Eliane Koller: an interest being taken in gender issues by directors is in line with the ‘current liberation movement’

Gender issues are often raised at FIFO. The characters, struggles, dreams and sufferings of transgender people are reflected in these films that touch the audience. The selected documentaries are therefore regularly awarded by the jury and are a hit with the public. Why does this theme attract so much interest? This question was at the heart of this conference on documentaries and gender in Oceania on Wednesday morning at FIFO. Let’s meet one of the speakers, Eliane Koller, director of the non-competition film Les étoiles me suffisent (The Stars are Enough).

There have already been many films about transgender people screened at FIFO. Why make another documentary on this issue?

I began to make this film five years ago and at the time there weren’t any documentaries on this subject, just reportages. I wanted to take it further, to get closer to my subject, that’s why I gave small cameras to the protagonists in my film, so that they filmed their private everyday lives. I didn’t ask specific questions or dictate what they needed to say, I accompanied them for three and a half years giving them technical advice, discussing content, etc. The film just sort of happened, they spoke about what touched them and what they love. I didn’t want to indicate anything in particular. I just wanted to get to know their situation better without inventing it, to give them a forum.

How did you meet and choose the people that you were going to follow?

It took me a while! I was a bit scared… and then, one day, I met a transgender radio presenter, I plucked up the courage and I went to see her. She was game right away and got a few rae-rae (male to female transwomen) friends together, three of whom ended up in the film – filming oneself is not for everyone and it required three years commitment. There are three characters, three very different perspectives.

During the conference, you said that you asked them not to embellish their situation and also show the bleak side of their existence…

I didn’t want to make a film showing that life is great and everything is fine. But that how some transgender people view life. They have a need to create a cheerful space, to learn not to notice, not to be affected by certain things. Rae-rae form a hard outer shell that they embellish physically as well as with beautiful thoughts. It’s difficult to access, to find out about the more negative side to their lives.

Why do you think the subject has interested so many Oceanic directors in recent years?

It’s true that for three years running there have been films about transgender people that have been selected at FIFO. I think that it’s in line with the current liberation movement; there are always periods, times, like in the 1960s, when rebellion picked up pace across the globe and launched a wave of decolonisation. Here I see a phenomenon freeing speech – on the democratic system, the position of women, etc. For transgender people it is still difficult to talk about it, around 11-13 years old is a complicated, dark, lonely period, you start to withdraw, keep your mouth shut and are happy just to exist. It’s not the transgender people who are making films – they are not demanding their rights. There is a movement today, there are directors who can see it and it will undoubtedly inspire more protagonists.

FIFO – Elodie Largenton