going down a country road at night.

“The joke about New York City is no one ever makes eye contact, whereas out here you’re driving through the cornfields and you wave, you have no idea who this person is but you still wave,” says Thomas in the radio broadcast of the project.

The goal of the film for Rea is twofold. In addition to reaching out to rural people who identify as transgender, he hopes that the project will reach urban areas, too, where trans people may question if living in a small community is even possible.

“I feel that I've succeeded when my work opens someone's mind to something new. But I also feel that I've succeeded when my work lessens the loneliness of someone who may already know the story I'm telling too well,” Rea says in a press release announcing the 2019 LRAC Fellowship Grant recipients.

A personal project for filmmaker Ray Rea, “Put the Brights On” explores the life of rural transgender people versus expectations of living in a city. Special to The Forum
A personal project for filmmaker Ray Rea, “Put the Brights On” explores the life of rural transgender people versus expectations of living in a city. Special to The Forum

Rea founded the Fargo-Moorhead LGBT Film Festival in 2008 and continues to serve as the director. For the past 30 years, the majority of Rea’s film and video work, as well as his writing, has spoken about the LGBTQ+ lived experience from the vantage point of an insider.

Rea earned a bachelor's degree and master's in San Francisco and started his teaching career there. Now, he is a professor of film at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“This project is really the first thing that I’ve done in the past 11 years that has been from a local voice, me speaking as a Minnesotan and somebody from Fargo-Moorhead, interviewing people from here as an insider,” Rea says.

Focusing on a message that helps people relate to the story through fine details, the project is a personal one for Rea.

“I now feel the artistic challenge of making work about communities that I both do and don't belong to, in that I am trans and have been for decades, but have not lived in this region for the same amount of time,” Rea says.

Raymond Rea. Special to The Forum
Raymond Rea. Special to The Forum

Rea invites those who have a unique perspective on the topic and are willing to contribute a voice to the “Put on the Brights” project to email him at rea@mnstate.edu.

Check out more of his work on his website, densityoverduration.com.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.