Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
What motivated you to make this film?
It started with Iman. Her optimism, her humour and her ambition were inspiring. I felt that viewers who would judge someone like Iman, would be moved by her story. This was what really motivated me, to reach people who might write off Iman and other transgender sex workers to show them the realities these women face. My hope was by illustrating the complexities of leaving the sex trade as a transgender woman, I could prompt audiences to think more about the social support systems that need to be in place.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
We shot with the C300, we primarily used one camera. We shot in many small spaces, so kept the gear minimal. When we could we brought lights, which I think is so important in documentary. Even a small handheld light can make such a difference. But sometimes we couldn’t so we used practical sources (cell phones and lamps can go a long way).
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
Originally, I wanted to have one of Iman’s clients on camera, which didn’t work out. Iman gets multiple client phone calls a day, so we thought that could be a way to include some of her clients (since we could alter their voices in post). We mirrored the content of her calls with where she was at in the stage of her journey back to school. The phone calls became a technique to showcase the tension between her “old” and “new” life, illustrating the difficulties of giving up sex work when you have bills to pay.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
Ha. Please connect me with a documentary filmmaker whose initial story was what they came out with in post (so they can tell me how they did it). The evolving story is one of the best and most challenging aspects of documentary filmmaking. Documenting anyone’s life, there will be unknowns, spontaneity and events you can’t plan for, which makes for a better film. The uncertainty about whether Iman would actually go back to school, was always lingering. We didn’t know how it would be resolved. I think at the beginning I would have liked a more concrete conclusion to the film regarding this but I think our ending is honest and really speaks to the reality of Iman’s life.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
I think the most rewarding experience has been the reception of the film. When it was finished, we showed the film to Iman, one of her family members and a small audience at a private screening. Iman and everyone else loved it. Audiences have connected with Iman in the way I hope they would have. I’ve had women from the Somali community tell me how they have never seen someone like Iman, from their community on screen and how brave they think she is. And other transgender sex workers talk about how important this film is. This kind of impact, with Iman’s communities, was really important to us.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
I make POV documentaries and I really think that social issues are best presented through the people who are living in those situations. I’d suggest finding someone compelling, spending time with them so you have an immersive understanding of who they are and how they view the world, and then really focus on “showing not telling”. I think a film with an engaging and complicated character will have a much stronger impact than one that feels like an academic essay.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
I love it all honestly (although my answer could be different on hour 12, in a tiny, non-air-conditioned room). I feel quite grateful that I get to do this type of work. I think my favourite stage is shooting. I find directing “on set” so immersive. You have to be fully present, which makes a 12-hour day often feels like one hour. It is so satisfying at the end of a shoot day, when you feel like you’ve captured an important, spontaneous moment that you’ll never get again. I love that as a director I can be involved in all stages of production and I’m thankful that film is a collaborative process. I got to work with an amazing team on this film, without them it wouldn’t have been such a success.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
Clip board with my shot list + interview questions + other references. I know some directors don’t like writing down pre-determined questions. For me it’s a balance between pre-planning + spontaneity. I don’t look at the questions when I’m interviewing someone but I like having them to remind myself what I need out of the day and how the shoot I’m on fits into the bigger narrative for the film.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
I think one of the best challenges we had was how to hide the mic in Iman’s amazing outfits. Before one of our shoots, I was standing in a park with Iman and our sound recordist Paolo, trying to figure out where the mic would go, in a particularly see through, tight outfit. People were walking by, wondering what was going on, Iman’s friend saw us and came over to chat with us, all the while Iman half undressed was not bothered at all. It was a little microcosm of the entire shoot and how badass Iman is. How Iman embraces who she is and feels comfortable as her authentic self, is something that will stick with me.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
That women like Iman need support to transition into a different career path (if that’s what they want). That not all sex work is equal, some choose it, some don’t, all should be kept safe. That it is important to have social workers from the communities that they are taking care of.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
There is a focus right now on sex work needing to be recognized as real work, which is important, but there are people that still face forced into sex work without options, need to talk about how transgender women and still left out of the traditional workforce and how to change that.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
We are currently working on turning Iman’s return to school into a feature and are looking for broadcasters to come on board.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
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