A photo of Billy Tipton sitting on a table in a still from No Ordinary Man

TIFF 2020: No Ordinary Man Review

No Ordinary Man is a stunner of a documentary. It’s a hybrid really, in which filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt add just the right dose of creative fiction to galvanise the largely forgotten history of a trans icon, American Jazz musician Billy Tipton. This film is a timely conversation in which past and present intersect to create a space for acceptance and healing.

In their quest to find the right actor to play Tipton in an imaginary film being made, the filmmakers enlist the reactions of the actors as they audition. Very little is known about Tipton the person so this becomes a dynamic structural device that conjures up the spirit of the actual person, which then enlivens the old images and records. It’s a process akin to resurrection and renewal as Tipton’s son slowly joins the conversation—adding a private perspective and gaining a new understanding himself.

There are many poignant moments in the film as this collective act of remembrance takes on deeper resonance with each memory and impression. No Ordinary Man is not simply a biography: the film is an act of reclamation, and a necessary step in the process of healing.


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