Director Sophie Hyde laments the low numbers of female filmmakers and talks transitioning in her debut, 52 Tuesdays
Are you living an authentic life? It’s a big question and one that rocks the world of a very average family in this little Aussie film that could. A somewhat dormant, 16-year-old Billie is propelled into adulthood as she attempts to wade through the revelatory aftershock of her mother, gender-transitioning to become her father. The cyclonic waves of exploding hormones creates a canyon of distance between the characters, each one spinning out of control in order to hang on to what is authentic to them. First-time Director, Sophie Hyde, peels back the veneer to explore the more intimate and clandestine effects of gender transitioning, and proves that the struggle for female filmmakers is all too real.
You've personally encountered problems within the industry as a female director regarding funding and support. Why do think that’s the case?
Sophie Hyde: I don’t receive daily problems being a woman in the film industry. There’s a feeling that there’s a huge amount of support for that but the fact that there are so few women actually making films in Australia means that obviously there are problems with women being able to make films. Those problems are under the surface and there are many reasons for it. It’s a lot harder to stand up and say that you’re a director as a woman. We’re not raised in a way that helps us do that. It’s not as easy to see women as directors and that’s simply due to the fact that there aren’t that many.
Does that external focus on your gender infiltrate and affect your creative process as a filmmaker?
Sophie Hyde: I understand the want to focus on it. My personal opinion about it is that it’s not really an industry problem. When I first started getting asked that question I wondered, ‘Why are they asking me this?’ Then when you look at how few women are actually making films and how disproportionately low that percentage is, then I realised that it is still a very real and present problem.
How do we go about resolving those problems?
Sophie Hyde: There are ways to shift it but, as an audience, it’s a problem because you’re being told stories by the same people over and over, and in general, more diversity is something that we could do with in our world. The kinds of stories that are being told and the way to get that is have more diversity of the types of people telling those stories.
Do you find this of type gender-angled coverage helps feed the progression of equality within the film industry – or is it more counterproductive?
Sophie Hyde: You don’t want to spend your whole life just focusing on whether or not you’re a female. However, women are only making between 4 and 20 per cent of films at best, so we’re only seeing a very small picture. We should be talking about everything, but we absolutely need to have that conversation.
How has that pressure or added responsibility as a female filmmaker affected your approach to your storytelling?
Sophie Hyde: In a good way, actually! I really, really need to stand up and say, ‘I am going to make films!’ I feel some kind of pressure to keep doing that rather than to rest on my laurels. Stories are really important and who makes them is really important and if you can be part of that it’s a good thing to do. It gives you a sense of courage in standing up and believing in the kind of stories that you want to make. We need to recognise that women can make film, and to really support women to do that. There is a distinct feeling at film festivals, within funding bodies and within the studios, that women can’t make films. The only way to really support that is to go and see films made by women.
And your role within this context as a storyteller?
Sophie Hyde: My role is to tell stories while investigating how we live. Whether we are living in a way that we feel is appropriate and whether we need to shift that. The way to do that, is through storytelling and storytelling that is engaging and entertaining. There is a specific point of view that I have, the place that I’m from, being a woman and all of the things that I’m interested in. That’s my place, that’s also the place that can be looked down on sometimes in a very male dominant industry.
“You don’t wan't to spend your whole life just focusing on whether or not you're a female” – Sophie Hyde
Why is gender so important to explore?
Sophie Hyde: Gender is something that I’m really interested in. Generally the way that our world is set up. For me to talk about you for instance, I would have to tell somebody what gender you are. There’s no real way of me expressing anything about someone else without talking about their gender or naming it as his, her, and him. It’s problematic. The real division and the binary idea of gender is something that is an unsatisfying thing for many people, not just people who are transgender. So for me, the people that are publicly speaking about it and revealing their own stuff in public are at the forefront of a conversation that I think is a relevant one for a lot of people. It’s unsatisfying for me to be positioned in a certain way, just a woman and it’s unsatisfying for men to be positioned as though they need to be a certain kind of man to fulfil the idea of being a ‘man’. It’s a great thing to talk about because it’s so bloody black and white the way that we live with gender, the reality is that it doesn’t actually feel that way underneath.
Tilda, how familiar were you with the trans world before 52 Tuesdays?
Tilda Cobham-Hervey: I grew up in a world where gender was always different. I’d never been to a legal wedding until this year. I’ve been to six fake gay weddings and it was a very different world growing up so I guess I’ve never found it wildly confronting.
How did you prepare for the project?
Tilda Cobham-Hervey: In terms of research and the process, we all decided the way we were approaching this project was to make it in a really real way. We got the scripts one week at a time, so we didn’t know what was going to happen. I chose to learn about the trans-world as Billie did, through that year, so in terms of preparation, I only researched things when Billie found them out.
What was your biggest takeaway from this process?
Sophie Hyde: My own experience of being annoyed at everything being so gendered. Realising that when I ordered my coffee it was a very gendered experience and when I put my name into book a flight, I was asked if I’m a male or a female, which is really and completely irrelevant. I started to feel really uncomfortable with that being the primary way that I was identified. It’s an amazing thing to uncover and to try and work out to see you kind of have your blinkers pulled off and see how pervasive it is in the world and how un-necessary it is.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey: It’s very hard to get your own brain out of that. Half way through the film we started referring to James as ‘he’. That was just hard even in the script when we were talking. During the filming it was hard not to say ‘she’ just because we’d met with her being my ‘mum’. It’s really a hard thing when you realise that you are also a part of that binary.
Conditioned and conformed.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey: I know and we can’t help it!
What would you like people going through the similar trials, to take away from the film?
Tilda Cobham-Hervey: I’d want them to be brave! I learnt so much about being a human in that year. The ability to be braver and the ability to accept that things are going to change and to remain curious about the world. Halfway through the process we got asked “Are you living an authentic life?” It’s such a full-on question! The really important thing was that I always questioning, (and this still sticks in my mind today) I still ask myself this quite regularly. I don’t think people think about that enough and particularly when you’re young and maybe more so if you’re a female. It’s very important to keep asking that and not get swayed by what people think you should be doing or what it looks like, instead, to just go with what it feels like. The desire to take a risk and to make sure that you keep doing it as it’s authentic to what you want your life to be not what its meant to be.
Sophie Hyde: We really wanted the characters to be people who were questioning the rules of how were are supposed to live. These rules that are established aren’t necessarily what work for you and what works for you can be very different. There’s a sort of a sexual relationship between the three teenagers, it’s something that is very special and all about genuine exploration of how they are uncovering what they like the feel of and what they actually like to do, rather then what they’re supposed to ‘say’ they like, or naming and labelling what they do or looking a certain way. We don’t see enough young people in film doing that sexually in films framed in a way which is about them exploring that position, we often see them portrayed in a way that is more about looking at them.
52 Tuesdays is out in cinemas Friday August 7