Years ago, I said that I would never make a personal documentary because most of them are narcissistic. No desire to go down that path. But, I did make one and also ended up weaving a personal thread into another. Never say never, I guess.
I’ve also seen a number of personal documentaries in recent years that have an unmatched level of authenticity and offer deeper insights than most of the other films I watch.
Sharon Shattuck’s film From This Day Forward premiered at Full Frame Documentary Festival earlier this week, and I highly recommend you see it when the film becomes more widely available.
When her own upcoming wedding sparked unanswered questions about her parents and their marriage, Shattuck decided to ask those questions and to reflect on her upbringing in a family where her physician mom, who identifies as straight, married an artist, who identifies as transgender.
Despite the problems that arose for the couple when Shattuck’s dad began to make her female persona more public – when Trisha was fully embraced – the two ultimately decided not to divorce but to adapt because their love was stronger than the problems. (Trisha is still called “dad” by her daughters.)
Shattuck notes in her Director’s Statement that some transgender people may be uncomfortable with the film and view Trisha’s choices as compromises, but she says – and the film confirms – that Trisha’s choices are her own made amid family and cultural considerations. One of the many things I admire about the story is its rejection of rigid categories.
I am drawn to quiet stories of community where inspiring and courageous people live everyday lives, so you might say that I have a predilection to like From This Day Forward, but there is a lot of thought and an interrogation of important ideas pulsing beneath the ordinary familial interactions presented in the film.
In another section of her Director’s Statement, Shattuck explains the value of telling happy stories, what I like to think of as stories where social justice appears at the interstices of broader human narratives:
Unfortunately there are many stories of transgender people that don’t have happy endings—stories of discrimination, abandonment and even violence. I think that it’s important to hear these painful stories, because they galvanize society to push for change, for an end to discrimination. But I think it’s equally important to hear stories of hope within the tapestry of transgender narratives. No two stories are alike, but they’re all valid. Ultimately, my wish is that my family’s story inspires others to embrace the LGBTQ people in their lives with compassion, respect, and love.
Shattuck grappled with whether or not to make this film because her parents lead a quiet life and don’t want to defend their choices to others, but I’m certainly glad the family and the filmmaker decided to share.
As more and more legal victories improve the lives of people who identify as LGBTQ, we must recognize that is not enough. From This Day Forward is not just a good documentary; it also has the potential to do more by helping in the campaign to win hearts and minds.