Beauty, a 23-minute documentary directed by Christina Willings, is an exploration into the lives of five gender-creative children as they grapple with and explore who they are and who they want to be. The doc took home audience awards at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and the 2018 Reel Pride Film Festival Winnipeg and is set to play in Calgary on November 18 at the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival.
The Mutt spoke with Williams prior to the Nov. 18 screening. The following interview has been edited for length.
THE MUTT: Do you think it’s easier in today’s climate for kids to express themselves as being gender-creative, as compared to perhaps 10 or 20 years ago?
CHRISTINA WILLINGS: The narrative that we’re more familiar with are trans and gender-creative people who are older but were never allowed that space as children to truly honour themselves. I think what’s really important about this film, if I may say so myself, the impetus of what I was trying to do was really make a stage for us to honour children expressing who they want to be and exploring who they want to be so that their lives can unfold in a smoother and more authentic way.
TM: And so how are kids allowed to explore being gender-creative today in ways they weren’t able to previously?
CW: I think in some ways there’s more space to talk about gender and play with gender than perhaps we’ve ever seen before. I think we have a window of opportunity to get our toes in the door and push this space open a little wider so that all of us have more room to move when we’re thinking about and feeling through how we want to show up in the world. Also there’s a layer of things becoming fashionable for a while and then going away. I think there’s a element of fashion that we’ll see go and someone else will come into favour and this particular type of exploration will fall out of favour. But I think we do have an opportunity right now to widen this space and keep this space open. Not just for kids, but for all of us to be more generous with and especially when we talk about how gender expression works.
TM: What do you hope people take away from the documentary?
CW: I hope that people take from it is, “Wow, these kids really have a deep and clear sense of self.” For whatever miraculous reason, they feel able to honour that no matter what. I think that it’s time to listen to kids when they say things so clearly. One of the phrases that is often used in these types of conversations is when kids are, “insistent, consistent and persistent,” you really need to pay attention and ask, where do we go from here?
TM: Did certain themes emerge out of each of the five kids’ stories? Or were their individual experiences mostly unique?
CW: Both are true. They all had very individual experiences and there were definitely common themes running through all of their stories. One of the common themes running through all of their stories was that each of them knew from a very, very young age, 2 or 3 years old, that they wanted to start expressing in a way that seemed different from what they saw around them or how they felt people might be expecting. So for me, when I realized that kids had known at the age of 2 or 3, and they start saying things to their parents like, “Something’s wrong. I just have to go back up there and come down in a different body,” that was stunning. That kind of clarity was incredible at such a young age.
TM: Why would you encourage people to see the film?
CW: I would say that it’s an aesthetically pleasing film. You can’t really call a film Beauty and not try to make a beautiful film. I think it’s fun to watch. It draws you in, slowly, into the lived realities of these really fascinating kids who are compelling in their clarity and their self-knowledge. It has an animated component, which takes us into the kids’ inner realm in a way that I think is really satisfying. So I think you really do get a sense of who these kids are, both aesthetically and through their dialogue.
Beauty plays at the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival at 2 p.m. at the River Park Church Auditorium. For tickets, click here.
The titular stars of ‘Jessica Jessica’ come of age in their 30s
One morning, two best friends both named Jessica wake up and find themselves having very different mornings – one, Jessica H (Jessica Hinkson) wakes up after a one-night stand while the other, Jessica G (Jessica Greco) finds herself despondent outside an ex’s house post-breakup. And though neither of them find themselves in traditional romantic partnerships, it’s clear the central grounding relationship in their lives is their deep friendship, one that persists throughout the humorous and often confusing time period that is one’s modern-era late-30s.
Jessica Jessica was written by Greco based on a “sort of mashup of anecdotes” she and Hinkson told each other over the course of their real-life friendship, often over brunch. These real-life escapades often made them laugh at (and with) each other, leading the pair to realize they wanted to work together and begin creating content out of their stories.
