Two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple made Sundance history last month when her documentary “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous” became the first YouTube Red original film to premiere as an official selection at the festival.
READ MORE: Two-Time Oscar Winner Barbara Kopple: ‘Miss Sharon Jones!’ Director Says This Is the Golden Age of Documentaries
The story of transgender internet star Gigi Gorgeous, “This Is Everything” chronicles the transformation of Gigi Lazzarato, a courageous young woman who began posting beauty and fashion videos on YouTube as a Toronto high school student when she was still known as Gregory Lazzarato. The film opens Friday for one-week runs at the IFC Center in New York and at Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles before premiering on YouTube Red on February 8.
Lazzarato’s rise to internet stardom came after years of encouraging her YouTube viewers to express themselves in the face of bullies and online harassment. She amassed a loyal fanbase that stands at more than 7 million followers across YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. YouTube Red was a natural destination for the project, given Lazzarato’s history with the platform.
Kopple came aboard in January 2016, shooting additional footage and combining it with Lazzarato’s YouTube videos and other videos from her childhood. “This Is Everything” marks just the second YouTube original film to play in theaters after 2015’s “Lazer Team,” which received a limited theatrical release via the fan-driven crowdsourcing company Tugg.
Courtesy of Sundance
However, YouTube said none of this should be mistaken for actively expanding into theatrical distribution. “Our distribution strategy for our original films and series is grounded on YouTube Red,” a company spokesperson told IndieWire. The film is currently being submitted to additional film festivals.
“This Is Everything” is only scheduled to play in theaters for a week, though Kopple noted that it’s impossible to predict the length of a theatrical run before an opening. “Sometimes they surprise you and want it longer, which would be wonderful,” she said, adding that many audience members in Sundance were moved by Lazzarato’s story. “People saw a lot of themselves in this movie, whether they were a parent or sibling of a transgender person or just somebody wanting to be themselves.”
Much of the footage in “This Is Everything” was shot by Lazzarato herself, who began documenting her own transition without ever intending to share it publicly.
“Halfway through the process I thought, you know what, this would be a really good feature film,” she told IndieWire, adding that she still never imagined landing a premiere slot at Sundance. “Coming back and seeing my face on a billboard in Los Angeles was not something I would have believed could happen two years ago.”
Courtesy of Sundance
One of the most compelling aspects of the film is the support shown by Lazzarato’s father, who evolves during the documentary from a conservative businessman with hardly any knowledge of transgender issues to becoming his daughter’s strongest advocate. “To be able to support someone like that through something that’s so personal and not have any reservations in loving and taking care of your children — male or female — just speaks so highly of her dad and the good that exists in the world,” said executive producer Adam Wescott. “If we could all have parents like Dave Lazzarato, the world would be a better place.”
Though the LGBT community has made significant progress in raising awareness for transgender issues in recent years (just this week, the Boy Scouts of America said it would begin accepting transgender boys), the election of President Donald Trump has cast a shadow of doubt over whether some of that progress could be reversed.
“All of these issues are sort of on the carving board right now and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kopple said. “I think people are very afraid.” She added that many young people who turn out at public appearances to meet Gigi Gorgeous have drawn tremendous amounts of courage from watching her videos. “She’s probably saved their lives by reaching out to them and just being there and sharing her story,” she said.
READ MORE: The Orchard Buys Sundance Documentary ‘Dina’
What kind of impact does Gigi Gorgeous think the documentary will have? “The crucial takeaway is definitely about understanding, acceptance, and overall love,” she said. “I think that it’s going to open a lot of minds and put into perspective for people that it really is all about family.”
Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.