New York-based filmmaker AJ Mattioli is 36 years old, but says he’s ‘a baby trans boy of a year and a half,’ marking the start of his testosterone treatment in January 2016.
‘I first realized I was trans in second grade,’ he says. ‘I begged and cried for my mother to allow me to wear a suit to my first communion.’
However, Mattioli didn’t announce his trans identity until many years later, upon the birth of his nephew.
‘Once ‘Aunt Jana’ (my birth name) was said out loud, I knew it was wrong,’ he recalls. ‘I decided that AJ (Aunt Jana) was a fun alternative until I figured myself out. The name stuck and I love that my nephew helped named me.’
An Exploration of Identity
Now, Mattioli uses his voice to tell his story on a global level – as a guest on podcasts, during radio interviews, and most significantly, through film.
‘Words: An Exploration of Identity’ is Mattioli’s latest production. The documentary came to be after a series of events in Mattioli’s life.
‘I had recently gotten out of a wonderful 13-year relationship and was feeling displaced and unsure of who I was,’ he explains.
‘When you are with someone for that long you tend to become one entity. When you lose that and the glue un-sets, so does your identity.’
‘I love NYC and the people who encompass it. After speaking with numerous people about what I was going through, I got to hear their stories of becoming who they are. It was fascinating. I felt refreshed and hopeful. I had to document this beauty, and so ‘Words’ was born,’ he says.
Instead of seeking investors to fund this film project, Mattioli relied on donors via fundraising campaigns.
‘I was able to raise a modest but helpful $4,000 and paid the rest myself. Since I wasn’t self financing we shot sporadically based on when I had extra money. So it was stressful to say the least. Well worth it, but stressful,’ he says.
‘A love note to New York’
Mattioli’s goal with ‘Words’ was not only to showcase a variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also to portray the beauty of New York City by shooting at his favorite NYC locations.
‘I wanted it to show that in NYC, a person can be themselves,’ he says.
So far, responses to the film have been overwhelmingly positive, with critics calling it ‘a love note to NY’ and a film that ‘needs to be seen.’
For this film, Mattioli has won ‘Best Director of a Feature Documentary’ at the Atlantic City Cinefest and ‘Audience Award for Best Documentary’ at MEDff. The film was also nominated for ‘Best Documentary’ at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival, an Official Selection for the Corvallis Queer Film Festival, and a finalist at the Cosmic Film Festival.
Additionally, Mattioli Productions is a big believer in ‘art for a cause’ and ‘paying it forward.’ With that, a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales went to The Ali Forney Center, a New York City-based non-profit known to be ‘the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youth in the country.’
‘I truly want people to feel hopeful after this film,’ Mattioli says. ‘Currently, we have a lot of politicians saying that if you are outside the “status quo” that you are somehow less than. That is not the case. You are not the sum of your parts. I hope people leave the film understanding that.’
‘My advice is to tell your stories without hesitation. Tell it with truth and love, no matter what the budget.
‘You will probably never be a millionaire but by telling LGBTQ stories you give a gift to people everywhere with your art and could truly help a viewer,’ says Mattioli.
‘Words’ is hosting its last screening this Saturday 13 May at the Broadway Comedy Club. A DVD of the film will be out within eight months.