Daniel Pillai Chats With For Nonna Anna’s Director – Luis De Filippis
Filmmaker Luis De Filippis’ short film FOR NONNA ANNA captures the complex, tender, intergenerational and intersectional relationship between a trans grandchild and her aging, ailing grandmother. It’s complicated but oh so beautiful.
“It is imperative as Trans people that we tell our own stories on screen,” says filmmaker Luis De Filippis. “We know shame and secrecy, but it is time we know truth and acceptance. The film is born from not only my lived experiences but also those of the women in my family and it is an honor to bring to the big screen.”
I had a chance to chat with the director at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year. Check it out:
What inspired the creation of this film?
For Nonna Anna explores the relationship between a trans girl and her Italian grandmother. As the girl is coming into her own and becoming more comfortable with her body, her Nonna is losing her agency and sense of self. The film was inspired by my relationship with my Nonna who was fearless in being her authentic self and in turn, was fearless in accepting others. This was no small feat when considering that my grandmother was a devout Catholic and could boast only the most basic education equivalent to that of a second grader. Yet her heart was open to the gender variant tendencies that I exhibited growing up. She never made me feel weird or less than – instead, she encouraged my exploration, giving me the courage and strength (and maybe some fashion advice) to express myself in all of my un-restrained glory. This film is an ode to her.
How does it bring the Trans community into light, and how does it contribute to that global conversation of trans people and communities around the world?
In recent years we’ve seen an increase of media representation focusing on trans people, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand we are getting some much-needed attention that can promote education for the cis community but on the other hand, these conversations mainly revolve around the sensational aspects of being trans and only serve to make the world a little more dangerous for the trans community, especially trans women of color. We lose sight of the fact that trans people are just that – people. I felt the need to tell a story that didn’t focus on the mechanics of transition but rather showed two women simply seeing their experiences in one another and empathizing with each other’s struggles. As long as we continue to sensationalize trans people and their stories, we will only be seen as the other. It is my hope that the film will open minds and hearts and perhaps start conversations focusing on empathy and compassion.
What does your film communicate about human rights at the end of the day?
I think the film communicates the human right to dignity. The grandmother in the film is not only based on my Nonna but also on her mother, my Bisnonna (great-Grandmother). By the end of her life she was quite frail and so, was in the care of my Nonna. At that time my Nonna was also taking care of me, so I had the chance to know my great-grandmother. My Bisnonna, as frail as she was, always commanded respect and her right to dignity. Our society is ageist and somewhat biased towards youthfulness. The mass media presents aging as something to be avoided at all costs. We hide our elders in senior homes as if aging is catching and often refuse them the human right to dignity. In the film, the girl realizes that her grandmother always treated her with the utmost dignity and so she reciprocates this act by giving her Nonna the dignity she is entitled to.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
I want people to see two women accepting each other for who they are; seeing their fears in one another’s eyes, and being honest about their vulnerabilities. There is so much fear in the world right now and fear leads to hate and violence. But if we can take a moment to sit with our fears we realize that we all have the same wants and needs – to be seen, to be validated, to be loved for the individual beings that we are. In For Nonna Anna we watch as these two women confront their fears and in doing so, make each other’s lives a little more liveable. At the end of the day, I think that is our purpose, to help each other get through another day; my mom instilled that in each of her children and I suppose it’s surfacing in my work.
You deal with intergenerational conflicts at the same time, what does that say about the trans experience, its rights, acceptance and story?
The film deals with the decline of an older woman. She is losing her health, her agency, her identity. She is on the precipice of not being a person but rather just “old”. A label that is slapped on her and speaks for her as a blanket statement ignoring all the intricacies of her life and accomplishments. Likewise, trans people are summed up in that one word “trans”. Our varying experiences are put to the side; our self-worth and identity are tied to a moniker. I believe that one day we can get to a point where the term “trans” is superfluous, where we don’t have to state our preferred pronouns or explain our existences. My hope is that as we witness the two women in For Nonna Anna shed their biased perceptions of each other, we examine the ways in which our own biased perceptions plague our relationships with one another.
Why do you say its important for the trans community to tell their own stories?
We must be able to tell our own stories with the same resources that are afforded to the cis men who have usurped our narratives and been showered with accolades. For so long trans representation has been in the hands of cis men whose preoccupation and fascination with our bodies has been at the center of the character arcs of trans women. Our stories have been told by cis men, for cis men and our characters have been played by cis men. Our stories have been framed within the context of the cis male gaze where we have been sensationalized, vilified and eroticized.
It is time to reclaim our stories so we can tell honest and accurate stories about trans people. Stories where our transitions are not the plot line of the film, for we have a life after transition. When we tell our own stories we create a mirror in which other trans people may see their experiences reflected back to them, making them feel a little less lonely, a little less strange, and a little more empowered. At the end of the day that is the strength of the film medium. Trans people were once revered as the storytellers of their communities, through film, literature, music and all other forms of artistic self-expression; we can reclaim our birthright, take up the mantle of storyteller and tell our own stories with empathy, compassion and dignity.