Director Lucie Rachel is not one to shy away from personal subject matter in her work. Her first short film Mother Father was a documentary about the influence of her parent’s trans identity on her relationship with Rachel’s mother. Now on her second film Where We Are Now, Rachel has further developed this discussion of gender and family relationships in a documentary about her own relationship with her trans parent.
After premiering at Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2016, the film has received widespread critical acclaim, beating hundreds of entrants to win the Best Short Documentary at the Forbes Under 30 Short Film Festival. Whilst it has undoubtedly been successful, one wonders if Rachel was concerned about doing justice to such a personal film? "Of course!" she says. "These feelings and changes are only going to happen once, so it was a lot of pressure." But, she counters, her continued work on such intimate subject matter as her family has also "somewhat desensitised [me] to the process." This attitude is evident in the film itself, for instead of a one-sided or very emotional perspective Rachel allows the audience to observe the relationship between her and her parent with a measured and unbiased eye.
The film is clearly about Rachel’s parent as much as it is about her. We are curious to know what her feelings were about making this film, after already being involved in the deeply personal Mother Father. "I got the impression she was glad that the story wasn’t going to finish at where the last film left it," says Rachel. "I think she appreciated the opportunity for us both to be able to speak about some things that we wouldn’t usually have a reason to talk about." It seems therefore that making the film has been somewhat cathartic for the director and her parent.
Would she ever like to work on something fictional and less directly related to herself? "Oh absolutely," she says, "I definitely want to explore other subject matter that isn’t so intensely personal - I need a break from it!" She has however found a recurring source of inspiration. "I’m actually in the process of planning a new doc, which is making me realise that it is the domestic and family dynamic that I seem to be drawn to." So if we don’t see Rachel’s family on screen next time, we shall perhaps get to see another family’s story through her lens.
The trouble with telling one’s own story is the difficulty of knowing how to tell it. When making Where We Are Now, why did she choose to make this particular film, with this particular angle on it? Rachel explains that she tried to tell the story "in the simplest yet most genuine way, avoiding going off on other tangents." There is no doubt a real sense of quiet focus in her direction that allows us to see the characters and their relationship more clearly. It is perhaps what makes Where We Are Now so watchable; the mutual respect evident between parent and child is something not often seen on screen and is heartening to watch. Though Rachel admits that "we’re a normal family – relationships aren’t all plain sailing," the calmness of both her parent and she when opening up to each other implies a trust that we as the viewer are drawn into.
As one who was very engaged by Where We Are Now, we wonder if Rachel has received any unexpected reactions to the film? The overall response she says has been positive: "I’ve had a few people say it made them cry...I think it must have struck a chord with them in a way that they could directly relate to it," she answers, whilst others think "it’s quite sweet."
She wonders, however, if the personal nature of the film prevents people from being critical for fear of offending her. "I would like more criticism though; I’d like to be a better filmmaker." With this in mind we ask her about her own opinion of the film: was there anything that could have been better? "So, so, so much could’ve been better," she admits. "Better planning, being down there for longer, figuring out more what we were going to say..."
If there was a haphazard element to the process, Rachel’s overall view of the film is positive. "I’m really keen that we see more trans narratives on screen and more trans people making films." This is certainly one of the reasons to celebrate Where We Are Now; not only for shedding light on a subject that is so often overlooked on screen, but for doing so in such a sensitive and realistic way. Such understated and assured direction makes us think we shall definitely see more of Lucie Rachel in future.