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Playing at the Stranger Than Fiction section of the Glasgow Film Festival, Check It is a unique little documentary that that plays out like a real-life version of the film Tangerine and Hubert Selby Jr’s cult novel Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Check It follows a group of transgender teens and young adults in Washington DC who formed their own gang for protection and has gone up to 200 members. Within the group, community workers set out to help some of these young people who suffer a triple whammy of discrimination: race, class and gender identity/sexuality.
Check It was directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, filmmakers who have experience working on TV documentaries and they have picked an interesting subject for their latest film – looking at maligned people in a city that is notorious for its levels of poverty and has a surprisingly high level of homophobic attacks. It’s certainly timely considering the regressive measures the Trump administration has introduced against the LGTBQ community.
Flor and Oppenheimer went for a fly-on-the-wall approach, following the three gang members and their support workers during the course of a few months. There is no voiceovers, narration or talking heads in studios or offices. The only footage not filmed by the directors is the occasional news report and cell phone footage of fights which gives audiences some context. This gives the documentary its greatest strength – a sense of authenticity and allows the participants’ voice to be unfiltered.
Check It focuses on a few members of the gang. Three of them are given the opportunity to work on a yearly fashion show while another member has potential to become a boxer. Despite the opportunities, some members don’t seize them: one of the gang members in the fashion project acts like a disruptive child in a class – needing to be told off by the man running the project and dragging their friends down. The project coordinator has to act like a teacher and split them up. The same happens to Skittles who abandons boxing and despite the troubles the gym owner has he invests a lot of time in the teen, fearing they would become another statistic.
As well as this main cast and their activity, Flor and Oppenheimer do look at the wider issues affecting the community. They film transgender youths streetwalking on K Street, selling their bodies and have a variety of weapons ready to protect themselves – one youth calls the phone to report a sexual assault and when the girls at the fashion project admit they fear Check It because despite the fact they identify as women they still have strength of fully grown men: some of them are huge.
Check It is a well-meaning documentary, but because of its filmmaking style it is much more fitting for home viewing than in theaters. It will properly find itself on HBO or Netflix in the United States and if it had been a British production it would have been made for an outlet like BBC Three.