A still-warm slice of American heart-meat, Julian Goldberger’s Trans does a simple thing movies no longer find easy to do: bushwhacks and bags a very real native nowhere—Fort Myers, Florida—so indelibly it makes your palms sweat. Of course, it was where 30-year-old first-time filmmaker Goldberger grew up. “Having that experience, growing up in that kind of place—you could argue that’s not truly part of the South. It’s been transformed, people from the north moving in, the tourists, and it’s extremely segregated, it’s one of the most segregated towns in the South. It’s not the New South, for sure. So it doesn’t quite have an identity. That’s what was so interesting about coming back to this landscape I felt so disconnected to: You can’t identify with it because it doesn’t have an identity.
“And there’s lots of violence—if you watch Cops, chances are each week you see something shot in Fort Myers. All anyone wants to do is get wasted and kick ass. So, as a kid, you think about little else besides getting out. A lot of people don’t—there’s a quicksand quality to it.” Trans itself stumbles, lallygags, and loiters like a Florida cracker on a country-store stoop, and Goldberger shot it more or less by the seat of his pants. “There was a script initially, but it was tossed in the first couple of days. Writing it was an important part of the process, but filming it wasn’t—it was going to be an expedition, not an execution.”
With a micro-crew and a fistful of Lee County permits, Goldberger let the milieu run the show. “Nobody had any idea what was going to happen day to day. The idea was, take away the net and see what happens. A perfect example are the porch people: I’d scouted that location, but then I saw these people just hanging out on the porch, talked with them, and got them to agree to just be themselves. Those scenes took a while, and it was scary, too: They were calling in their friends and getting drunk, and these kinds of guys can turn on you any second. We just walked the line, all night.”
Going for documentary realism (“We were filming in the swamp and two feet away a gator would pop up and check you out”), Goldberger nevertheless likes to suggest that his movie is “Sounder plus THX 1138” and mentions Cassavetes and Hellman as influences. “But there really wasn’t a model. You have to forget about the movies you’ve seen, and just focus on this character, this place, this moment.”