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(The 2019 Maryland Film Festival ran May 8-12 in Baltimore, Maryland. Lead Critic Chris Reed traveled far to cover the fest for HtN! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

The life of transgender people is not easy, and the discrimination they face in various parts of the world pushes a fair number of them into sex work. In Theodore Collatos (Tormenting the Hen) and Carolina Monnerat’s portrait of one such community, located in the party neighborhood of Lapa, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we meet the self-proclaimed leader of the group, and founder and president of the Association of Transgender Sex Professionals, Luana Muniz in the documentary Queen of Lapa. Beyond prostitution, she is also an actress and activist and, most importantly, the owner of a home for her comrades-in-arms. Without her, many of them might live on the street. The Queen of Lapa is a most just ruler, indeed!

The married directors present the profile of Muniz in a marvelous showcase of fly-on-the-wall observational filmmaking, occasionally engaging in fourth-wall-breaking direct interactions with their subjects, but mostly just hovering in the background. Beyond Muniz, we follow, in close-up detail, multiple subjects as they experience the highs and lows of their profession, trading beauty secrets amongst each other while also issuing romantic warnings (“don’t fall in love” being the main one). They are a lively bunch, full of vim and vigor, though also, at times, the victims of aggression from those who view them as doubly inhuman: hookers and trans.

Muniz, older than her charges, has a long history in the city, and Collatos and Monnerat reveal tantalizing glimpses into her past. She loves the glamour of a good photo shoot, never failing to rise to the occasion of the perfect pose, cigarette in one hand and fan in the other. She is an iconic figure, subject of another recent documentary, as well, Evangelia Kranioti’s Obscuro Barroco (which I haven’t seen). Given her vibrant charisma and powerful on-camera life force, it comes as a shock at the end to see the “in memoriam” tribute to her on a final title card. Gone she may be, but with such a marvelous encomium as this, the queen will long live on in our cinematic memory.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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