POW Film review: ‘Austin Unbound’

'Austin Unbound' screens Sunday at the Hollywood Theatre

The first documentary about a deaf transperson is also locally made, with opening shots of iconic Portland landmarks easing you into the voiceless 45 minute feature. In what seems like a very collaborative process from Greensoda Studios Austin Unbound follows protagonist Austin, as well as his friends and family, in his journey through top surgery in 2004-2005. It screens this Sunday as part of the POW (Portland Oregon Women) Film Fest.

Very aware that this is the story of one man, and not a fable for all deaf or trans people, Austin Unbound takes a very personal yet objective approach. The film contains no vocal communication. Even the interviews with hearing individuals, including Austin’s mom, are subtitled and overlayed with music.

This is perhaps the most interesting and innovative piece of the film. It is difficult to portray any character in such a way to really get into their head, and the presentation of Austin’s trans existence follows a fairly familiar trajectory. But the nuance of Austin’s additional special needs, as his mother calls his condition, adds a dimension that makes him a fuller and more empathetic hero. In particular there is a story he tells about going to a deaf boarding school, bunking with three girls and feeling the need to change clothes in his closet instead of the room with the rest of his dormmates.

Featuring a soundtrack with contributions from Chris Funk (The Decemberists) and singer-songwriter Ashleigh Flynn Austin manages to be very frank in its subject matter while still remaining intimate. Although some of the initial video quality could be better, the cinematography and editing work with it beautifully to create shots that evoke both a sense of place and Austin’s state of mind, be that anxious or confident.

The movie is billed as the story of a man who wants to come into his own by getting “…surgery so he can breathe freely and finally, swim in public,” but it is so much more. Certainly a must see.

Austin Unbound screens, along with Married in Spandex at the Hollywood Theater as part of the POW Fest. There is a reception with the filmmakers directly before and it will be ASL interpreted. 

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