Documentary Review: ‘Finding Kim’

“Sky of memory and shadow, your burning wind fills my arms tonight. Sky of longing and emptiness, sky of fullness, of blessed life.”
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

If prejudice is rooted in ignorance, the only cure is empathy. We Homo Sapiens are tribal creatures who have an unfortunate tendency to spurn those who do not conform to the current social norm. While it may be an important evolutionary feature that ensured the survival of our species in the cave dwelling era, our predisposition towards intolerance has illuminated an uglier side of humanity. It is therefore necessary to combat these exclusionary urges that spring from our most primal fears with an effort to understand the outsider, which can only be done if people are taken as individuals.

At its best, the documentary Finding Kim plays like a Springsteen song; a deeply personal journey fraught with hardship that flirts with despair but embraces hope. We meet Kim, a delightful, soft spoken middle-aged guy who grew up on the beach, who loves to swim and dance. He also happens to be going through his transition from female to male. Kim always felt and acted like a boy, but having been born a girl, was bullied and rejected by his peers; he never felt comfortable changing for gym class or using a public bathroom. To cope with the ostracization, Kim turned to drugs.

Years later, Kim has accepted that he is a man, and the time has come for his body to reflect that fact. He takes testosterone which deepens his voice, and allows him to grow facial hair. But unfortunately, drug therapy can do very little to reduce his ample chest, a source of great self-conscious discomfort. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for Kim when he describes his longing to take off his shirt at a pool and go swimming. It’s this kind of longing, this desire to experience the small aspects of life so often taken for granted that make Kim so lovable.

We also get a glimpse of transgender life from the perspectives of model and actress Carmen Carrera, author and former U.S. Marine Corps medic Calpurnia Addams, and adult film performer Buck Angel. While they all add to paint a fuller picture of the difficulties that transgender individuals face, they don’t have quite the same impact on the viewer. Carmen Carrera is eloquent and gorgeous, but there is something so angelic about her that she is difficult to picture as an individual. Calpurnia Addams carries herself with becoming grace, and Buck Angel exudes charisma and sass, but these interviews pale in comparison to the casual chat with Kim’s dance partner Sweet Pete. There honest affection for one another is worth a million PSAs.

Throughout the rest of the film, Kim discusses the social difficulties of his journey with friends, debates whether to inform his conservative parents of his transition, and eventually undergoes surgery on his chest. But rather than the action and message, which will no doubt be familiar to much of this film’s audience, the real power of the documentary lies in Kim’s disposition; he is never defeated, but goes from obstacle to obstacle with remarkable honesty and subtle yet dogged optimism.
Those who go to see Finding Kim with the desire to embrace their fellow human beings in all forms will no doubt enjoy the movie. More importantly, this film could change minds, or at least challenge them. For the most part, it steers clear of preachy platitudes and combative condescension, which is easy to oppose or turn out. Far easier it would be to mistreat “some trans person,” than it is to mistreat a guy named Kim: a guy who loves to swim, is a great dancer, and who could disarm a particularly ill-tempered cobra with his unassuming charm. Finding Kim works because it’s not a lecture or a sermon. It’s a story about a guy named Kim.

FINDING KIM debuts on Digital and VOD – June 6 and In Select Theatres May 31.

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