Portland documentarian Christopher LaMarca is a master of making rarely seen moments beautiful.
For Boone, his first feature film (it premiered at this year's South by Southwest), LaMarca lived on a Southern Oregon goat dairy farm for an entire year. In a film with almost zero dialogue, no narration and no interviews, LaMarca uses pure photography to convey the grueling, and financially unrewarding, work that goes into converting a bucket of goat milk into a log of chevre for your dinner party.
And LaMarca's second film, The Pearl, is one of our favorites at this week's Northwest Filmmakers' Festival.
Co-directed and shot with New York filmmaker Jessica Dimmock, The Pearl documents the trials and tribulations of an older generation of transgender women in the Pacific Northwest who are transitioning to womanhood after a lifetime of grease-coated, car-mechanic masculinity.
LaMarca and Dimmock bring warmth to the rarely told stories of transitioning women. As she clicks through a gallery of selfies, Nina shows the camera how in the early stages of her transition, her makeup application was awkward, with thick lipstick and eye shadow like a Rorschach test. In the most recent photos, she's perfected the process, with smoky eyes and a subtle tone of lipstick. It's a charming, humanizing depiction of the transition process that few cisgender people get to witness first hand.
The Pearl has already been well-received, winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2016 Dallas International Film Festival. "This is a part of [the transgender] community that's completely underground, that no one knows exists," says LaMarca. "There's no services for them, they grew up with no internet, and they've been entrenched in masculinity their whole lives, trying to hide this."
Originally from New York, LaMarca gained a love for the West Coast and environmental activism studying environmental science at the University of Oregon. LaMarca built a career as a photojournalist for publications such as Rolling Stone, GQ and Mother Jones, covering environmental stories like a toxic sludge spill in eastern Tennessee and natural gas production in Wyoming. In 2008, he released Forest Defenders, a collection of photographs documenting eco-activists attempting to stop logging in Southern Oregon.
LaMarca's background becomes apparent as you watch his films. Whether it's the sun peeking into a fog-laden Applegate Valley, or a middle-aged transgender woman changing from the masculine clothes she wears in front of her wife—who doesn't know she's trans—to a flowing blouse while ducking away from the eerie yellow haze of a Walmart parking lot, LaMarca's command of light leaves you gobsmacked.
"At the end of the day, that's the most important thing," says LaMarca, "that it's almost a physical experience for the audience."
SEE IT: The Pearl screens as part of the 43rd Northwest Filmmakers' Festival at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium at 5 pm Saturday, Nov. 12, and 5th Avenue Cinema at 5:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 13.