In the 1950s and ‘60s, an underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men found refuge at a modest house in the Catskills region of New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place for them to express their true selves and live for a few days as they had always dreamed—dressed as women without fear of being incarcerated or institutionalized for their self-expression. Told through the memories of those whose visits to the house would change their lives, the film provides a moving look back at a secret world where the persecuted and frightened found freedom, acceptance and, often, the courage to live their lives out of the shadows. A co-production with ARTE, Casa Susanna is directed by the critically acclaimed French filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz (Wild Side, Little Girl, Bambi).
Using a rich trove of color photos of Casa Susanna’s guests, archival footage and personal remembrances, the film reconstructs the forgotten life of Susanna Valenti, the courageous woman who ran the house. From her enlistment in the army as a man to her marriage to Marie, an eccentric older Italian woman, Susanna led a life that, even today, many would find hard to imagine. Like Susanna, many who came to the Catskills house were married and fathers, working as airplane pilots, tugboat captains, film directors and authors. They found each other and Casa Susanna through word-of-mouth and Transvestia, a magazine for and by the trans and cross-dressing community. In the film, two people whose lives were forever changed at Casa Susanna, Diane and Kate, travel back to the now-abandoned site and share their memories of a time when people like them, from all over the country, came to a place where they were free to dress and live as women from morning to night.
AGAT FILMS & ARTE France
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Films
WGBH Educational Foundation