By Douglas Gosse (Toronto, ON, CAN)
Daniel Friedman & Rae Tutera. Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO
Canadians Play Vital Role in Vanguard Documentary
Director Jason Benjamin (Suited, 2016; USA; 78 min.) reveals that three Canadians played a pivotal role in creating his captivating documentary about Bindle & Keep, a bespoke clothing store in Brooklyn, New York, where trans, androgynous, and gender nonconforming clients flock to have a suit made to their specifications.
“I’m very proud to say that Owen Pallett, who came out with the wonderful score, is a Canadian. Daniel Friedman, one of the tailors, is a Canadian. Also, the editor, M. Watanabe Milmore, who worked so hard with me, and so closely with me, to tell the story to craft this multifaceted tale, is a Canadian. So, three main parts of the film are Canadian!”
Owen Pallett is a composer, violinist, keyboardist, and vocalist, born in Mississauga, Ontario. Daniel Friedman, originally from Toronto, Ontario, paired with Rae Tutera to form the bespoke clothier Bindle & Keep in 2011. M. Watanabe Milmore’s, editor of Suited, is from Western Canada. Regarding his Canadian collaborators, and Canadians in general, Jason says:
“I’d like to think that Canadians are everywhere in the creative community, and they’re good at what they do.”
The idea for Suited was hatched on November 27, 2013, when Jason opened the New York Times and read an article called “The Masculine Mystique” by John Leland. Store bought clothes present many problems for folks who are transgender, androgynous, or otherwise gender nonconforming. For instance, buttons may be on the wrong side, sizes may be confusing, and the clothing may not fit the contours of a client with curves who wants a more male silhouette. Jason explains, “Very often people who are struggling with their gender presentation are wearing clothes that are too big for them, to hide parts of their body. The idea of looking at yourself in the mirror, and wanting to like what you see staring back at you, is a basic human thing.”
Jason Benjamin was motivated by a desire to reflect diversity in his selection of stories for Suited:
“When I talk about diversity, it’s not just racial, it’s a diversity that involves geographic diversity, economic diversity, and a diversity of stories from different regions of the country. I wanted to characterize this as a broader story than just something that takes place in Brooklyn.”
Suited follows several clients of Bindle & Keep from their online request for a fitting to the exhilarating final reveal. Derek Matteson, a transgender man and nurse from Providence, Rhode Island, has a stylish suit made for his upcoming wedding. Melissa “Mel” Plaut, a gender nonconforming cabbie from Brooklyn, New York, orders a custom-made suit for her 40th birthday celebration. Aidan Star Jones, a transgender teenage boy, gets suited up at Bindle & Keep for his Bar Mitzvah, courtesy of his adoring grandmother. Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, a transgender woman, attorney, and professor in New York, wants to look and feel her best in preparation for a prominent federal court case. Gender nonconforming writer and activist Grace Dunham, also from New York, requests a winter suit that she can “run around in” and wear to professional engagements and events, while Everett Arthur, a transman, cellist, and law student from Atlanta, Georgia, seeks a flattering suit for job interviews in the South.
Rae Tutera & Grace Dunham. Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO
Life can take us in unanticipated directions. When Daniel Friedman began his bespoke clothing company, he thought he was going to primarily cater to a Wall Street clientele. Enter Rae Tutera, a transmasculine person, who approached Daniel after difficulties finding an appropriate suit. Subsequently, Rae began an apprenticeship at Bindle & Keep, and posted about their work on Rae’s blog, The Handsome Butch. Interest blossomed from LGBTTIQQ2SA clients.
Jason Benjamin. Photo Credit: JoJo Whilden/Courtesy of HBO
Overall rating (4.3/5): Suited successfully showcases the critical roles of clothing in formulating our individual core identities, personal happiness, and familial and social engagement. The footage of Derek Matteson visiting his farmer parents in his rural hometown, where they share photos, and reflect on his childhood and transition process, is poignant. Viewer intimacy is at its best when Derek enters a hospital to undergo surgery to remove his female reproductive organs. Post op, Derek is in considerable pain. A close-up of Derek’s fiancée whispering tender reassurances at his bedside grabs viewer attention and empathy. Finally, Suited reveals their joyous wedding day. As he awaits his beautiful bride at the altar, Derek looks confident and smashing in his bespoke Bindle & Keep suit. The in-depth focus on Derek Matteson’s story creates a more relatable and human portrait. The other clients are mostly showcased during fittings at Bindle & Keep. Although it is uplifting to hear their earnest testimonies, read their facial expressions, and witness their exclamations of satisfaction, I would have liked to learn more about their personal journeys.
The suit making experience at Bindle & Keep is highly personalized, and part of a revelatory journey for clients. Whether trans, androgynous, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, or cisgender, clothes are analogous to an excellent documentary – reflections of who we are, and how we envision ourselves in a better world.
Viewed Wednesday, May 4 at TIFF Bell Lightbox @ Hot Docs, Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
Director: Jason Benjamin
Producers: Ericka Naegle, Carly Hugo, Jenni Konner, Stacey Reiss, Lena Dunham, Jason Benjamin
Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins
Editor: M. Watanabe Milmore
Cinematographer: Bob Richman
Composer: Owen Pallett