Southern Comfort (Dir: Kate Davis, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Format: ,
Running Time: 90 min

Robert Eads and Lola Cola


Subject Headings: documentary, transsexual identity, health care, human rights

Southern Comfort is divided into the last four seasons of the life of Robert Eads, a cowboy from the Toccoa, Georgia backcountry.  Director Kate Davis spent one year living with Eads and filming his daily struggle with ovarian cancer.  More than a dozen doctors denied Eads treatment because he was a female-to-male transsexual.  Unable to receive treatment, the cancer ultimately claimed Eads’ life shortly after he spoke at the 1999 Southern Comfort conference in Atlanta, GA.  Southern Comfort, an annual conference for people affected by trans issues,

During the last year of his life, Eads pursued a close relationship with Lola Cola, a male-to-female transsexual. Davis documented their life together, as well as the tensions that resulted within Eads’ “family of choice.”  After bearing two sons, a period that he described as both the best and the worst in his life, Eads divorced his husband and lived as a lesbian before undergoing gender reassignment surgery to live as a woman.  At the time Davis was filming, Eads lived near several other transsexuals who came out publicly for the first time in the film.  Fiercely protective of one another, each member of the family sought to help Eads, who was a father figure and mentor to each.  Eads’ biological family, including his parents, son, and grandson, makes a brief appearance, but they still see him as a daughter and father and are unable to relate to the person he has become.  The loss of his biological family clearly pains Eads deeply, and he often mentions his grandson, to whom he has always been a man.

Davis highlights the frustration and anger felt by Eads and his friends over the medical establishment’s unwillingness to offer transsexuals parity. Those who underwent gender reassignment surgery shared stories about the expense and the doctors who did a poor job.  Footage of Southern Comfort reveals men and women discriminated against and threatened by a system ill equipped to address difference.  But as much as the film is about the difficulties faced by transsexuals in America, it also emphasizes the beauty and normalcy of transsexual relationships.  By showing both the unity and the divisions within Eads’ chosen family, Davis demonstrates that they are as human as her audience.  The film received numerous awards and critical acclaim, including a grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Will Hopkins 2011

Further Reading:

Official web site:

Southern Comfort web site:

World Professional Association for Transgender Health:

Meyer, Carla. The transsexual life, Southern style / HBO documentary explores fascinating ‘chosen family’. 2002. <>

Mitchell, Elvis. Genders That Shift, but Friends Firm as Bedrock. The New York Times. 2001. <>

Señorita Extraviada (Lourdes Portillo, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 74 min

Lourdes Portillo is known for her documentary work on Latin America, particularly on the experiences of Latin American women. Her 1986 documentary (co-directed by Susana Blaustein Muñoz) Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo was nominated for an Oscar. In 2001 she released Señorita Extraviada, a haunting film investigating the ongoing serial murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Since 1993, over 300 young women have been killed in the border town of Juarez, and their murders remain unsolved. With this documentary, Portillo traces the history of these crimes, and the many developments and criticisms surrounding the thus far failed investigation. She speaks with the family members of many of the disappeared young women, as well as government officials involved. Throughout the film, Portillo shows the faces and names of many of these disappeared women; they are students, workers, and mothers, and they have all been brutally murdered.

No one knows for sure who the killers are, but there are layers of government and corporate complicity apparent in Portillo’s documentary. Juarez is a town filled with maquiladoras, which are manufacturing plants owned by foreign companies. These plants tend to employ young women, and many of the Juarez victims featured in this film disappeared from their jobs at the maquiladoras. Because these companies bring large amounts of jobs and revenue to Mexico, they often go unregulated, and many of Portillo’s subjects worry that the crime wave will continue unchecked. Moreover, as a border town, Juarez is a locus of drug trafficking, which is a further source of violence.

Since the release of Señorita Extraviada in 2001, the murders have sadly continued. The suggested reading below includes recent new coverage of the situation as well as work more directly concerning the filmmaker.

Watch the film on POV until May 31, 2011.

Further reading:

Rodriguez, Teresa. 2007. Daughters of Juárez. New York: Atria Books.

Washington Valdez, Diana. 2006. The Killing Fields. Los Angeles: Peace at the Border.

Michelle J. Martinez. “Cinema Chicana: An Interview with Lourdes Portillo.” Journal of Film and Video 62.1 (2010): 23-30. Project MUSE. Web.

Señorita Extraviada web site.

