No Boundaries

by Katie Nanton

photography by Tanja-Tiziana burdi

The pandemic notwithstanding, Chase Joynt (MA ’11, PhD ’16) has kept characteristically busy, adding steadily to a body of work that interrogates representations of gender and violence in their many forms. Since the fall of 2020, the internationally acclaimed artist, writer and scholar has been hunkered down south of the border working with queer theorist and writer Julietta Singh on The Nest, a feature-length documentary about radical maternities, interracial alliances and colonial histories across 140 years of Canadian history, all told through the story of a single piece of architecture: one house in Winnipeg.

This latest project follows on the heels of another feature-length documentary, No Ordinary Man, about trans-masculine jazz musician Billy Tipton, which Joynt made with co-director Aisling Chin-Yee. The film screened at Cannes Docs 2020 as part of the Canadian Showcase of Docs-in-Progress, and was named one of Canada’s Top Ten after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2020. Now the winner of seven festival awards, the film has been hailed by the New Yorker as “a genre unto itself,” and by IndieWire as “the future of trans cinema.”

Another of Joynt’s films – Framing Agnes, a short about L.A.’s gender-nonconforming community in the 1950s – debuted at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival to great acclaim, and is currently being developed into a feature film with support from Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program.

As if that weren’t enough, Joynt is presently chipping away at his second book, Every Difference Is a Likeness, partly inspired by his recent discovery of a familial relation to Canadian media maverick Marshall “The medium is the message” McLuhan. Joynt’s first book, 2015’s You Only Live Twice: Sex, Death and Transition, detailed his transition from female to male and the near-death encounter with AIDS of his co-author, Canadian indie filmmaker Mike Hoolboom. Critically lauded, it was a 2017 Lambda Literary Award finalist and named one of the Best Books of 2016 by the Globe and Mail and the CBC.

Joynt also directed an episode of The CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories filmed recently in Vancouver and, since 2019, has held an assistant professorship in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of Victoria. And that’s just scratching the surface of projects on the go.

Joynt has overflowing talents that bridge many disciplines. No wonder he bridles against being identified as simply a filmmaker.

I always want people to recognize what’s possible when you centre the voices and experiences of those most impacted by the story and its telling

“The word filmmaker comes with such a pre-scripted set of expectations,” says the tattooed creative with a flicker of a smile. “I’m an artist who traffics in non-fiction. For me, moving images are some of the most compelling ways to tell stories, because they open up different affective possibilities to think with sound, image, colour and texture.”

On a deeper level, identifying as an artist is a mode of resistance against genre specificity for Joynt. It also alludes to a much broader project at work within his oeuvre: that of challenging presumed labels.

He took two degrees at York – a master’s in gender, feminist and women’s studies and a PhD in cinema and media studies. At the time, the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design was examining the idea of artist–scholars, and the proposition of someone writing a dissertation and making a film at the same time. Joynt did just that, and his short Between You and Me was acquired for online distribution and streaming by CBC Short Docs.

“Chase was swift in his journey as a student,” says Professor Allyson Mitchell (BA ’91, BA ’95), who sat on both his MA and PhD supervisory committees. “He was one of the most interesting and interested that I have ever had the pleasure of working with in my time at York.”

Born and raised in a Toronto suburb, Joynt attended theatre school at the University of California, Los Angeles, as an undergraduate. While living in California, he became deeply involved in activist communities committed to the eradication of sexual- and gender-based violence. The experience made him realize that working within traditional industry might not be the most effective way to bring about social change.

After graduating from UCLA in 2004, he spent some time in San Francisco, then returned to Toronto to attend grad school at York. He arrived with a fresh perspective and a sharper lens with which to view the world. “It was then that I started to think out loud, and theoretically, about trans representation, both historically and in the contemporary moment,” he says.

It was around 2010, while a student at York, that Joynt notably pivoted his work toward making moving-image representations of trans and gender-nonconforming people, after he spied a significant void. To help inform his journey as an art-making activist and academic, Joynt found inspiration in a group of faculty members who were working artists as well as professors: John Greyson (MA ’10), Allyson Mitchell and Brenda Longfellow (PhD ’93).

“I think a lot about the current cultural climate surrounding trans representation, and I ask, ‘How can I intervene upon the stories about trans people that have so often been authored by the mainstream – the talk shows, the tabloid circuits – and what role can activists and experimental cinemas play in politicizing stories and reimagining histories?’”

Multi-layered and cerebral, Joynt’s work can be at once deeply personal and emotionally affective but glimmers with humour and irony. In 2012, for instance, Joynt created an experimental short called I’m Yours with performance artist Nina Arsenault. At first glance, the work places Joynt and Arsenault onscreen answering personal questions about transitioning in a traditional documentary style. Beneath that veneer lies its true meaning: a satirical response to their ongoing frustration about the intrusive, repetitive line of questioning taken by the media about trans bodies, lives and experiences.

The film is in direct conversation with a piece called Sackville, I’m Yours by experimental video artist Colin Campbell; it’s also a prime example of Joynt weaving others’ texts into his work and acknowledging those who came before. “I never claim to be making up these ideas or strategies for the first time,” he says, addressing how the publicness of his career was built on the generosity of other artists. That has translated into a personal dedication to both sharing his platform and collaborating frequently.

One of those collaborators is York University professor John Greyson. The duo worked together on a short film series of Greyson’s entitled Murder in Passing, which aired on TTC platform monitors in 2013 and acted as an intervention into debates about anti-trans violence and transit issues. Joynt contributed research and also played the lead acting role. The duo’s latest project is a hybrid feature of the work called Last Car.

“Chase has had, and continues to have, a huge and influential impact on my work and on my practice as an artist and filmmaker,” Greyson says. “I consider his extraordinary works a profound inspiration and eagerly await his amazing McLuhan book.”

There are many who look forward to his future works, including Telefilm Canada executive director Christa Dickenson (MFA ’93), a fellow York University graduate and a big supporter of his work. “Chase is one of those up-and-coming filmmakers that we have been waiting for,” Dickenson says. “With Chase’s track record, co-directing No Ordinary Man and now developing Framing Agnes into a feature-length film, supported by Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program and the Talent Fund, we are optimistic that his stories will enlighten audiences at home and abroad.”

Asked how he wants viewers to feel after experiencing one of his moving-image creations, Joynt pauses before answering, “I always want people to recognize what’s possible when you centre the voices and experiences of those most impacted by the story and its telling.” By challenging a history that is authored by those who have power, Joynt actively intervenes upon those well-worn narratives.

Indeed, through his work, Mitchell can see the canon change before her eyes: “I knew from the moment that I met Chase that he would make history.”  ■

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