In First Day, 11-year-old trans actor, Evie Macdonald, plays a character who changes schools and stands up for herself in the face of bullying. Director, Julie Kalceff, talks to us about the importance of showing how being transgender is just one aspect of someone’s identity and that trans children still deal with the same issues that all children do.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO DIRECTING?
JULIE: I did a Masters degree in Screenwriting at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). Part of the course required us to work with the directors on a number of short films. All of the directors were male and it quickly became apparent they weren’t interested in telling the same type of stories I was passionate about. I started directing out of frustration and necessity.
WHERE DID THE CONCEPT OF THE STORY COME FROM?
JULIE: A child close to me is transgender. When she first started transitioning, her mother desperately wanted to support her but wasn’t sure of the best way to do that. I thought of how wonderful it would be for both of them to see a children’s television episode (First Day was originally commissioned for children’s television by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) about a transgender girl who struggled with some aspects of being transgender but who was basically dealing with the same issues as most girls her age.
DID YOU COME ACROSS ANY OBSTACLES DURING THE MAKING OF THE FILM? IF YES, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
JULIE: What we thought would be our biggest obstacle turned out to be the strongest element of the film. Both producer, Kirsty Stark, and I wanted to cast a transgender actor to play Hannah. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation very much supported this. We were concerned, however, about being able to find a 12 year-old transgender girl who could act. But we did. We found the extremely talented Evie Macdonald who brings such warmth, honesty and depth to the role, it’s impossible to think of anyone else playing the part of Hannah.
WHAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE EXPERIENCE OF MAKING THIS FILM?
JULIE: One of the most rewarding aspects of making First Day has been the response from the transgender community. I’m not transgender and I am very much aware that this is not my story to tell. I am, however, in a position of privilege and I have access to the means to tell this story. Once we cast Evie as Hannah, our job became to empower Evie and give her the tools she needed to tell her story. The warmth with which First Day was embraced by the community was one of the best aspects of making the film.
HOW WAS IT TO WORK WITH SUCH A PROMISING YOUNG ACTOR SUCH AS EVIE MACDONALD?
JULIE: It was a joy to work with Evie. First Day was her first acting role and she took to it with such wisdom and intelligence, it felt as though she’d been acting for years. We had a five-day shoot and Evie was in every scene. She never complained, she never got tired. She kept working and she loved every minute of it.
WHAT DO YOU WANT THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR FILM?
JULIE: Our intention was to make the film about a girl starting a new school. We wanted the story to be about something everyone can relate to. Hannah is transgender and she has to deal with things not all children her age do, but we wanted the audience to see that being transgender is only one aspect of who she is.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
JULIE: I’m currently developing First Day as a children’s television series.
ONLY 4% OF THE HIGHEST GROSSING FILMS IN THE PAST DECADE WERE DIRECTED BY WOMEN, BEING A FEMALE DIRECTOR CAN BE DISHEARTENING IN THIS ENVIRONMENT. WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE FOR ASPIRING FEMALE DIRECTORS OUT THERE?
JULIE: I’m not sure how helpful this advice is but I would say that no matter how difficult and disheartening it gets, don’t give up. After graduating from film school I spent 10 years struggling to catch a break and find my place in the industry. I can’t even remember how many times during those years I wanted to give up. I didn’t know what was going to happen but the one thing I was sure of was that if I gave up, I’d never have the opportunity to tell the stories I wanted to tell.
Interview by Sophie Duncan & Caris Rianne
First Day showed in the LIFE IN TRANSIT shorts collection on Sat 23 March and will be showing on Mon 25 March. For tickets and information please visit here. You can view links to the film makers social media platforms below.