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Sundance 2011: Chaz Bono makes a transition

January 24, 2011 | 11:39 am

Sometimes the best movies are about someone you thought you knew but never really understood at all.

Someone like, say, Chaz Bono, who's at the center of one of the more talked-about pictures at the Sundance Film Festival, a documentary titled "Becoming Chaz" from Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, chroniclers of the offbeat and the taboo ("Inside Deep Throat," "The Eyes of Tammy Faye").

Most of us know the basics of the Chaz Bono story. After coping with an addiction, the death of a partner and other manner of turbulence, Chastity Bono, the lone offspring of singers Sonny and Cher, announced two years ago that she was transitioning from being a woman and would henceforth be known as Chaz.

What is less well known is the story's emotional terrain, particularly the ways in which everyone around Chaz reacted to the news. There's Cher, of course, but also Chaz's partner Jennifer Elia, who along with all the hormonal and other changes, must cope with a relationship that has suddenly gone from lesbian to heterosexual. "I still can't believe this is my life," she says in the film. "But I don't get bored, and I hate being bored."

In an article in Monday's Los Angeles Times, we look at how the film tackles the specifics of Chaz's transformation as well as the larger questions of family and identity. The movie paints a likable, if sometimes rough-around-the-edges, portrait of Chaz and shows Cher working through the news as the film progresses.

While the movie takes a look at a process most Americans know little about, the movie's broader message is to embrace one's identity, no matter how difficult or unpopular it may be.

"What really surprised us is realizing to what degree we are all trans," Bailey said. "We all have beliefs that may be in direct conflict with the expectations surrounding us."

-- Steven Zeitchik in Park City, Utah

Photo: Chaz Bono. Credit: Sundance Film Festival

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