The resulting 12-minute short, which premiered on CBC’s Canadian Reflections Nov. 15, has gone on to take home a number of awards at a variety of festivals, including the Best Screenplay award at the 2018 Vancouver Short Film Fest. Greco spoke with The Mutt prior to the film’s CBC screening to discuss the origins of the short film, writing about one’s 30s and of the importance of female friendships. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
THE MUTT: Where did you and Jessica (Hinkson) meet, and why did you decide to start working together?
JESSICA GRECO: Jess and I met a million years ago in theatre school in New York. She was living on the west coast and I was living back in Toronto and we met in New York and after school we went our separate ways. It wasn’t until many years later when she moved to Toronto that we reconnected here. So we’ve known each other and became friends as adults, because we were kids when we went to theatre school. I think chemistry is a big thing. In this industry you always want to work with your friends but you’re at the mercy of being cast opposite your friends. It was the sheer desire to work together, knowing we probably wouldn’t get the shot if we waited around for someone else to do it. So we made it happen for ourselves.
TM: Who are your influences in comedy and what’s the aesthetic of this film?
JG: I mean, the aesthetic was really important. We wanted it to be beautiful, like Sofia Coppola dreamy visuals. We wanted to tell a coming of age story, but a coming of age can happen at any time. So we had this idea of making this beautiful watercolour sparkly coming of age story and snuck in all these dirty jokes that no one expected. It’s kind of subversive, this mashup of a sex comedy meets a beautiful auteur’s version of a female-driven short. As far as influences, there’s so many… like the first ones that come to mind, of course, are the Tina Fey, Amy Poehlers of the world. The first guy I found funny was Michael J. Fox. In terms of great standup, I think Iliza Shlesinger is amazing, John Mulaney. There’s all kinds of great sketch comedy out there. Even locally, the Baroness von Sketch Show. Aurora Browne, she’s amazing.
[Next to read on The Mutt: Our interview with Baroness von Sketch Show’s Aurora Browne]
TM: What unique and modern perspectives did you want to express in Jessica Jessica about being in your late 30s?
JG: I think there is a real parallel in terms of your late 30s and adolescence, for women specifically. I think your late 30s, you’re looked at by society to make some real serious decisions about your life. Whether you want to have kids, how you’re going to do that, where you are in your career, there’s a real sort of rollover that happens right before 40 for women. I think it happens in your late teens, leaving high school as well. If you haven’t got married and haven’t had 2.4 children and have a regular 9 to 5 job, there’s a whole segment of the population for women that are left out in terms of representation, who didn’t do the thing their mothers maybe did. That story doesn’t necessarily exist, and if it it does, it’s a punchline – unless it’s a side character’s arc of, ‘Ha, ha, she just never gets her shit together, she’s that funny aunt.’ It’s a stereotype, and we wanted to represent women in a different way, to say, ‘No, there’s a whole bunch of us out here. We’re not mothers, we’re not wives, but we’re not failures.’
TM: Humour that comes from an honest place tends to be the funniest stuff. Was that something you kept in mind in the writing process?
JG: Absolutely. It was a lot of fun to do, and it was kind of humiliating and terrifying when your character’s name is your real name.
Jessica Jessica is available to watch now via the CBC’s website.
“A poem for the planet”: Metamorphosis’ visual meditation on climate change
Metamorphosis, a feature-length documentary from filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper, takes a notably different approach in its examination of climate change when compared to features such as An Inconvenient Truth (2006) or Time To Choose (2015). Ami and Ripper sought to make a cinematic, “almost experimental” documentary, favouring sound and image over more conventional documentary components like talking heads.
“We aren’t putting a lot of tags or text on it. It gives you more stories and ideas,” Ripper said. “The solutions are intended to be design principles, and they’re all very visual as well. And then there’s a soundtrack that is very involved and layered. We make good use of the 7.1 audio space as well as it’s shot in 4K – so visually, it’s really punchy.”
