SXSW: “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” Charts a Life in Transition

SXSW I'm Gonna Make You Love Me Caption: Tish on the beach, 1980 | Credit: credit: Paul Bricker

Karen Bernstein’s doc about the gender-fluid journey of Brian Belovitch is a deep well of empathy.

Brian Belovitch, the central subject of the documentary I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, is already a figure who captures your eye when he walks into the room. A boisterous spirit with an endearingly upbeat & outsized personality, you can’t help but wonder what stories such a distinct character like Belovitch might have to offer. 

Turns out, he’s got plenty of tales to tell. Belovitch’s whole life has been a saga of self-acceptance tied into his sexuality and gender identity. From his time as an overtly feminine young boy to his time in his twenties spent as a Trans woman named Tish to his subsequent transition back into a man, Brian Belovitch has always been grappling with what it means to be Brian Belovitch. 

Director Karen Bernstein dedicates much of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me to interview segments in which Belovitch recounts ways he was stifled in exploring his identity. This turns out to be a smart move considering that Belovitch’s manner of telling stories is a great way of guiding viewers across the world of his personal struggles. 

Much of the doc is Belovitch recounting his life, like his Mother being mortified at onlookers mistaking adolescent Belovitch for a girl. He strikes an impressive balance between keeping his tales concise while also imbuing enough details to make you feel like you’re right there in the stories themselves. 

Segments where Belovitch speaks about different types of childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his Mother and Father, especially, resonate, Belovitch’s immersive storytelling abilities making them haunting. The fact that he confronts his childhood abuse in such stark terms makes it apparent that Belovitch isn’t here to provide glossy versions of formative events of his life. Belovitch is here to present the messiest parts of his existence and that includes the extended narratives related to his gender. 

He strikes an impressive balance between keeping his tales concise while also imbuing enough details to make you feel like you’re right there in the stories themselves. 

Belovitch crystalizes the varying perspectives he had on his gender throughout different parts of his life through phrasing so vivid as well as anecdotes so engrossing that you’ll wish I’m Gonna Make You Love Me ran as long as Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. Through this vital portion of Belovitch’s interviews, viewers get a clear portrait of how he’s evolved over his nearly seven decades of living. On a larger scale, audiences also get a reminder of how complex the concept of gender can be.

Accompanying these interviews are visual aids, some of which are clips from famous films as well as a charming segment from a U.S. Army instructional video informing troops on how to live in Russia. Much more specific to I’m Gonna Make You Love Me are the use of home video footage of Tish hanging out with friends in NYC or grim diary entries penned by Belovitch as a tormented child. These elements already work well at being visual accompaniments of certain aspects of Belovitch’s stories. However, their very presence in this film also lends an unforgettable bittersweet quality to the whole movie.

For so long, these diary entries and goofy videos with friends were the only way (save for his brief stint in the NYC drag circuit) Belovitch could be himself to the world. The sheer terror he felt over embracing who he actually was led him to find personal solace in only the most intimate closed-off spaces. 

Now, here’s Brian Belovitch in 2020. He’s a happily married man who makes no attempt to conceal his vibrant personality as he recounts his life’s stories in a documentary. There’s something quietly triumphant in how much Belovitch has come in his own life and that quality is effectively translated in I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Much of that successful translation can be owed to the fact it leans so heavily on stories told by a voice that has so frequently been silenced. 

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