The Sound of Identity at OUTShine & Macon Film Festival

The Sound of Identity will preview for audiences back home in the South this August, and I couldn't be more excited about it.

In this midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, obviously, we have had to recalibrate our plans for the films release. In constant conversation with my terrific producers, Russ Kirkpatrick, Andy Kinslow and Josh Bachove, we've found terrific landing spots at the OUTShine Film Festival and Macon Film Festival.

Growing up in Georgia, the Macon Film Festival was the first film festival that programmed my work when I was only 19 years old. It is an honor to come home to present the film as my very first special screening.

The Sound of Identity at OUTShine & Macon Film Festival
Director James Kicklighter on the Grand Opera House marquee in Macon, Georgia in 2012.

When I was 24, we screened a short film that I directed at the Grand Opera House. It does feel like a full circle moment to come back with a feature film, especially a film that is the clearest expression of my narrative goals as a director.

The Macon Film Festival has watched me grow up, from an aspiring director to a full fledged professional.

People like Tabitha Walker, Stephanie Ann Shadden, Elliott Dunwody, Maryann Bates, Heidi Lancaster, Michael Dunaway, and many others, actively taught me how to become better in my transition from college to the real world.

I also think of the Macon Film Festival patrons who come back every year to all of my screenings. I cherish the relationships that I have built with that audience. I look forward to seeing people and catching up with them, and always feel humbled that they come back for me.

I feel like there's still a lot to learn and a long way to go, but everyone's support over the years really helped to build my knowledge and confidence in filmmaking. I certainly would not have gotten as far as I have without their patience through my trials and errors, and ultimately, their confidence in my work.

The Sound of Identity at OUTShine & Macon Film Festival

This will be my first screening experience with the OUTShine Film Festival.

OUTShine is presented by Comcast, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, and others. I will miss the comrade and opportunity to meet the organizers and audiences in person (don't we all miss that!), but they have done everything in their power to bring that community online.

As anyone who lives in the state of Florida will be able to watch, I look forward to engaging with you there! Bringing the film directly to LGBTQ+ audiences gives us an opportunity to highlight the incredible story of Lucia Lucas.

Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the concepts of loss and identity, and The Sound of Identity is no different.

The essence of identity is held in an existential question — who am I?

Lucia Lucas in The Sound of Identity

While many people perceive their internal identity through the lens of life experiences, friends, family and loved ones, identity is also defined by global societies and cultures.

Man.

Woman.

Christian.

Muslim.

Straight.

Gay.

These are the boxes that are predetermined, the identities that society creates for each of us from centuries of cultural norms and collectively held beliefs. 

When we fall out of those boxes, we become the other, the unknown, undefinable enigma, irrelevant from our individual internal identity. This paradox becomes the negotiation of our entire lives, our very existence, living in our own skin while being born into societies that were created before we took our first breath. 

As a child, Lucia Lucas knew that the person society defined her to be was not the person who lived within.

As an adult, Lucia struggled with this existential struggle, finally deciding to transition into the woman she always was. Unlike many Transgender people who transition, Lucia’s voice is her entire livelihood, a baritone trapped in the conservative, rigid structure of Opera. Choosing to transition in the prime of her career, she took an extraordinary risk, gambling her livelihood for her wellbeing. 

Opera singer Lucia Lucas in The Sound of Identity

Though the professional choices we make as artists define our creative lives, so do our external identities.

Straight white male.

Female director.

Trans actor.

Person of color.

These associations tell financiers, producers, studios and the general viewing public what kinds of stories we should tell, even if we don’t want to tell the stories associated with that identity. It’s easier for society to grasp when there’s a label attached, by no fault of the individual person involved. 

Lucia Lucas is the first transgender woman in America, if not the world, to perform the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni on a professional operatic stage.

This gave her the unenviable task of defining that identity for all transgender people who follow in Opera. Not because she wanted to become the definition, but because society has made that decision in a global media maelstrom.

Baritone Lucia Lucas in The Sound of Identity

Intertwined with the man who hired her, legendary opera composer Tobias Picker, The Sound of Identity explores the creative process through identity in our personal and professional lives. In following both narratives, I have crafted the most intimate film of my career, and I hope that you’ll walk away asking yourself — who are you? 

Through her unique journey as a world-renowned baritone, we tell the story of a Transgender woman as she uses her voice to make American history at the Tulsa Opera as the first Trans performer in a leading role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Under the artistic direction of Tobias Picker, one of modern Opera’s most prolific composers, we will observe the collaborative process from inception to the stage performance.

Lucia Lucas and Tobias Picker in The Sound of Identity

Throughout the storied history of the Tulsa Opera, which has showcased the leading talents of the day, they now add Lucia Lucas to this long lineage of trailblazers.

Our work as artists are both informed by our life experiences and the times we live in.

Through telling the story of Lucia Lucas today, in an era where Trans visibility is unprecedented, we examine the strides that have been made, but also, the long road ahead for this marginalized community. 

As Lucia empowers others with her voice, we will learn something about ourselves and the indefatigable human spirit.

Until people can see The Sound of Identity everywhere (more on that soon), see you at the screenings.

Cheers,
James

Lucia Lucas Don Giovanni at Tulsa Opera