January Marie Lapuz, right, with friend Alex Sangha, in an undated photo. Sangha has produced a short documentary film about his friend, who was killed in 2012. (submitted photo)

Surrey-raised murder victim remembered in new documentary film

‘My Name Was January’ movie eulogizes ’the life of our group, the social glue’

Friends of murder victim January Marie Lapuz remember her in a new documentary film that sheds light on the life of the Surrey-raised woman.

The 25-minute “My Name Was January” movie eulogizes Lapuz, who was stabbed to death at her home in New Westminster in September of 2012. She was 26.

“When a trans sister, January Marie Lapuz, is brutally murdered in her own home, a community reacts and her friends and other trans women of colour come to share and voice their issues, concerns, and challenges,” reads the film synopsis.

“January was seen as a bright light in the lives of many. This is a story of January, a friend, a daughter, a person. This film will not only bring justice to January, but to all women who have lost their lives. January had a beautiful soul, and now part of her soul rests in each and every one of us.”

Lapuz’s killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter and in 2014 was sentenced to eight years in prison.

• RELATED STORY: Surrey residents make it big in January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award, from January 2018.

Alex Sangha, who produced the short documentary, said the project was created to pay tribute to his departed friend and ally at the Sher Vancouver, a non-profit society for LGBTQ South Asians and supporters.

The film is directed by local journalists Elina Gress and Lenee Son, and produced by Sher Vancouver.

• RELATED STORY: Sher Vancouver marks 10 years of celebrating sexual diversity in Surrey, from March 2018.

Many people close to Lapuz, including her mother, Betty, were interviewed for the film.

“I think she had a lot of issues as a transgendered woman going through transition, living in poverty, being involved in the sex trade,” Sangha says in the film. “She was adopted, she faced a lot of rejection in society, a lot of people didn’t accept her. They thought she was different.”

Lapuz was “the life of our group, the social glue,” Sangha says.

“She was like the mother of our group. Me and my best friend Ash, you know, whenever you get two gay queens trying to run a social organization, there’s going to be drama, and January was there to make sure everything went smoothly. She was a great singer, a great dancer, people loved her. She had a lot of friends, she was so funny, she was so hilarious. She would approach people on the street and say, ‘Hi, my name is January. I know it’s a cold month but I make it hot.’”

(STORY CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)

The film has been submitted to 50 film festivals far and wide, and the first to pick it up is the CrashLanded event held in Tulsa, OK, next February.

“Right now we’re showing the film privately to people for endorsements and getting some feedback,” Sangha told the Now-Leader.

“We can’t really do a public screening locally until after festivals have their run,” he added. “We did a rough-cut screening of it at City Centre Library back in 2016, and got feedback from that. Now it’s finished.”

The film is a “local, grassroots, community project shot entirely in Metro Vancouver,” Sangha explained.

“Elina and Lenee both studied Journalism at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Lenee is also from Surrey and Elina from Aldergrove,” he noted. “The producers from Sher Vancouver (Sangha and Ash Brar) are also from Surrey.” Lapuz gradated from LA Matheson Secondary in Surrey, he said.

Sponsors of the film helped pay for the production costs of the film. They include BC Civil Liberties Association, BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), City of New Westminster, City of Surrey, Health Sciences Association of British Columbia (HSA), Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group (KPIRG), MoveUP, No Fear Counselling, Style Cuts by Narcy, UNIFOR Local 464 and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518.

The film website is januarylapuz.net.

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