Toronto Metropolitan University: Grad’s film premieres at TIFF, celebrates trans life

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While studying filmmaking at Toronto Metropolitan University, Luis De Filippis (Image Arts ’12) wanted to get as close to the film industry as she could. She decided to work as an usher at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for six years, sweeping popcorn in aisles and ripping tickets, but now life has come full circle for the rising filmmaker as her debut film Something You Said Last Night will be screening at the festival this year.

De Filippis is beyond excited for her September 10 TIFF premiere. Her main concern, which some might deem an ideal problem to face, is “All the screenings are sold out so I don’t know how my friends and family can see this film,” she says.

The film’s plot
The film tells the story of Ren (Carmen Madonia) and her younger sister Siena (Paige Evans) as they travel with their parents for a family vacation. Bubbling beneath the surface of laughter and comradery is a tension for Ren, who identifies as transgender, as she navigates this conservative beach town between puffs of her vape and scrolling on her phone. The consistent thread running through the film, though, focuses on the strong relationships Ren cultivates with her Italian-Canadian-Catholic family.

Also identifying as trans, De Filippis says she’s always been fascinated by the role of family in telling her stories on film. “It’s important to show trans characters alongside their families without the narrative being all about transitioning,” she says. “Ren is a sister, daughter and granddaughter first and foremost.”

She adds how cis characters in films never have a big reveal about identifying as cis, and she didn’t want the narrative of her film to hinge on Ren’s coming out as trans either.

De Filippis’ film focuses instead on Ren’s closeness with her parents, who are supportive and love her. This acts as a counterweight to many other films and TV shows depicting immigrant families as confused and upset about a child or sibling coming out as trans.

Something You Said Last Night is not her first project that looks inward, as De Filippis also comes from a supportive Italian immigrant family. She ventured into similar territory with her 2018 short film, Nonna Anna, a tender look at a trans woman’s relationship with her ailing Italian grandmother. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

On-set youth mentorship program
While shooting Something You Said Last Night back in September 2021, De Filippis launched a mentorship program to provide five trans youth with training and work experience on set.

Too often, she says, trans filmmakers and on-set crew are marginalized in the film industry, so “the whole idea of the mentorship program was to set up a space to feel safe and be surrounded by trans people.”

Mentees were selected to work in production management, the art department, costume design, makeup and cinematography.

“I am so proud of the work they did on this film,” De Filippis says, “and I can’t wait to see how far they’ll go in their careers.”

As for what success looks like to her, De Filippis says she would like viewers to identify with the family dynamics on screen. “The happiest I’ll be is when the audience can see themselves in my film, whether that is connecting to the trans characters or the cis characters or the Italian side of the family. To me, that’ll be a successful film.”

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