Nikki Wenck

Representation Matters

As a cisgender, white, heterosexual woman, I won’t claim true understanding outside my individual bubble of lived experience. I do, however, feel it’s important to see stories from differing perspectives to expand our awareness of humanity as a whole. It is also important for people to see themselves represented in film and media. In mainstream film, trans stories are hard to find and when one appears, the parts are often played by cisgender individuals. This festival season we have been privileged to receive three submissions by filmmakers who believe in presenting strong trans narratives in documentary and fiction.

Being Sascha is a fascinating exploration of gender identity and expression from the viewpoint of Sascha who is trans non-binary. Sascha reveals the pathway to realizing their identity and also their experience in society as a person who does not present as “obviously” a boy or a girl.

A central theme in this documentary short is the importance of visibility. The more one sees others like themselves, the freer they feel to accept and show the world who they are. Through visibility, these differences can become more normalized in society. Sascha also poses the question, just because a person visually presents one way, do we really know who they are and how they identify? Sascha has a strong voice and is a cool and insightful human. This documentary is a must-see and I dare you to come away from it without some expansion in your thinking. On top of having winning content, this film is shot in such an artful way with a score to match.

Being Sascha is paired with the documentary feature, Mom & M, a slice of life of a modern American family. We are introduced to Elise, a social media influencer, Nikki, an MFA student and writer, and their adopted daughter, Sansa, who is battling leukemia. As they deal with Sansa’s illness, Nikki comes out as transgender. Nikki and Elise have real, honest conversations about what these experiences and changes mean for their family, individual identities, and show us the strength that can be found in one’s chosen family.

Juliet, an American Spectrum short within the Growing Up Block (this short is only available in Indiana) tells the story of Serena, a shy trans teen who is preparing to try out to play the lead in her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. This story is a tender, intimate look into Serena’s experience with constant bullying, the lack of acceptance and understanding by her peers, and finding the strength to pursue her dreams despite these challenges. Fantastic cinematography and a direct focus on the character and her perspective allow the viewer to feel along with Serena.

I am excited for you to experience these stories and I hope you will see yourself in some of the narratives presented in this year’s festival.


Animation Station

As a lover of the arts and storytelling, animated shorts present a wonderful combination that is pleasing to both the eyes and the soul. I am so geeked about the variety and quality of animated works available in this year’s festival program. Just a few notes on a handful of our animated selections as I couldn’t bear to be a spoiler for the goodies that await our viewers!

We start in nature with Berry’s Voyage following cute little Berry entering the world, seeking out places to plant their seeds. Watch to see what obstacles present along the way and if they serve to help or hinder sweet Berry. Sad Beauty portrays an artist trying to capture nature as it appears to be deteriorating around her, and all the while, the unique animation style feels like we’re watching a drawing in motion. The Grave of Saint Oran is dark and creepy, wonderfully narrated by Neil Gaiman, and has the most beautifully captivating visuals created using hand-animated paper cutouts. Like me, you may find yourself wondering how they made the characters’ hair look like it was blowing it the wind. The Extinction of Up uses clay animation with a concept so clever I found myself giggling the whole way through. For another spot of humor, check out Macy’s Goes to War; this short has minimal animation, however, what is included is so perfectly placed punctuating this previously untold “almost” true story.

These animated selections run the gamut from comedy to drama, hope to tragedy, and can be found thoughtfully placed throughout our blocks of programming. If you are already a lover of animated storytelling or interested in checking out something new – there’s plenty to enjoy!