Caitlin Adams 4/24/11

Fat Girl (Dir: Catherine Breillat, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 86 min

“Á Ma Soeur!” released in America as “Fat Girl”
Written and Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Released: March 7, 2001
Original Format: 35mm, interpositiveCatherine Breillat, or “the bad girl intellectual of French film” as Amy Taubin of “The Village Voice” once wrote, is well known and widely criticized for her sexually explicit, often extremely graphic films and Fat Girl is no different. Fat Girl follows the lives of two sisters while on vacation in France, Elena, the beautiful older sister who is described as reeking of “loose morals” according to her sister, the “fat lump” Anaïs. The film starts out with them discussing the loss of virginity. Elena, like most fifteen-year-old girls, hopes to lose her virginity to her first true, reciprocated love. Anaïs, twelve, laughs at her and says that she wishes to give herself to “nobody”, that way when she does fall in love she can be “broken in”. She does not want anybody to say they had her first. This opening interaction not only demonstrates their conflicting values, but also sets the tone for their relationship throughout the film.

Soon after this conversation the sisters meet Fernando, an Italian student also on vacation, and Elena is almost immediately infatuated. As their relationship develops, Fernando and Elena have midnight rendezvous’ in her room, which she shares with her younger sister. Fernando aggressively seduces her, and she actively objects while Anaïs is awoken and forced to listen to them fight. Eventually he overwhelms Elena with protestations of love and affection, and they have sex while her sister weeps silently. Although Elena is convinced that they will be married, soon things go terribly wrong and their vacation is cut short when her mother finds out that she accepted a gift that Fernando had no right to give.
After an increasingly suspenseful car ride, the film ends shockingly with a tragic turn of events. This film touches on many themes, not only of sexuality and the loss of virginity but also sibling rivalry and relationships, as well as maturity and consent. Although it may be difficult to suggest showing it in an academic setting due to explicit and fairly disturbing content, Fat Girl should not be dismissed as it addresses important and provocative issues worth discussing.

For more information on Catherine Breillat, refer to the following interview conducted by Peter Sobczynski after the release of “Fat Girl”:

Amazonia (Dir: Nandini Sikand, 2001)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 8 min

Original Format: Color & B/W, 35 mm

Related Subjects: Health, women’s health issues, body image, breast cancer


Amazonian women were legendary warriors who were said to have cut off their breasts in order to become more skilled archers. In her film titled “Amazonia”, Sikand presents her sister’s experience with breast cancer in an unusual but moving style. The film is experimental and incorporates lines of prose with video of urban environments and more personal visions of her sister’s body. Sikand cleverly superimposes images to compare the urban environment with the landscape of the patient’s body. She is also creative with the overlay of sound in “Amazonia”. At the beginning of the film, she uses tropical sounds in the background overlaying both the urban imagery and the depiction of the internal environment of the human body. Later, the nature sounds are replaced by the honking of car horns, sirens, and other sounds associated with a busy metropolis. These grating noises and the grittiness of the city images help to compare Sikand’s sister’s scarred physicality with the dirtiness and scarring of an urban jungle. She depicts women battling breast cancer as warriors equivalent to the fierce Amazons.

Sikand demonstrates the pain involved with illness in a hopeful and triumphant manner, emphasizing survival. She presents the concepts ying and yang as compared to the symmetrical right and left breasts. She then unveils the physical effects of breast cancer, showing a front on view of her sister’s body, post- treatment. This image is accompanied by a face shown half in light and half in shadow. The sister slowly removes her wig, showing her baldness as a shocking testimony to the effects of cancer treatment on her body. These images are consistent with the idea of inner conflict and the depiction of women battling breast cancer as amazons defending their territory. Sikand alternates black and white with vivid color. The black and white portions of the film lend a starkness to the images, but the contrasting color scenes are full of life. The film is moving in its depiction of what Nandini Sikand’s sister has lost to cancer, and serves to inspire women in their battle.

Quotes from Critics:

“…provides a new way to imagine the lives of those in pain with ongoing serious illnesses. It offers a textured imagery of crowds and cities and struggle, of fighting and nobility it’s not about being a victim. Illness brings pain and loss, but it is also full of life.”
Julia Lesage
English Dept, University of

“… a visually stunning video, shuttling between chillingly sharp digital photography and warm, poignant, almost pointalist images… Evocative of both individual memory and the history of gendered bodies, it claims, in its short length, both the Lyric and the Manifesto, as it engages questions of breast cancer.”Joseph BolesNorthern Arizona University

Bibliographic resource:

Tummala- Narra, P., Bewtra, A., and Akhtar, S. 2006. The celluloid
Ganges: an annotated filmography of the Indian diaspora. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. 2(3): 297-310.