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Director Luis De Filippis on the trans stories she really wants to tell

A Q&A with the Vaughan-raised filmmaker about her first feature film, Something You Said Last Night, and her return to TIFF

By Claire Francis
Director Luis De Filippis on the trans stories she really wants to tell
Photograph by Mar Marriott. Photograph by Mar Marriott

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In 2017, trans filmmaker Luis De Filippis made her TIFF debut with the short film For Nonna Anna. In it, she showcased the touching relationship between a young trans woman and her grandmother. The film went on to win several prizes, including the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. This year, De Filippis returns to TIFF with her first full-length film, Something You Said Last Night. A film that follows Ren, a 20-something Italian trans writer on vacation with her devoted parents and younger sister. While together, the family tests one another’s boundaries and Ren navigates the desire for individuation and independence. In this Q&A, De Filippis reflects on her work and her journey as an artist.

What’s it like being an emerging writer and director in the trans filmmaking space?

On one hand, I feel lucky. The filmmakers who have come before me put in a lot of work so that I could tell stories about trans people that aren’t focused on their transness. But, at the same time, I feel like my contemporaries and I are still at the vanguard of trans storytelling. Some potential film financiers have asked me, “Well, why doesn’t the film explore Ren’s transness more?” And, “How will audiences know she’s trans? You don’t talk about it at all in the film.” Those kinds of question reveal what the industry still expects from trans stories. I find it challenging and frustrating that I’m still having to explain, “Well, Ren is just a girl who happens to be trans...”

You’ve explained that For Nonna Anna mirrors your relationship with your grandmother. With Something You Said Last Night, did you draw from your own experiences?

I definitely tapped into my Canadian Italian identity, specifically growing up in Vaughan. It’s a very specific experience. My film is not autobiographical, but the characters are heightened versions of people I know. For example, Mona, Ren’s mother, is based on women like my aunts and cousins. I would say For Nonna Anna was a love letter to my grandmother, and Something You Said Last Night is a love letter to my family.

Sound, like that of laughter, plays a significant role in this feature. What is the importance of audio in your storytelling and in Ren’s relationship to her environment?

We didn’t have a score at any point in the film. I wanted to make the audience feel like they were on vacation with this family, that they were in Ren’s shoes. Because of that, we heightened the natural sound elements that are in the film. The way sound is used plays with this idea of being a marginalized person and always being a little bit wary of your surroundings. For example, things that would feel completely innocuous to a cis person—like boys laughing on a beach—are experienced differently by a trans person. They may wonder, “Are they laughing at me?” There’s an awareness of the surroundings at all times.

Stylistically, whose work do you admire?

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I really love Andrea Arnold. I love the rawness of her work. I love the tenderness of Céline Sciamma’s work and the whimsicality of Sofia Coppola’s work. And I think Something You Said Last Night showcases all of those filmmakers’ influences in this mosaic that also is my own voice.

A key part of your film’s story centres on the role that familial love and relationships play in a trans person’s life. How does it feel to be able to bring that portrayal to the big screen?

We don’t see enough stories about trans women being valued by members of their families. Many times, stories involve their families coming to terms with who they are. But, in this film, Ren has a relationship with each of her family members. Her mom relies on her to do her hair and tie her bathing suit. She also has a very special relationship with her sister—they fight, then hate each other, then love each other again. It’s a normal sisterly bond. And she has a lot of special moments with her father too. I think it’s important for trans people and their families to see those moments and recognize that we can be a normal family. I hope this film can change at least one person’s life. If that happens, then I think my work here is done.

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