Dir: Ira Putilova
UK / 2024 / 45mins
London, while boasting its gentrified neighbourhoods and gleaming luxury developments, also conceals a large squatting community formed by dropouts and rebels from different countries and backgrounds. Despite attempts to do otherwise, squatting replicates many structures and values of the “outside world”. Gender dynamics is one of them. The majority of squatters are cis-gendered people, and, more precisely, cis-men. Non-binary and transgender squatters not only have to struggle with economic hardship and day-to-day aggression on the streets of London but also deal with complex relationships in their precarious homes.
“Section Cis” is an observational documentary portraying a small community of brave, ambitious and creative people at the intersection of these struggles. It gives a powerful visual description of the London squatting community and focuses on the story of Tara, a transgender woman and activist, who in 2018 faced the threat of a prison sentence for allegedly attacking a woman associated with the “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” movement. Captured over the course of an eventful year, the documentary sees Tara both navigating transphobia and attempting to find her place within a shifting and nomadic community. Through the images of Tara’s daily victories and failures, the documentary reveals the fascinating story of friendship, solidarity and support. Comprised of rare footage of London squatting life and personal video and audio diaries, “Section Cis” is an unprecedented document of and by an obscure community of people existing on the periphery of capitalism in Europe’s biggest city. It is a testament to the bravery and honesty of people to follow their values and fight for them, individually or collectively.
The title “Section Cis” references Section 6 - the legal provision which protects squatters from eviction in empty commercial properties. A hallmark of squatting in the UK, it often takes the form of a legal warning which is posted on the door of recently-opened squats. The subjects of the documentary find their lives circumscribed by the ‘cis-ness’ of their surroundings as much as the flimsy legal rights of Section 6 which allow them to house themselves.
“Section Cis” comes at a time when media and art give more space to transgender and non-binary people worldwide. However, squatters, people from working-class backgrounds, and homeless people are still on the margins of representation. Created by a crew exclusively from within the community it portrays, this project diverges from potentially exploitative, romanticised and exoticising depictions of both squatters and trans/gender-nonconforming people. This film is a testament to the capacities of those whose world is historically depreciated and undervalued to effectively speak for themselves.