Runs in the Family tells the story of River (Gabe Gabriel, who also wrote the script), a young trans drag man who is invited by his father, Varun (Ace Bhatti) to join him on a road trip across South Africa. Their mission? To break River’s estranged mother out of rehab. Things seem to be going their way until River finds out that his partner for an upcoming drag competition has gotten injured. For River, winning the competition would have provided the money he needed for his surgery and he’s broken by the loss. But would Varun be willing to step in and take their place?
Directed by Ian Gabriel (and Gabe’s father), Runs in the Family is a beautiful oddity in its tone and storytelling. Infused with joy, there’s a sense of optimism embedded within this story of a father and son as they navigate the complex world of gender identity with grace. As Varun and River venture across South Africa, we bear witness to the deep support that exists between them (even if they still have the normal bumps that exist between every parent and child.)
However, at the same time, the film never shies away from the struggles of the Trans experience. As he faces opposition and bigotry from people that they meet, River is clearly left hurt by the lack of tolerance that he finds in the world around him. Fighting for the money for surgery to complete his transition, he simply wants to be accepted for who he is. (“We’ve fought very hard to be ourselves,” River notes.) But, even amidst those who do not value him, River finds what he needs with his father. Varun may not be perfect, but he is fuelled by endless love for his boy.
And that is more than enough to give River and Varun what they need to finish the journey.
Runs in the Family is now playing at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. For more information, click here.