Metamorphosis weaves the work of artists using ecological themes to further illustrate a sort of “visual language,” Ami said, that combined with drone shots and time-lapse footage helps to create a poetic feeling throughout the work.
“(That visual language) allowed us to explore some of those themes that are more conceptual. Like art, the film asks questions and (doesn’t) necessarily spell it out for you – there is room for your own interpretations and your own understanding to come into play,” Ripper said. “It’s a very reflective journey and we hope people will find it a transformative journey – and we are seeing that happen.”
Directors Nova Ami (left) and Velcrow Ripper (right) began developing Metamorphosis after witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Photo courtesy Grant Baldwin.
Ami and Ripper began developing the film just more than four years ago, around when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,300.
“We were talking about making a film together and I had spent a lot of time in the Philippines and my family is from the Philippines, so that really weighed heavily on us. We talked about how an event like that could change a person,” Ami said. “That led to further conversations about how we deal with change in a time of climate crisis, how we resist change, how we move through change. That led to conversations about metamorphosis – the title came up and we decided to explore that theme and how that relates to us at this point in time.”
Four months before Ami and Ripper went into production, they had a child. Ripper said that experience further informed the development of Metamorphosis.
“I think choosing to have a child in this era is in itself a statement of hope. I think it really made us think, ‘What can we do to help create a world that is thriving as he comes of age?’” Ripper said. “So the hope we have is not so much optimistic based on the facts – I think the facts are very, very dire and we are in a time of emergency – it’s based on a kind of heroic hope that we want to do everything we can and making the film was one of our gestures.”
Making the film as two Canadians, Ami and Ripper found themselves approaching the content in a specific context when compared to major American features done on similar topics. Though the United States has received significant criticism for its recent action on climate – such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement – Ripper said Canada was still “not that well-regarded” on the international stage.
“I think it’s in our culture to want to be on the right side of history, but we’re not there yet. We have a big transition to make,” he said. “We have to do this in a way that protects workers and we shouldn’t be pitting jobs against the environment. That’s a false dichotomy. We have to transcend that dichotomy. We need to respect those fears and address those fears but we also have to create a future – literally.”
The film was co-produced by and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s Edmonton studio, the North West Studio. Thanks to the footage used and the way the film employs sound and music, Ami said Metamorphosis was an experience best suited to see in the theatre, on a big screen.
“It’s a really cinematic experience,” she said. “It’s a film that sparks the imagination in terms of what’s possible. It’s a climate change film you can go on a date with.”
Metamorphosis plays at the River Park Church Auditorium in Calgary on November 16 as part of the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival. For more information, click here.
Philippe Lesage on ‘Genesis’ (‘Genèse’), his keenly-observed second autobiographical feature
Director Philippe Lesage returns with his second autobiographical film, Genesis (Genèse), a contemplative and keenly-observed meditation on young love and adolescence. Since its North American Premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), Genesis went on to win the Louve D’Or at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. He spoke with The Mutt prior to the film’s screening at VIFF 2018. This interview has been condensed and edited for length.
THE MUTT: This is your second autobiographical film after 2015’s The Demons. What material from your past do you tend to draw on?
PHILIPPE LESAGE: The Demons was more or less based on my own childhood. So I would say that in Genesis, the main basic material of the story is also quite close to my own personal experience or experiences that some people very close to me had. It’s pretty much based on reality. One character, the main character in The Demons, Félix, he also has a part in Genesis.
TM: How close to your actual life would you say the film is?
PL: It’s always a tricky question, because I think that, in a way, if I was writing about martians that would still be close to me. I mean I cannot give you a percentage, of course, but it’s very close. The character of Félix is pretty much accurate. What he’s experiencing in this one – he goes to a summer camp, he has this crush on this girl, and it’s like a first powerful heartbreaking or bittersweet crush he has on this girl. I consider that experience more or less exactly the same. It was ambiguous – I didn’t get to kiss the girl, but almost. That’s maybe why I’m making a film about it. If I had kissed the girl, maybe I wouldn’t make many films at all.
