A different director — each with her or her own cast and crew — takes on each of the book’s 20 chapters in this episodic adaption, making for a quirky take on queer life in San Francisco’s mid-1990s Mission Hill.
The project came about when Tea was hanging out with several filmmaker friends — including HIllary Goldberg, who also wound up being one of the film’s producers — at Frameline film festival in San Francisco. The idea was inspired as much by the hopes of getting her book turned into a film as it was by the desire to help out her friends struggling in the film industry.
“I’d been thinking about doing this for a while,” Tea said. “But making a feature film is so difficult. It takes so many resources.”
When she mentioned the idea of using different filmmakers to tell a single narrative based on her book, “everybody jumped on it,” she said. “They loved the idea. Everybody immediately started telling me what chapter they wanted to do.”
Throughout the movie, Tea is portrayed by actors of all shapes and sizes — blondes and brunettes, trans men and women, and even Angelina Jolie. Ultimately about a gay twenty-something writer struggling to find herself, the film tackles a variety of topics: queer life, dating, prostitution, drugs, homophobia.
Home in San Francisco and beyond, Tea is considered a literary hero. In 1994, she co-founded Sister Spit, a spoken word collective with lesbian-feminist leanings.
Initially, touring as a drummer in a band — “But I was a better writer,” she said — she got tired of her male band mates and “barely making any money.” She decided it would be more fun to take her Sister Spit collaborators on the road.
“Booking Sister Spit was exactly the same as booking a band,” she said.
Since then, she’s taken on the role of queer literary icon. In 2003, Tea founded Radar Productions with the goal of nurturing queer writers and artists, and organizing queer literary programs across the country. In 2012, she partnered with City Lights Books to create a Sister Spit imprint.
And though she’s caught the film bug, and hopes to make more in the future, writing remains her primary focus. She’s recently released a queer young adult novel, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, the first in a trilogy, and has signed with Penguin to write a book tentatively titled How to Grow Up. She also writes a column for xojane.com called “Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea.”
Valencia will be shown Sun. Oct. 6, 6 p.m., at the Tampa Theatre as part of the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.