Lisa Rideout’s latest documentary is truly something special. It focuses on a transgender woman who wants to turn her life and career around after working as a sex worker for years. In our most eye-opening interview yet, we got the opportunity to talk to Lisa about why she wanted to do a documentary like this, how she first met Iman and how she hopes this film will break the certain stereotypes that people may have of transgender women.
Hi Lisa, how are you doing?
I’m great, thanks!
With One Leg In, One Leg Out, you’re telling the incredibly moving but also sadly very true story about the struggles a transgender woman is going through. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
The inspiration came from meeting and spending time with Iman. She’s amazing, she’s positive, she’s funny. I spent a year or so getting to know Iman before we started shooting the film. During that time, I learned about what she wanted for her future, the struggles she faced in the past, I met her friends and spent time in the places she frequents. This gave me an intimate understanding of her story. I was inspired by her perseverance and humour. I think other people in her situation, I think even me, could have easily given up or become jaded and she didn’t. I found it refreshing.
How did you come across Iman?
I met Iman while I was shooting my previous film Take a Walk on the Wildside about a cross-dressing store in Toronto. Iman was a customer and we bonded right away. I appreciate people who tell it how it is and are authentic about who they are and she was.
It’s a documentary about topics such as sex, sex workers and transgenders. What do you hope this film will achieve because there’s still a lot of taboo around these topics?
I think sex work is still very much taboo. Even with people I consider progressive, there is this subconscious puritan belief that selling your body is wrong. I hope this film helps illustrate that these women are doing what they have to do to survive and that it is important to create safe spaces for sex workers. I also want it to complicate the understanding of sex workers and choice. Yes, some sex workers chose it as a profession, others don’t. All should be kept safe and those that feel forced into it should be given support to leave it.
The transgender women I encountered including Iman and her friends, repeatedly told me they had no choice. That employers of “normal jobs” would not hire them. They had been turned down over and over. Their families had disowned them, they struggled with addiction and mental health issues. This reality needs to be emphasized in a society that seems to on the surface be moving towards more acceptance of the transgender community, there is still a long way to go.
Why is it so important for you to tell a story like this?
I think people might stereotype someone like Iman. I wanted to show Iman as she is, optimistic, funny, angry, hurt, torn etc. to show her as a full person, rather than a simplistic stereotype. I also didn’t want to shy away from how complicated it is to leave sex work after a decade. Providing an honest portrayal of Iman’s life, I think is an important part of combating preconceived ideas of someone like her.
What should people take away from this movie?
I hope people take away that Iman is amazing, that they root for her and understand how complicated being a transgender sex worker is.
The film festival season is ongoing right now. Which festivals will you attend with this movie and which other film festivals will One Leg In, One Leg Out be screening at?
We’ve just started our festival circuit, we were nominated for a few awards at the Yorkton Film Festival, premiered at Flickers’ Rhode Island Film Festival and are playing next at LA Film Festival, I’ll be at that one.
When did you know that you wanted to make documentaries for a living?
I’ve always been interested in visual representations in the media and how they perpetuate ideas, agendas, and stereotypes. I did an MA in critical media and cultural studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where I wrote my thesis on how non-profit organizations visually represent countries in Africa. After that, I was about to do my Ph.D. and had an internal crisis of sorts, where I thought I don’t want to be in academia critiquing imagery forever I want to help create representations I can support. So that’s when I knew. In 2013, I went to Ryerson University in Toronto for documentary media and since then I’ve been making films.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to do the same?
It’s never too late to get into documentary filmmaking. Learn everything you can about filmmaking. Watch documentaries, watch good films. Read. Learn how to clearly write your ideas, that is a huge part of documentary filmmaking. Collaborate with the right people.
One more last question: Do you already have more upcoming projects?
Working on securing funding for One Leg In, One Leg Out the feature. We’ll follow Iman as she goes back to school.
Liselotte Vanophem, Film and Celebrity Reporter – Just Celebrity Magazine