Danielle Lessovitz’s feature directing debut—and Un Certain Regard entry—Port Authority follows Paul (Fionn Whitehead), who arrives at the titular bus station and quickly meets eyes with Wye (Leyna Bloom), a girl voguing on the sidewalk. An intense love blossoms, but when Paul discovers that Wye is trans, he is forced to confront his own identity. A love story set in the kiki ballroom scene—the LGBT subculture that includes competitive performances and dance—it boasts Martin Scorsese as a producer via his company Sikelia’s joint venture with RT Features to foster emerging filmmakers.
Lessovitz says Port Authority was inspired by a performance of Antony and the Johnsons she caught about 10 years ago. Lead singer Antony (who is now Anohni) “felt very clearly like the spirit of a woman in a male-presenting body. I wondered what a love story would be with Antony as the center of affection and the person who had the status and power for someone trying to court them.”
Lessovitz was not familiar with the kiki ballroom scene, but was intrigued by the family aspect after attending a ball. She had lost her father to suicide. “Everyone there related to everyone in the chosen family sense. It was powerful for me in terms of understanding loss and family and life and death.”
She cast transgender actor Bloom in the role of Wye, never having considered going the cisgender route. “If trans actors aren’t playing cis roles, then why vice-versa?” For Paul, she’d initially thought about bringing on a non-actor but needed someone with the experience to hit the emotional beats.
As for the Scorsese-factor, Lessovitz marvels, “I was at a party and someone asked me if it was exciting to show the rough cut to Marty. I said, ‘No, I feel like I’m showing a crayon drawing as a preschooler to a master painter.’”