This is a trans film!

in 65th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Müge Turan

Anhell69 (Theo Montoya, 2022), the top prize winner of DOK Leipzig this year, portrays a young, queer generation that grapples with everyday life and a disarmingly high rate of suicide and drug overdoses. It plays in Medellín, a city known for being Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and Colombia’s “open wound.” The film opens with Theo Montoya’s words, “I didn’t want to be born. I was never asked,” which echoes the collective presence of his generation and their urgency to survive.

We see Montoya as the director remembering the preproduction of his first film, a B-movie with ghosts set in a dystopic world, where Escobar had become “the father of a nation without any paternal reference.” Because there’s not enough space to bury bodies in cemeteries, people start cohabiting in the city with the ghosts: ‘spectrophilia’ (sex with ghosts) becomes a common sexual practice. And these young lovers wanting unprotected sex with spirits are haunted by the government or the church.

The name of the film comes from the Instagram account of Montoya’s 21-year-old leading actor Camilo Najar, who dies of a heroin overdose. He not only stands out in casting interviews but also becomes a love interest for the director. Unfortunately, he dies shortly after the casting, just like many of Montoya’s friends. Since then, Anhell69 becomes a symbol of the rebel, the fatherless kids demanding their right to live with ghosts. In this way, the film Montoya wanted to shoot in the first place functions as a metaphor in Anhell69, where he retools it for the reality of his community and as well the history of Colombian cinema.

Anhell69 is a dark exploration of a “nation that’s killing its children,” but it can also be considered a trans film, i.e. a film without borders. Not just because it’s a documentary about transgender people but also because it transgresses cinematic boundaries between documentary and fiction and raises a conflict in expectations. It celebrates the ghost lovers and their parties but also soaks in melancholy, mystifying the border between life and death.

All queer cinema can, to a degree, be considered a form of activism. Although “cinema” as Montana says, “is the only place he could cry,” the medium also helped him to promote queer representation and explore his generation’s psyche. Anhell69, with its neo-noir and gothic aesthetics is a miraculous act of cinematic alchemy that is both deeply felt and powerful in its politics, heart-wrenching and unashamedly inspiring at the same time.

Müge Turan
Edited by Anne-Christine Loranger