By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/14/21 – Screening today at Outfest is a debut feature film (2021) from Brielle Brilliant, Firstness (2021), a dreamy meditation on a wayward father and his non-binary child, each trying to find themselves in the New Mexico desert community where they live. The beauty of this quiet film is the softer, gentler colors with which the characters are portrayed. The father Keith (Tim Kinsella) is trying to heal his damaged inner self in an experimental therapy group called Infinite Beginnings. Meanwhile, his nonbinary child Tavi (Spencer Jording) likes wandering around the town, always observing how adults interact. A certain older man Julian (Caleb Cabrera) is seen walking around town job-hunting. He captures their interest and, not being shy, Tavi begins to form a curious but trusting relationship with Julian. The group of self-help therapy participants are an odd lot and Keith is a rather unusual single father who is trying to raise his child. However, he seems unable to communicate very well with Tavi, a very bright youngster who loves to communicate through painting. The world of all three characters is shaped by an obsession with post-its and written directives for prioritizing behaviors and actions.
One might say this is a meta-fiction of sorts and certainly a different way of looking at how people communicate and/or miscommunicate. The therapy group run by therapist Alison (Amy Blackburn) has her participants enact staged scenes and then analyze them in a “resource recovery room.” Keith is caught up in endless hours of self-help audio programs over the internet. Julian is an interesting outsider who Tavi observes and then meets, after she says that she saw Julian “fall down in the street.” Tavi is the observant one and her perspicacity is what drives the film. As one character says in the film: “She is not a she, she’s a they. You always get it wrong.” Just what the bonding between Julian and Tavi signifies will keep one puzzling about the propriety of this relationship between an older man and a child, as the story drifts along. Tavi as a nonbinary child finds Julian to be a kind of teacher, unlike any of the ordinary teachers at her school. Julian has a mystical appeal that makes one think that he too may be different from the kind of man who would immediately be considered a possible child molester.
Firstness is all about communication and how friendships are fragile and emerge at the most unlikely moments in life. It tackles the struggles and triumphs of parents stumbling towards understanding of their queer children and a testament to the magic baked into queer community, The harshness of the real world is set up against the imagined beauties of a child’s imagined world. harshest realities of this world while imagining another that is more vibrant, charming, and fantastic. As director Brielle Brilliant explained in an interview: “A lot happens when people try to communicate. It’s a layered signifier process that simultaneously means everything and nothing. All my life I’ve experienced and studied how (mis)communication leads to violence, poetry, imprisonment, laughter, and therapy. How some of us spend our entire lives locked in an inaccurate identity because of a miscommunication, and yet, it is also communication that can free us.
Firstness is a meditation on three characters navigating this seeming contradiction. I hope it offers a beginning route – through semiotics and humor – to a liberated connection.” Without a doubt, Firstness is one of those quiet, beautiful films that cause us to stop and reflect on what communication means for all of us and to ponder how we would raise a nonbinary child in this complex world.
Firstness screens tonight, Saturday, August 14, 7:00 pm at the Directors Guild. It will also be available online for virtual screening 8/15 through 8/17. For tickets, go to: https://outfestla2021.com/firstness/