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

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

Photograph by Mar Marriott

In 2017, trans filmmaker Luis De Filippis made her TIFF debut with the short film, For Nonna Anna. In it, she presented the touching story of the relationship between a young trans woman and her grandmother. The film went on to win several awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This year, De Filippis returns to TIFF with his feature debut, Something you said last night. The film follows Ren, an Italian trans writer in her twenties who is on vacation with her devoted parents and little sister. There, the family tests each other’s limits and Ren navigates the desire for individuation and independence. De Filippis reflects on his work and his career as an artist.

What’s it like to be an emerging writer and director in the trans cinema space?

On the one hand, I feel lucky. The filmmakers who preceded me worked a lot so that I could tell stories about trans people who do not focus on their transition. But at the same time, I feel like my contemporaries and I are still at the forefront of trans storytelling. Some potential financiers of the film have asked me, “Well, why doesn’t the film explore more of Ren’s transit?” And, “How will the audience know she’s trans? You don’t talk about it at all in the film. These kinds of questions reveal what the industry still expects from trans stories. I find it difficult and frustrating to have to explain again: “Well, Ren is just a girl who happens to be trans…”

You explained that For Nonna Anna reflects your relationship with your grandmother. With something you said last nightdid you draw any influence from your own experiences?

I definitely tapped into my Canadian-Italian identity, especially growing up in Vaughan. It is a very specific experience. My film is not autobiographical. But the characters are upgraded 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 an important role in this characteristic. How important is audio to your storytelling and to Ren’s relationship to his environment?

We didn’t have a score at any point in the film. I wanted the audience to feel like they were on vacation with this family, to be in Ren’s shoes. Because of that, we reinforced 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 bit wary of one’s environment. For example, things that would seem completely harmless to a cis person – like boys laughing on a beach – are experienced differently by a trans person. They may wonder, “Are they making fun of me?” There is an awareness of the environment at all times.

Stylistically, what work do you admire?

I really like Andrea Arnold. I like the brutality of his work. I like the tenderness of Céline Sciamma’s work and the fantasy of Sofia Coppola’s work. And I think Something you said last night highlights all the influences of these filmmakers in this mosaic which is also my own voice.

A key element of your film’s story centers around the role that love and family relationships play in the life of a trans person. How does it feel to be able to bring this performance to the big screen?

We don’t see enough stories about trans women being valued by their family members. Often the stories involve their families accepting who they are. But in this movie, Ren has a relationship with each of his family members. Her mother 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 sibling bond. And, she also has a lot of special moments with her father. 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 the life of at least one person. If that happens, then I think my job here is done. If I watch it and know it looks exactly like the movie I wanted to make – exactly like me – then, as an artist, that’s more than I could ask for.

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