Film Reviews

TIFF 2020: No Ordinary Man Review

Corrects history by queering it

Courtesy of TIFF


No Ordinary Man
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt
Programme: TIFF Docs (World Premiere)

If the words of history are wildly inaccurate thanks to ignorant, if mostly well-intentioned, cis-het white folks, then No Ordinary Man brilliantly rewrites the past. This significant film from directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt and writer Amos Mac corrects the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton through voices he inspired.

The film confronts the often-circulated but incorrect narrative that Tipton was a woman who passed as a man to enjoy a musical career during the 1940s and ‘50s. This “Chin-Yee Joynt” film honours the musician’s life and music by reminding audiences that Tipton was a transgender male who navigated a courageous path while pursuing his passion. The thoughtful collaboration beautifully expresses the importance of considering the duties and responsibilities entailed within telling a story that is not one’s own.

No Ordinary Man invites comparison to Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman’s ground-breaking doc Forbidden Love, which celebrated lesbian desire through queer female subjects, foregrounding transgender experiences through trans-voices. Interviewees reflect upon Tipton’s story, their own transitions, and the pervasive erasure of transgender experiences from the mainstream. Audition scenes let the diverse cast members perform an idea of Billy Tipton and further expand the boundaries for trans-masculine representation. Ironically, No Ordinary Man straightens out the past by queering Tipton’s story.

No Ordinary Man premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 10 and screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival

TIFF runs Sept. 10-19, 2020

Visit the _POV TIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is POV’s Online Co-editor, etc. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Complex and ran the former blog Cinemablographer. He is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

View all articles by Pat Mullen »