Notes From Sundance

01.26.11

Sundance's Most Daring Film: 'Becoming Chaz'

This intimate movie about Chaz Bono's female-to-male transition has already been picked up by Oprah Winfrey to launch OWN's documentary club.

Midway into the Q&A last night for Becoming Chaz, the documentary about how Chastity Bono—i.e., Sonny and Cher’s onetime cherubic Goldilocks—went from being a she to a he, co-director Randy Barbato’s cellphone rang.

“Wait, this is Chaz,” he said, stepping aside from the mic to take the call.

“We’re in a Q&A right now. Do you want to just say ‘hi’?,” he said, into the phone. He then held it up to the microphone.

“Hello?” came Chaz’s distinct voice, which is several octaves lower these days.

“Say ‘hi,’” Barbato instructed.

“Who, me? Oh. Cool. Hi guys, I hope you enjoyed it.”

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Randy Barbato, Chaz Bono and Fenton Bailey (SundanceChannel.com)

This genial, low-key nature is seen throughout Becoming Chaz, one of the most daring and exposing films at the festival this year. The project was actually Chaz’s idea; he came to Barbato and Fenton Bailey (Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and asked them if they’d be interested in documenting his journey into transgenderism. Once filming began, he let them capture the most intimate details of the process, from his breast-removal surgery to his girlfriend Jennifer’s bimonthly duty of shooting hormones into his rear end—when she informs him that he’s starting to grow hair back there, Chaz rejoices, as he does whenever he sees his feminine qualities start to fade away. That liberation is at the heart of the movie, both in as it pertains to Chaz and to transgenders around the world, which is perhaps why Oprah Winfrey selected the film to kick off her new documentary club on OWN. But nothing about the film feels didactic, mainly because Bono himself is so easy-going and authentic—there is no evidence whatsoever that he was raised by one of the most fabulous divas on the planet.

Speaking of which, yes, Cher sits down for a candid interview, though is clearly uncomfortable with the Chaz experiment and continues to refer to him as “she.” (She does a little better when she goes on Letterman.)

The Sonny side of the family is far more cool about the whole thing. As one of Chaz’s step-sisters says: “We’re Bonos.”

(And in deal-making news, Sony Pictures Classics picked up The Guard, the Irish cop comedy with Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson; The Weinstein Company bought the Tobey Maguire black comedy The Details, for a whopping $7 million, making it the biggest deal of the festival; and Fox Searchlight has picked up Mike Cahill's Another Earth for north of $1 million.)