Austin Unbound: The First Documentary about a Man Who is Deaf and Trans

The groundbreaking film, “Austin Unbound,” chronicles years in the life of Austin, a trans and deaf man in Oregon. Now receiving international attention, the director, Eliza Greenwood -who received the first grant for the production from Pride Foundation in 2006 – shared with us her own journey through the production of this film.

Directors Commentary

Many people have asked what inspired me to create the film “Austin Unbound.” Along with finding Austin wildly entertaining, I decided I wanted to document the journey of this funny and fascinating character, because of a change I noticed in myself. Prior to meeting him, transgender issues were unfamiliar to me. My first instinct was to distrust the transgender experience. As someone who is incredibly comfortable with my own female body, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to ‘disown their gender’. I was deeply immersed in the Deaf community, where I met Austin, and something inside me changed upon our meeting. Although my brain did not find logic in it, it wasn’t my place to judge. I was gifted with this moment and I wanted other people to have that chance, to meet him and accept him as a human being.

Getting to Know Austin-

He is a Deaf transman, Austin, is 31 years old. He has struggled with feeling burdened by his female anatomy all his life. In middle school, he changed his name and began to dress as a boy. Despite his challenges, Austin is a regular guy with a comedic sense and flair for romance and storytelling. Gathering varying intimate glimpses from his mother, girlfriend, and best friend, Austin shamelessly counters with his own perspective on his personal journey.

The film follows him and his best friend on the road trip to finally meet his surgeon and undergo a double-mastectomy. Inviting viewers into the operating theatre, they bear witness to the happiest day of Austin’s life. His journey is an inspiration to many, his self awareness, humor, and personality long recognized and honored in his community. The use of specific cinematography, subtitles, and sound design reflect Austin’s Deaf experience in cinematic effect.

A photo of Austin

A Film is Born

I spent seven years producing “Austin Unbound.” It finally premiered in November, 2011. Throughout production, my crew and I were convinced that Austin’s story deserved a high quality film accessible to broad audiences, while also staying true to the artistic concept of “silent film with music” which honors the Deaf community.

We ignored suggestions to hire voice-actors, while noting that securing funding with this kind of sound-design was going to be a challenge. One of our first grants came from Pride Foundation, in 2006. This award of $2150 was a godsend. It helped us hire Seattle-based Basil Shadid, a professional editor, who gelled incredibly with the project and joined in full-force, moving us towards the finish line. Because of the impact of the grant and my admiration for their work, I decided to get involved with Pride Foundation as a volunteer. In doing so I was able to further hone and develop my skills as a community leader and activist.

I am pleased to say that the sound-design and treatment of the film are exactly how we pictured it because it brings the audience into Austin’s world. Upon completion, Pride Foundation awarded an additional $1500 to help move us into this next phase of releasing the film. Thanks to Pride Foundation’s financial support of the project, as well as the skill-building I was the beneficiary of, “Austin Unbound” is finally being shared nationally and internationally.

Jett Johnson is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.

Update: Director Eliza Greenwood just let us know that Austin Unbound was selected to  screen at the 3rd KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival to be held from May 23rd to May 27th, 2012!

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