“We just have to tell the story.”
That’s what director Karen Bernstein and editor-producer Nevie Owens decided to do after spending months trying to figure out how to tell the journey of Brian Belovitch.
Director Karen Bernstein and focus Brian Belovitch discuss the moving documentary “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” follows the compelling story of Brian, who from 1974 until 1987 lived as Tish, a larger-than-life woman with a dream, and whose own life consisted of a gripping amount of highs and lows. Tish falls in love, gets married, gets divorced, moves to New York to become a nightlife celebutante, gets addicted to drugs and even resorts to prostitution. It’s at the end of this harrowing period that Tish transitions back to Brian, and now Brian is in his sixties, sober, happily married, and excited to tell his story.
Karen and Brian met in the early ‘90s and on a car ride to Brian’s driving test (at the time his license still read Tish), Karen first heard the journey of Tish and Brian. Since then, the seasoned documentary filmmaker had been waiting for the perfect vehicle to drive the story to the public’s attention — that happened in 2014 with one email.
Tish’s first marriage with her husband David did not end well, and ultimately Tish lost contact with his whole family after the break-up. However, years after transitioning back to Brian, David’s sister Kim emailed Brian searching for Tish.
“The email left me in tears because it was so loving and so supportive and so opposite of my previous experience with the family,” says Belovitch. “It was really moving for me. But that’s kind of what started us down the path of the film, and that’s what helped evolve the film to where it is today — which is this completely different story from where we started.”
Finding a way to tell Brian’s story was not easy for Karen, it took time to find just the right angle for such a complex narrative.
“There was nothing really organic about it — it was a real struggle,” says Bernstein. “I felt that our entire relationship with the story was open-ended and I felt as though I had to land on a concept and a way of telling the story because it became very confusing. I talked to many colleagues of mine about how to tell this story and everyone had their own advice. I give a lot of credit to my editor Nevvie because she did a really amazing job of going back and forth in time and making it work because it’s a really difficult thing to do. Believe me, we spent a lot of time agonizing over it, but we found a way to make it work. It is a story of his life, so it’s him telling his story. We may have rearranged the walls around it so to speak, but we kept it pretty much as is.”
Brian also recently released his first memoir (a second is possibly in the works) following his journey, “Trans Figured.” To Brian, both the book and the documentary helped him make peace with everything he has had to suffer through even at a young age. The documentary showcases the strength of Brian, but also the wounds that were born from ignorance, and not understanding someone who’s different. There is so much that happened even further beyond the drug use and prostitution that shaped a dark cloud over Brian’s life, but he learned to dance in the rain.
“I’ve made a lot of peace over the years with my story. [Working on the documentary] was cathartic, and it also was very difficult in the same way that writing a memoir was difficult. You have to go to some places that you would really rather not revisit — even with the physical places, we did a lot of walking around my old neighborhoods. With any kind of creative project, it can be challenging, but I was up for it,” says Belovitch.
Overall, what Karen hopes audiences take away from the documentary is a better sense of understanding. Telling stories is what she does, and this one really doesn’t need any embellishing — it’s extremely compelling and eye-opening for a number of reasons.
“The way I look at it, I never intended this to be political. I don’t want to make a giant statement. But I hope it does show the Trans community in a way that people have never seen before and can give an inside look into this world,” says Bernstein. “It feels so rude to ask someone who is in the process of transitioning why they are doing it. So what this does, thanks to Brian who is so open about this story and this entire exchange, is humanizes the experience. I want people to come away from this film not thinking of the process being this political act but just being a human act. What are the motivations behind it? What does it mean to be gender fluid? How do we treat kids who are not like us? I think people need to take a very long look at that and get out of their own skin to look at how they’re treating others.”
For Brian, whose life is so closely being observed by millions of readers and now viewers, he hopes the film is able to provide a sense of finding a way to love yourself — whoever you may be.
“I hope it’s helpful to people who are struggling. When I was younger I never felt valid, and that lead me to some questionable decisions. People could really benefit from the story,” says Belovitch. “I hope that people will take away from the film that gender is non-binary and it’s expansive and fluid. For some people, gender is a destination, but for me, it’s been a journey — a long journey with many twists and turns. The thing that I would love people to take away from it is to just not give up. Keep going and keep trying to find your sense of self, comfort and peace within yourself. In spite of all of the incredible obstacles and things I’ve had to overcome, I’ve somehow managed to get to the other side of those difficult experiences and also come to a deep sense of understanding for myself. It’s a love story about finding love within yourself. Some people just have to look a little harder than others.”
Catch the World Premiere of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” on Nov. 7 at the Cinépolis Chelsea during DOC NYC