Filmmaker Sharon Shattuck discusses the making of the film, From This Day Forward.
POV: Could you describe the film for someone who hasn't seen it?
Sharon Shattuck: From This Day Forward is the story of my parents' relationship. My dad transitioned to be a woman named Tricia and my parents stayed together through that transition. So it's a real love story that gets into what it really means to stay together through a huge change.
POV: Could you talk about the lead up to the film? You had a lot of things going on in your life and when was the moment when you thought this could be a film?
Sharon Shattuck: I've worked on documentaries for a long time as an animator and I always wanted to tell this story but I didn't think my parents wouldn't necessarily be on board with me telling it because it's not like they want to be the spokespeople for transgender families and what happened was I decided to make a film about other people's LGBT families and so I was going around the country and interviewing other people and coming home and sort of filming with my parents surreptitiously, telling them that I was going to make a film about mushroom hunting. While I was filming I realized that they were just incredibly warm and open in a way that I didn't think that they necessarily would be. So, eventually I asked them if I could actually just make the story of our family and they said, yes.
POV: I think you captured this amazing tone with the film where it is warm and it's light even though you're dealing with some really difficult transitions for a family. Could you talk about your approach and was that the tone you set out at the beginning?
Sharon Shattuck: I wanted to tell a different kind of transgender story, because there are a lot of really tough issues that come along with being transgender in America right now. There are a lot of really sad stories out there. I think that our story has elements of sadness but also a lot of elements of happiness and light and love. I wanted to just show what it's really like inside a family like mine because it's something I'd never seen on TV before or in the movies. And I still haven't actually. I don't know I'm just really proud that I was able to like show something so honest and real.
POV: When you started making this film, there weren't as many stories about transgender families out in the media and the ones that were, were often very sad. Now, things have changed with series like Transparent. How does your film fit into the current landscape?
Sharon Shattuck: I love Transparent. I like to say that our film is sort of the real life documentary version of Transparent in a way. There are obviously differences. This is a story of a family that's in a small town in the Midwest. It's not a celebrity story. It's not Caitlyn Jenner. It's really just a real family struggling with issues of identity and gender and attraction.
POV: Could you talk about the role that the Midwestern location plays in your film and in growing up?
Sharon Shattuck: A lot of people ask why my parents don't just move to a large city because they would have more support for being a transgender family, because they'd be among other people who are like them and who struggled with the same things. I think the answer to that is that they really love where they live. I think that they find a lot of solace in nature. That's kind of where they are able to heal and to really give themselves the space to work out the differences between them in a way that they never really got from counseling. Anybody who sees this film can see that they just love nature. I grew up as a botanist, that was my first career before I came to filmmaking. Somebody pointed out one time that a lot of the shots are kind of low to the ground and I'll have like little mushrooms or like a little flower you know cutaway and it's just because that's sort of how I think, is like shooting low. I hope that that comes across that you really get a sense of the landscape and the nature, where they're from.
POV: Could you talk about the role that art and music plays in Tricia's life in the film?
Sharon Shattuck: Yeah, I always knew that I would include Tricia's paintings in the film because she's painted as long as I can remember. Every single family vacation she had her canvas and the oil paints and her palate and that's pretty much what she always did on vacation. I knew the paintings would be significant somehow. I really didn't realize until I started interviewing with Tricia that the paintings have all of the personal significance and she includes little special figures, there would be a little dog face for our dog Pepper, or figures that signify her parents. I had no idea. Of course, as an artist you're putting yourself in your paintings but I didn't realize to the extent that she was doing that until I started talking with her.
Sharon Shattuck: Making the film was a real eye-opener for me and, and like a way to see Tricia in a new way that I, I had no idea she'd been doing this all along and leaving these little breadcrumbs and I just never realized. Its been really amazing being able to sit down with a video camera and ask these questions for the first time and have her open up to me and tell me all these things. It's weird that your parents don't necessarily download everything to you all the time until you ask. It was the first time that I asked. Music is also a thing Tricia is really, she always tells me that she lost a lot of friends when she came out but she also gained a lot of friends and a lot of her new friends are musicians. This community of these warm, open musicians in Northern Michigan have really taken her in and made her feel at home.
POV: Talking about how through the art and conversations you got to know a different side of Tricia. How else did the film changed your relationship with your parents?
Sharon Shattuck: Making the film was a really amazing way to connect with my parents in a way that I hadn't before. I think that any time you have a video camera and you're like bringing it into a room and interviewing people, you, you kind of learn new things about them. With my parents, like we're very Midwestern and we don't talk about a lot of stuff. Having this camera allowed me to ask questions that I'd never asked before and it allowed me to understand where they were coming from. Like, when I was younger, I just had a lot of memories of myself and I was very concerned about myself, as a lot of kids are. So when I grew up, I was able to kind of put that aside and really understand where they were coming from and see them as people who made their own decisions. It was pretty amazing to do that! Still we do that every day. Every time we do a Q&A, I'm learning new things about them. So, it's been really cool to talk more and to be more open with them.
Sharon Shattuck: It took my mom two years to sit down and interview with me on camera. And eventually my mom was like you know, "I should, too. I deserve a voice in this because it is a family story".
POV: It's incredible to hear how your mom finally came forward on her own volition. It says a lot about her character.
Sharon Shattuck: I think she's really strong and I hope people see that in the film. She's an amazing woman and she's always put the family first in a lot of ways. I think in this way, too, she was holding back and letting Tricia have the spotlight and have the voice and I wanted her to talk from the very beginning, I wanted her to talk. But, I couldn't force her to.
POV: I think your film really shows how complex a very strong marriage is and can be and one of the things that struck me was that its not just a LGBTQ story but really a story about whatever marriage is going through and how you think about your partner and how we all grow over time as individuals and as part of a marriage. As all of this was happening and led up to your own wedding and your own marriage, how did it shape your thoughts about marriage?
Sharon Shattuck: It was really crazy! I got engaged in the middle of filming my parent's marriage. I was thinking you know this is going to be a story about their relationship. Midway through filming I got engaged and it really like brought to light. I was really like torn up about the idea of committing and like what does that mean? And you know even though my partner's not transgender, I'm sure that there are going to be a lot of changes in you know however many years we're going to be together. My parents have been together for 36 years now. I know that not everybody has that sort of drastic external change in their marriage, but everybody has to go through things like this. You know these big changes that shake up your life.
POV: In many films, but especially personal stories, archival footage and photos are of utmost importance and in this one especially because it was a visual transformation. It was super affecting to get a sense of what it was like for her to be a man. How did you feel going through those old photos and videos knowing what you know now?
Sharon Shattuck: It was really affecting because you look at somebody's face in those photos. I see Tricia's face and I can see she's not happy. And I guess I knew that at the time, too, but I was so wrapped up in my own feelings and being a little kid in elementary school and middle school and not wanting to be in the situation, wanting to be "normal", and I couldn't get outside of my own headspace when I was younger. Now, after talking with Tricia and going back and looking at those old photos, I feel so much for her. And, yeah it's interesting, I feel for myself, too! I see these little kids in these photos and we were so young at the time. So, it's a tough situation for any family to be in and there are people now who are going through the same thing and I am hoping this film will help them to cope with this transition.
POV: Absolutely! What do you want our audiences to take away from this film?
Sharon Shattuck: I hope that audiences take away that we are just a family like any other family in a lot of ways. There are differences, obviously. Every family is a little bit different. But, I mean my parents are, like my dad's an artist. Loves to drink coffee. Loves to ride horses. My mom likes to do yoga. It's pretty normal American stuff and I hope that people can see that.