'52 Tuesdays’ Is a Clever and Sensitive Look at Transgender Parenthood

We talked to director Sophie Hyde about her new film, which was shot only on Tuesdays, every Tuesday, for one whole year.

Aug 3 2015, 3:50pm

A still of mother and daughter, James and Billie, from '52 Tuesdays'

52 Tuesdays is a film that can only be described as groundbreaking. Exploring transgender parenthood, an underage three-way relationship, online nudity, and more. The film follows Jane, a 37-year-old, who embarks on a transition into a he named James. We see the impact this has on his family, in particular his 16-year-old daughter, Billie, who is also transitioning, in her own way, into adulthood.

As their time together is limited to Tuesdays, the film tracks the events of these 52 Tuesdays of the year. Filmed in real time every Tuesday, over the course of 12 months, we are constantly reminded that "a lot can happen in a year."

Australian director Sophie Hyde's background in documentary filmmaking is clear here in her first feature film. She captures all the grey areas and difficulties of transitioning by experimenting with the form: using film within film, and constantly asking questions of the audience. It's no surprise that the film has already won and been nominated for a ton of awards around the world.

We talked to Sophie to find out more about transgender parenthood, sexual experimentation, and authenticity in filmmaking.

VICE: As your first feature drama, why did you choose to make this film?
Sophie Hyde: My co-writer, Matt, came up with this idea. "Let's make a film called 52 Tuesdays where every Tuesday two people meet and we film it only on Tuesdays." I was like, "This is crazy! But also really interesting." The form came first and it was later that we explored what the story would be—we were writing as we went as well.

You only let the actors see their lines a week before? Why?
We didn't give the actors their scripts because it was a year of filmmaking and we felt that the cast would get bored if they knew the story the whole time. It's a long time to stay with that, to be real within it and not pre-empt things.

How did you make sure you created an accurate depiction of your transgender character, James?
For James, we were looking for someone who shared a similar experience and what we ended up with was Del Herbert-Jane. The actor playing James is actually very different from James as a character; James is a transgender man, but Del is someone that doesn't identify as conforming to gender. Not he or she, just Del. So quite different from our character actually. But there is a shared experience somewhere in there, which was important.

We did a lot of research, looking broadly at the diverse gender community and that was fascinating and enlightening for many of us. But at the same time, we also had to put that aside and think about James as a character made up of many things—including being a mother and being a certain age and a certain kind of person. We had to put aside the idea that we were representing the transgender community and kind of create a film about a person.

The pronouns used to refer to James varied between characters, was the script fixed or something that you changed?
It changed because we would do rehearsals three times a week, so it was a collaboration with the cast and Matt, our writer. In terms of pronouns, the dad, Tom, uses "she" a fair bit, and we kind of wanted to raise that, without it being a huge deal. It's not always easy for people to get it right, even if they're trying to. If they've lived with a person for like 20 to 25 years, its really hard to learn to change a pronoun.

Still from '52 Tuesdays' of James and Billie

What do you think the added complications are of parenting while you're transitioning?
I think parenting, at any time—if you're trying to live not just as a mom or dad or parent, but as a person—is always complicated. I think the story of someone who is transitioning at this particular point dramatises that complication in some respects. How much time should you put into making sure that you're happy and living authentically as opposed to just being there for your child?

Billie's adolescence coincides with her mom's transition. They're both transitioning in a way...
They're both going through puberty! It's beautiful as a child to see that, but I think it also makes you really question who you are. If a person you knew is not what you thought, you really quickly want to work out "Who the fuck am I?"

Still from '52 Tuesdays' of Jasmine, Billie, and Josh

Do you think Billie and her friends are quite typical of teenagers in Australia or not really?
They remind me of myself at that time and of people that I knew—I don't know how typical they are. What I hope is that a lot of teenagers get to experience sexuality in that way—in a way that is actually relatively safe, with the people that you feel comfortable with. It's about exploring what feels nice and what you like, rather than what is supposed to look right. Nowadays we see pornography on one end, and on the other Hollywood romance—they're the two things that we're taught. How do you actually work out what you like? I hope that teenagers work their stuff out together, even if they might not be in love with each other.

It definitely showed a lot of sexual experimentation, but it all went a bit wrong in the end for Billie. What does that show?
As you're growing up, there are moments when you realize that whatever you do has consequences. The outside world comes in and goes: What if it gets online? And what if other people see it? What if it destroys your life?

That can feel very depressing, but at the same time none of them actually release the video. The heart of that is that we all think it's the worst thing that could ever happen to someone, that they could be seen online being sexual or naked, but when there are so many terrible things that could happen to us all, why are we so afraid of nudity?

Interested in transgender issues? Watch our documentary 'Indonesia's Transsexual Muslims'

I liked the way Billie and her mother were both filming aspects of their lives. Why did you choose to incorporate that?
I think it's hard not to use that stuff nowadays in a modern story. We were interested in seeing what happens in the trans community sometimes—where people record their change. We liked the idea that James set out to record to see if he could see the change and that Billie would mirror that process—that she also would want to uncover things on film and record them to keep.

I come from a documentary background—where you get to sit behind the camera and you get this privileged position of asking people questions—so it just naturally went into the film.

When Billie shows a clip and asks the audience, "What is an authentic life?" is that what you were aiming to do—provoke the audience to ask themselves what an authentic life is?
There was certainly a desire in me for people to be able to connect emotionally with the film but also for people to be able to think about their own lives. Ask themselves questions like: "What do you do in a whole year? How do you react to each other?" What you really want is for people to see it, talk about it and be part of the conversation.

Thanks, Sophie.

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52 Tuesdays is released by Peccadillo Pictures on the August 7 with Q&As in the week leading up to release.