Flavio Alves’ The Garden Left Behind is a quiet, powerful film that will make you fall in love with its protagonist, Tina Carerra (Carlie Guevara).

Our ability to empathize with someone who may be different than we are (yet, not so different) is one of film’s many gifts. Guevara, a transgender actor, is able to imbue the character of Tina in such a way that she is immediately likable and relatable.

Tina has immigrated from Mexico with her grandmother (presumably, where the garden of the title is from). Formerly Antonio, Tina is seeking gender-affirming surgery, but must overcome a series of obstacles before she can get it – including passing an assessment from a psychologist played by the wonderful Ed Asner (of Mary Tyler Moore and Up fame). Her grandmother  is supportive, if not fully understanding of what Tina wants to achieve.

Meanwhile, Tina is in a quasi-relationship with Jason (Alex Kruz), a man who seems distant at best, and transphobic at worst. As Tina works a series of jobs, from driving a taxi to bartending, in order to raise money for her transition, will he stick around? Does she need him to?

Tina and her “boyfriend” having a moment.

On the flip side is a group of supportive trans friends, who also played by trans actors. This means that this film has much-needed authenticity that is sometimes missing in other films about trans folks. These friends cheer Tina on and tell her to not take any shit from anyone. After a transwoman is beaten by police (the film cites that 2018 was the deadliest year for transwomen of colour in the US), Tina’s friends join an effort to raise awareness about the importance of trans lives. Guevara shows the process of identifying with a marginalized community – showing how sometimes one might want to run away from intense scrutiny (that occurs both within and without) and also showing, at the same time, how one can find the courage to stand strong (even if only for a few minutes).

Tina finds a refuge from like-minded people, and those that support them. Surprisingly, Michael Madsen, known for his violent contributions to Tarantino films, plays a supportive bar owner that helps Tina feel at ease in her new workplace. Moments of safety and acceptance are present, but not necessarily constant, giving added meaning to the phrase ‘sheltering the flame,’ which is used in the film a few times.

It is this vulnerability of seeking belonging and the necessity of finding much-needed allies (who can shelter the flame) that underscores the fragility, beauty, wonder, and devastation of the trans experience.

The Garden Left Behind is currently masking the festival rounds. Director Flavio Alves tells me, “We have added a bunch of new screenings, including Munich LGBT Film Festival, Queer Florence Film Festival, and Hamburg LGBT Film Festival.” In the next eight weeks, the film is playing at approximately 30 film festivals! Here is a sample:

For more screening and film information, search “The Garden Left Behind” on Facebook, or click here.

This film played at Inside Out last May, but was reviewed now due to the director making it accessible with English captioning. Perhaps, a repeat screening is in order?

The film should be on VOD by March 2020.

A trailer is below:

About the Author

Michael McNeely law student graduate, entertainment and accessibility critic; filmmaker; and aspiring actor. He enjoys meaningful representations of LGBT folks and those with disabilities in the popular media, and is waiting for the day where nuance, instead of stereotype and prejudice, is the norm. Michael is deaf-blind, meaning that he enjoys the presence of subtitles and other accessibility features.