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Sophie Hyde On Her Absorbing and Unique Trans Family Drama ’52 Tuesdays’

Sophie Hyde On Her Absorbing and Unique Trans Family Drama '52 Tuesdays'

“52 Tuesdays” is an absorbing Australian
drama about Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), a teenage girl who unexpectedly learns that her
mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) — whom she has always been very close to — is
gender transitioning to become James. 

Moving in with her dad Tom (Beau Travis
Williams), Billie makes a promise to visit James every Tuesday. Their weekly
meetings include activities such as hanging out, eating, shopping, or playing
tennis. Their talk consists of James’ progress with testosterone shots or they
bond or fight. Billie also meets up with two classmates, Jasmine (Imogen
Archer) and Josh (Sam Althuizen), whom she films and experiments with sexually
in an effort to forge her own identity. What emerges from the weekly episodes, which range from snippets to extended
dramatic moments, is how much the characters care about one another, especially
when they are angry. 

Viewers will care about Billie and James as well,
in part because Cobham-Hervey and Herbert-Jane gives such emotionally honest
performances. “52 Tuesdays” is very much about the need to live an authentic
life and director Sophie Hyde captures this with acuity.

Hyde spoke with /bent via Skype about her
fine film.

You make some very savvy points about gender and sexuality and identity. What can you say about your goal in making this film?

The paralleling of the stories and ideas of
gender are big questions for me. Gender is a perfect word for it. People ask if
I made a transgender film. The character is transgender, but it’s about gender. We have constructed a very
binary idea of gender and the way we enforce it everyday is problematic and
unsatisfying—not just by people who reject or don’t conform to gender or are
transgender, but also for all of us.

“52
Tuesdays” looks at two different, difficult and parallel journeys—that of a
teenager coming of age, but also a transitioning adult coming of age. Why did
choose to employ this dual narrative approach?

In terms of paralleling the two stories of
a teenage girl and the mother who is transitioning, when we started making the
film, we were exploring them equally. As we started to make it, we created
these rules—we could only shoot on Tuesdays—and that connected to the story. We
started to realize that without the access of the rest of James’ life, we
couldn’t go into his point of view.

Tilda was a teenage girl and was such a
strong performer. She is nothing like her character, but brought a lot of what
she was going through to her character. It felt like the story shifted from
being from her point of view, and during the edit, it shifted more—it was
Billie’s experience of what James was going through. But I do think it’s a
coming of age story for both characters because we come of age at different
times in our lives over and over again.

Your
approach to filming—was it like filming 52 short films? Or did you make one
film and then edit it?

It was one film. I didn’t want it to be 52
short films. We had a few rules—we shot every Tuesday for an entire year, only
Tuesday not any other day, and we shot in chronological order. We scripted over
the course of the year so the cast only had their script the week before. And
we rehearsed quite a lot before each Tuesday.

The privilege was to work on each week a
bit longer. We were aware we wanted the pace to change—they couldn’t be even
weeks. The clips [that bookmark each week] were things that happened or were
reported online that Tuesday. You can’t always tell what they are, but that’s
the point: time can feel long or too short. Time was on our minds and
influenced what we were making all the time. We thought we would edit more as
we went, but we didn’t edit until we finished shooting. It took a year to do
post-production.
 

What
can you say about the approach to the narrative—the weekly meetings, the video
diary/confessions, the documentary-style segments, and the other narrative
devices?

The idea came first from the form—Matt, who
is the writer, said lets make a film about two characters who meet every Tuesday
and we film only on Tuesday. We had a low budget and could take strong risks.
So we decided to make a film we could never traditionally make. The camera,
recording, and video camera came about because Tilda was very different from
Billie. So instead of meeting the two characters initially, we wanted her to do
something else with the camera first. She could ask questions and that was an
interesting element of it. The video diary came out in week 47—it was something
we filmed that week and we were not sure where we would put it in until the
edit. Similarly, the little clips at the beginning of each week came in the
edit. We originally were going to tell the story without any bookmarking, and
during the edit, we changed our minds because it wasn’t reflecting the process
of the time we made the film in and the time the film was set. We needed to
give audiences an indication of what happens over time as the film goes
on.  It was a difficult choice but in the
end it added more than it took away.
 

Not
to sound Freudian, but what was your relationship with your mother like?

[Laughs] You should maybe ask me about my
relationship with my father. I have personal connections with the film. I don’t
have a transgender parent, but my dad was openly gay when I was little. It was
important that he was out and open with us. It was a great privilege to know my
dad as a whole person—being gay was part of who he was, and it was acknowledged
all the time; it wasn’t hidden away or separate from him being my dad. We all
meet our parents as people in some point in our lives. Billie does it when
she’s 16. But some don’t do it until they are older. I have a little girl who
is 9 and she was 6 when I made the film. How much am I going to reveal to her?
These are great questions for a parent. These were the things I was looking at.=

The
character of Billie is in many ways a proxy for the audience. Was that
deliberate?

I think it’s very much of her experience of
this year. You do learn about what James is going through through Billie. But
it’s also about what Billie is going through. I don’t think of her as a proxy.
Some viewers have a hard time that she doesn’t [reject] him. She had more a
problem of not being able to see James or live with him. We wanted to veer away
from a medical explanation of being trans—e.g., this is the exact physical
change. James sets up this promise of how much he will change and we went into
how it feels and looks. He starts recording himself, but that falls by the
wayside. You see incremental changes. Are the characters different from before?
Yes, and no. 

The
film has the characters talk about leading an authentic life. How authentic was
the portrayal by Del who played Jane/James?

Del identifies as gender non-conforming.
Del is different from James, but they share something similar about not always
being seen or feeling as you are seen. Del is not going through the same thing
[as James]; we’re not revealing his transition. We started working with Del by
talking about different experiences of gender, and it was a natural progression
from Del being a consultant to playing the role. He’s not a transman, and we
didn’t want to fake things, but his experiences had an impact on the film.
 

What
research did you do in the trans community?

The great thing is that there is so much
stuff online—blogs, videos, etc. and that they are so personal and different.
We worked with a psychologist in Melbourne who does identity stuff. We read
“Original Plumbing,” a U.S.-based trans magazine, which was a great resource.
We did a broad look at different kinds of gender even though we were honing it
down to show one character’s journey of a transman. We wanted to understand the
whole context, so we read a lot.

With
images of transpeople being more accepted in the media—“Transparent” most
recently—how do you see your film fitting into this new wave?

I think it’s exciting there’s a new wave of
trans films—that show people don’t conform to gender. They don’t feel that they
fit in to the world, and that’s an important story to keep telling in whatever
form it comes out. I love “Transparent,” I saw it long after “52 Tuesdays.”
It’s a coming out story and their family confronted with change, and not having
known this person they thought they knew well.

"52 Tuesdays" opens in New York theaters this weekend, and will be available on Fandor.com on March 27th.

This Article is related to: Interviews


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