Ben Fronckowiak, And his Women of the Palms
By S. Riviera, VivaLaRiviera.com
Photos: Tony Durán
I spent three years back in Los Angeles. During that time I would perform at Viva Sex’s Illusions at the Palms Bar. That is where I met talented filmmaker and sexy model Ben Fronkowiak. He came in and asked if he could do interviews with us the performers of the show. Of course we all agreed. What girl doesn’t want her close up. Every week he was there filming the shows and doing interviews with the girls. I wasn’t sure what this would turn out to be. Fast forward a couple of years later and here I am with the tables turned and me interviewing him. Now we discuss Women of the Palms, his latest documentary about the transgender women of the Palms Bar and the bar’s last year in existence. Sadly since then the Palms Bar has closed and been demolished. But now we have the documentary that captured the bar’s last few months in business. In case you don’t know. The Palms Bar had been around for decades and past iconic stars such as Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin partied there. Thank you Ben for capturing the bar’s last hurrah and including the trans women of the Palms.
Samara: Did you start out as a model?
Ben: I didn’t start out modeling, but instead as a painter. I also wrote stories to accompany the characters I painted–so filmmaking naturally came after this. Modeling came later. I knew that I wanted to travel, so I got with an agency in San Francisco, then moved to LA after. Modeling is going well; I may sign with an agency in Miami and model there for the month of December. I model, write, paint, act, and am a filmmaker. First and foremost, a filmmaker, because this integrates everything.
Samara: How was it that you got into doing a trans documentary?
Ben: I started working on a trans documentary after directing narrative films. Somehow, I always ended up finding performers from Viva Sex’s club Illusion–it was something about the trans performers that inspired me: their dynamic characters (mostly developed through hardship). I knew it was difficult enough for gay men to develop functional romantic relationships, and I knew that it was even more difficult for trans people–therefore, this was a perfect topic for a documentary to evoke social change (even before Caitlyn Jenner).
Samara: And why did you choose the women of the Palms?
Ben: It’s interesting because the title was first going to be Women, but I soon changed this as I wanted the title to not only be evocative of gender, but also of the bar’s history. So I wanted to capture the iconic bar closing as well as the women’s stories; hence, Women of The Palms.
Samara: What had you directed before?
Ben: I had directed short films before Women of The Palms, but nothing as serious. With WOTP, I was behind everything: conceptualizing, filming, producing, directing, and some editing. Directing is my ultimate goal. I admire directors like Pedro Almodovar and would love the opportunity to work with him: act and direct.
Samara: So you are doing everything on the film?
Ben: I am doing everything on the film: conceptualizing, producing, directing, and filming. Although I edited trailers on my own and my own version of the film, I need a professional editor to finish the rest.
Samara: Coming from a gay man why do you think some gay men discriminate against trans women?
Ben: I think that gay men discriminate trans women because of misunderstanding. It’s difficult for most people to separate gender identity and sexuality. For example, many gay men are attracted to the “straight” masculine seeming man, and it’s difficult for them to accept their own sexuality. Trans women, however, have a difficult time because they are also attracted to the straight man, but many of these “straight” men have issues regarding the woman’s gender identity. Therefore, there are a lot of hang ups in the community, and many are due not only to misunderstanding of one’s own gender identity, but also of semantics as a whole.
Samara: What surprised you most about trans women?
Ben: What surprised me most about trans women was the sensitivity and bold characters. Most trans women have such dynamic personalities developed through years of hardship. From tragedy comes comedy and vice-versa. I immediately felt welcome and supported when entering the bar.
Samara: What are your thoughts on straight men that are attracted to trans women?
Ben: I feel that there is such a large stigma surrounding the trans community and men attracted to trans women–arguably, this is even more taboo. It is a shame that men attracted to trans women feel that they are unable to come out and openly love and cherish their partners. Instead, unfortunately, much of the time, trans women are viewed as fetishes instead of human beings.
Samara: At what stage is the film at?
Ben: The film is all shot, and I have trailers and interviews edited; however, now I just need the entire film edited to completion. I accrued about 70 hours of footage. I am aiming to raise at least $20,000 for post-production fees.
Samara: Where can people go to help?
Ben: You can support the film at GoFundMe.com/womenofthepalms.
Samara: Anything else you wanna add?
Ben: You can view trailers from the film at Vimeo.com/womenofthepalms. Support the film by donating to GoFundMe.com/womenofthepalms, and follow the film at Facebook.com/womenofthepalms. And for more information about the director and to see more of his art, feel free to view BenFronckowiakArt.com