TM: For you, what’s your memory like of being that age and experiencing first love? Do you have a strong memory and a strong recollection of what it was like to feel that way? Because for a film like this you have to make it authentic. So in the writing process, how were you able to transport yourself back there to feel those emotions again?
PL: When you’re taking time to go back to it, it’s very easy to me to get back to that period in a way. If you ask the question now, I can still think about that summer camp and I can still remember a good part of it and how I was feeling. I think it’s funny how adults sometimes make a kind of wall between what they are now and what they were when they were kids. Adults sometimes forget how lucid kids are and how much they understand. But I would say my wall is a thin wall, in a way. These are pure emotions and I struggled in a way not to be corrupted to keep that authenticity in my life. The characters in the film are passionate. They love without trying to protect themselves, without any calculation. That’s something that I value as an adult – to jump into love without a safety net and to just try and be as authentic and truthful as you can.
TM: The film deals a lot with young love, and how that evolves and changes. What did you want to explore about that period in adolescence?
PL: I wouldn’t say it’s a coming out story in this case, but I would say that I’m interested to show in films how sexuality is evolving and moving around and changing. Sometimes we don’t notice it. You don’t want the same thing you want now that you wanted when you were 20 years old or 15. At a young age you also don’t really know what you want, and that’s the tragic aspect of loving – because first love is very rarely happy. The reason is that maybe the emotions are truthful but we’re not well-equipped to make decisions that are clear. Because what happens when we are loving at that age is we love the wrong people. We are surrounded by the wrong people, and that’s one of the tragic aspects of being young is hanging out with the wrong people and then you start to have doubts about yourself. We’ve all experienced it. But being happy has a lot to do with being surrounded with people you feel good with. Sometimes when you’re a teen you end up with a group of people and you’re trying hard to fit the group, but you’re not yourself, so you’re not well. You realize that later on when you have sincere connections with other people. That period of life, for me, is kind of fascinating and very rich. Everything is kind of built on this foundation afterwards.
TM: How were you drawn to writing autobiographically initially? Do you feel more comfortable writing in that fashion, or is it difficult? You said that you value authenticity and honesty – does that naturally translate into these types of stories?
PL: I guess so, but what happened is I started as a filmmaker as a documentarist. I had the urge to do something more personal. I’ve always been writing and writing has been a part of my daily life forever, you know, like these never-ending eternal novels. So I had a couple of these in a drawer under my desk. I was satisfied as a documentarist but I needed to mix that writing desire and also the filmmaker’s aspect to transform that kind of thing into sound and images. So it was really out of necessity that I went back to my life. The terrific side of it, and it may sound selfish, but the more honest you are to yourself, the more often it has the chance to touch other people. I travelled a lot with The Demons and I heard people say, “Your film is like a therapy for me.” Then you’re like, “OK, that’s meaningful, what I did then, it’s not just about me and my own little demons.”
TM: So do you feel there’s an opportunity then to follow these characters in future films, or would you pick up at different parts of your life with different characters?
PL: My next film, maybe I will try to do it in English first. I’m writing this script right now and thinking about this amazing cast, so I’m going a little bit less autobiographical. These are different characters, but some themes are still there, of course. There’s still a little coming of age aspect to it, even though the adults are much more present. But you know, what I try to do is I try to write films that I would like to see. So in a different time in my life I want to see different things.
TM: What’s your pitch to get people to check out Genesis?
PL: I’m trying to do films that value life for what it is, but also I’m trying to transcend the mundanity of life in order to show the beauty out of it. I think that I’m showing sometimes tough things so that people can feel less lonely if their living situation is similar to what I’m showing. But I also want to show beauty. I think that beauty gives hope.