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Highlights

“Desire Lines” Explores an Erotic Archive of Transmasculine Sexuality

PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 22: (L–R) Theo Germaine, Aden Hakimi, and Jules Rosskam attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Desire Lines” premiere at the Egyptian Theatre on January 22, 2024, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)

By Lucy Spicer

“Bathhouses and archives are not that different. They’re both spaces where you’re cruising: one for sex and another for knowledge. These things aren’t that different,” says director Jules Rosskam at the post-premiere Q&A for his film Desire Lines on January 22 at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. 

Bathhouses and archives are two of the main characters in Rosskam’s film, which utilizes a hybrid approach of combining real interviews with a fictional narrative. “This film is both super sexy and super smart. Great combination,” says Sundance Film Festival programmer Ash Hoyle before the film’s premiere. “And its creative approach really wowed us during the process and made us feel like we were certain it was destined for the NEXT section, which we reserve for the most bold and provocative films of our Festival.”

Curiosity and a quest for knowledge drive the film — and prompted its development in the first place. “All of my films start with a question or a curiosity. I make films, I think, largely to learn about myself and about the world,” says Rosskam at the Q&A. “It started with witnessing in trans community for 20-something years how many trans men would come out as trans and then develop attraction for other men. And I just was thinking about it for years and years and years and years, and eventually was like, ‘I need to make a film about this.’”

The resulting film follows an Iranian American trans man (played by Aden Hakimi) as he explores a dreamlike archive, tracing the words of trans gay men through recent history as he contemplates his own sexuality. Interspersed are clips of archival interviews with Lou Sullivan — an iconic activist among gay trans men — as well as contemporary interviews and erotic, hazy bathhouse visions.

“Trans stories need trans forms,” says Rosskam when queried about the hybrid format of his film. “And when we take trans stories, put them into ‘straight’ forms or put them into kind of rigid, normative structures, then it’s a violence against the trans stories that we’re telling. And so I think we just have to expand genre as we expand gender.”

Expansive gender is part of the discussion in the contemporary interviews, in which the participants candidly relay personal stories that have been part of their journey to self-realization. And group interviews serve to juxtapose contrasting experiences, highlighting prejudices even within the queer community. But Rosskam is cognizant of the pressure often placed on films that explore identity. 

“I think a lot of times, audiences bring these expectations of like, ‘Well, this is the [film] we have, so it has to represent me, and if it doesn’t, it’s a failure!’” says Rosskam.

The director’s sincere hope: “That trans people and cis people and all the people who see the film, that we can stop trying to relate to particular documentaries like they are a singular text that tells everything about [whichever] community that it’s representing.”

To see more of the magic from the 2024 Festival, click here.

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