Director’s Statement

 

     I first came across Rebecca Swan’s extraordinary book “Assume Nothing” in 2005 while a Masters film student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. As a filmmaker who has focussed on issues of gender, sexuality and media representation for several years, I was immediately drawn to contact Rebecca, and to propose that we collaborate on a film, turning her stunning portraits from the book into “living” portraits in a feature-length documentary. The first film resulting from this rich and fruitful collaboration was the short documentary BLACK AND WHITE (2006), featuring Rebecca and one participant from her book – intersex activist Mani Bruce Mitchell.

     In the four years since BLACK AND WHITE was completed it has screened at over forty international film festivals and I have had the privilege to work with Rebecca, Mani, Ema Lyon, Jack Byrne and Shigeyuki Kihara to expand that short film into the feature-length documentary ASSUME NOTHING (2009). In the early stages of extending the project Bex, Jack and I talked over the different directions the film could take, with the initial intention being to work with people from the book. Over lunch one day though, Bex and Jack were describing all the incredible gender-blurring performances celebrating the launch of Bex’s book years before. We were struck by how unusually rich and groundbreaking that night had been. Suddenly the vision of a film grounded in the spirit of Bex’s book, but focussing on the potency of creativity interwoven with stories of “creating” a personal gender identity materialised. While that vision for the film came together swiftly and in a flurry of excitement, it has taken five years to finally bring to fruition. The film participants have become a huge and inspiring part of my life, while I have been a recurring and persistent feature in theirs! The participants have been extraordinarily generous and trusting, and the project has required much patience, determination and courage as it slowly unfolded. Early funding from the Screen Innovation Production Fund was a huge boost and meant that I could keep pursuing my requests for “a chat” which always unfolded into more filming, and then a little more filming…just one more question…would you mind if we bring the camera?

     Rebecca Swan’s own artistry as a photographer, and her potent but dignified aesthetic was a keystone for the way I approached the film’s style. While it was important for colour and vibrancy to also permeate the film, I wanted her elegant photographic images to sit comfortably within the body of a beautifully crafted and eloquent visual frame. With Bex’s full-scale photographs, ASSUME NOTHING and eight short related films have formed an exhibition touring New Zealand Public Art Galleries and Museums from 2008-10, and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission have held public workshops for the Trans community and friends in every community where the exhibition opens. This is my hope, that while my film and Bex’s images will not tell you what to think about gender, they may open up cracks in your thinking and move you to embrace the idea of assuming nothing about her, him, you, me.


















Above: “Ema - Duo” courtesy of Rebecca Swan

Below: “Spherical Animation” from Assume Nothing