INTERVIEW: A Talk With Neelu Bhuman, Directer and Writer of OUTFEST’S ‘Transfinite’

Once in a while, a film comes along that completely flips your view on the art form. Transfinite is one of those films, presenting a brand new view, execution and experience when it comes to creating and consuming films. For one, in each story Transfinite tells, trans* people of color are at the center of every story, something rarely seen in modern cinema. Whether in front of the camera or behind, director, writer and executive producer Neelu Bhuman created a magical world of seven stories – trans* stories – that are told with a passion and artfulness that is completely refreshing.

The stories of Transfinite are told in a mix of live action film-making, beautifully crafted animated illustrations and special effects, telling trans* centered stories in a way that modern big budget Hollywood should take note of. Trans* people aren’t a punchline, tragedy or a token, but instead are the epicenter of tales of heroism, love, discovery and overcoming adversity. 

I was lucky enough to not only enjoy Transfinite in its entirety, but then interview the talented director, writer and executive producer, Neelu Bhuman, who helped to bring the series to life. 

Why Transfinite?

With bigotry on the rise, bringing world leaders like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and such to power, I wanted Transfinite to serve as an urgent balm; a platform for resistance, connection, healing through creative art making, and empowerment. I am painfully aware that the majority of the films centering on trans* and gender non-conforming people of color focus on trauma, death or ridicule and I wanted to make work that focuses on the strength, resilience, beauty, joy, intelligence, difference and love that trans* people of color have been giving to this world. The format of an omnibus allowed me and my collaborators to reflect on the many prismatic intersections inherent in our communities. 

The seed for Transfinite comes from a real life experience of mine. When my six-year-old niece, Aditi Bhuman, who plays one of the lead roles in the film NOVA, was at a temple with her grandmother, she asked her who one of the statues was. “That is Ardhanariswarudu, half woman-half man god,” she explained. My niece immediately responded with, “Oh that god is just like Neelu Atha.” For a non-binary and trans* identities to be seen, embraced, and celebrated with childlike humanity and pure love is where I’d love to see the entire world’s collective psyche move. Transfinite serves to change ready minds towards this.  

How did the selection of these stories come about?

My story, Nova, where a sassy little girl teaches a school bully a lesson, came from a very personal context. I was spending a lot of time supporting my brother’s family as my niece, who was about six years old, was going through chemotherapy and the two of us would snuggle up and read each other stories. One night, she confessed to me about  the bullying she was experiencing at school because of her leg brace. I was heartbroken and helpless, and I wanted to write a story that would cheer her up. I am also seriously contemplating starting a queer trio family and that’s where the queer angle of the story comes from. 

I shared this with my long time dear friend D’Lo and he loved it. I invited him to write one [of the stories] and asked him to connect me with some other trans* and gender diverse people who would be interested in being involved. His faith in me, and this project early on, set my flight in full motion. I connected with Ryka Aoki and Lida N. Vala through D’Lo. It was an instant love for Davia Spain, whom I saw first at a performance in San Francisco, they were excited to write and be a part of the Transfinite family from the get go. Stefano Gonzalez, my producer, connected me with Cody L. Makil and [they convinced them both to write for the project]. Different writers had different ideas they wanted to explore. Some came from a personal place, whereas for some I provided very loose guidelines based on mythical Indian trans* and gender diverse characters, asking the writers to position them within the writers’ own socio-political contexts while developing their corresponding story. The only rule was that the trans* lead character must possess some kind of magic power, inner light and not die.   

Is there a reason behind using both animation and live action film-making?

I wanted to use animation and VFX to not only elevate the magical realism aspects of the stories, but also to have an immediate childlike playful imaginative connection with the audience while exploring serious themes such as shame, finding humility, self-doubt, and fighting for justice. In addition, there are certain segments in the film where shooting simply would’ve been impossible for an independent no-budget filmmaker working on their first feature. For example: the White House sequences in Viva.

 What would you like people to take away from each of these stories?

I want trans* and gender diverse people to feel seen and celebrated in a new way. I want everyone else to accept gender in all its magnificent melange, do their part in stopping violence against trans* and gender diverse people, question their own prejudices, and actively support our communities. I want financiers – both individual and institutional – to be blown away by the imaginative, playful, and fresh approach to queer film-making, the audacity of team building to shift their attitudes and consider funding films that center authentic voices of trans* and gender diverse people. More immediately, I want Transfinite to be acquired for distribution and seen around the world. 

What was your take away from making Transfinite?

That there is an incredible pool of trans* people of color talent that needs abundant resources to empower us to tell our stories. That despite absolute hardships and rejections, I must by hook or crook continue making films that touch the souls of people who are open to experiencing the magic of bold and beautiful cinema. 

Are there any plans to expand any of the stories into a feature length film?

It has been a fantasy of mine that Netflix, Amazon, Revry or any such platforms with budget to create their own originals, would provide the support for me to develop the Transfinite stories into longer length more connected episodics. I see many seasons of brilliant untapped multicultural storytelling. Transfinite is a taster pilot.

Will Transfinite be available for viewers to watch at home?

My hope is that there is a group of distributors out there who will embrace the film, market it, and bring it to the nuanced art and activism loving audiences across the world. My executive producer Marc Smolowitz continues to research distribution platforms that would help us bring Transfinite to world-wide audiences through many mediums including streaming .

Transfinite is the first (I hope) of the new wave of Trans* and POC [people of color] led stories making their way to screens and audiences worldwide. Neelu Bhuman and the Transfinite team created something that I believe should be seen as the bar when it comes to creating Trans* POC content, and I implore anyone and everyone to reach out and support Transfinite and projects just like it.

To see more of Transfinite, check out the trailer below.