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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Sébastien Lifshitz • Director of Little Girl

“Sasha is a modern-day heroine”

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- BERLINALE 2020: We talked to Sébastien Lifshitz, the director of the documentary Little Girl, which has premiered in the Panorama section

Sébastien Lifshitz  • Director of Little Girl
(© Sébastien Lifshitz)

We met up with director Sébastien Lifshitz on the occasion of the premiere of his documentary Little Girl [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sébastien Lifshitz
film profile
]
in the Panorama section of this year's Berlinale. The film follows nine-year-old Sasha, a transgender child who faces countless obstacles on account of her being different. Nevertheless, the girl, trapped in the body of a boy, is lucky enough to have the support of a loving family and, most importantly of all, that of her strong and resilient mother.

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Cineuropa: How did you first find out about Sasha?
Sébastien Lifshitz:
First, I didn’t know how to find a transgender child. But I realised later on that there are a lot of forums online, in which parents of transgender children exchange information among themselves, on all sorts of topics. I placed an ad there, and two mothers responded. One was in Canada, and one was in France, who turned out to be Sasha’s mother. I first met up with the mother alone, and we got along very well right from the start. Then I met the family and did a first day of shooting as a test. And that’s how everything started. We accompanied the family over the course of a whole year.

School is very important in the lives of Sasha and her family. In the film, it’s very present, but never shown directly. Wasn’t it possible to get permission to shoot there?
No, exactly – we weren’t allowed. The school even tried to prevent us from making the film. We got a letter from a lawyer saying that we were not allowed to mention the name of the school or to shoot there. The school tried to persuade the parents to stop participating in the documentary as well. I think this situation added an interesting aspect to the film in the end. The school is the biggest enemy against which the family is struggling. It’s like a big, impenetrable wall and a symbol of rejection.

Do you think the documentary influenced the final decision of the school to eventually allow Sasha to wear girl’s clothes on the premises?
The film itself wasn’t that instrumental. We invited the representatives of the school to speak with us, to participate in the discussions we organised with the physician who was following Sasha’s case. The turning point was only visible on the horizon when the family presented a written medical certificate concerning Sasha’s condition and a diagnosis of her being a transgender child. They started to understand that if they continued with their attitude, they could be accused of and charged with mistreatment.

How would you describe the role of the mother? She and her feelings take up a lot of the film.
I think the feelings of Sasha are very prominent and visible, especially in the scenes at the physician, or when she tells her mother about her feelings. It’s true that they are not really expressed through words very much, but more by images. Sasha’s face is a mirror, which is extremely expressive. And, of course, the film is also a kind of portrait of the mother as well. It’s about her battle and about her unconditional love – a battle that all mothers fight. She is a sort of heroine.

The film depicts a family living in harmony, a family who understand one another. Were there also conflicts that you chose not to show?
Of course, there was also some tension between them. But actually, they live a solid, harmonious life. I think that since they have to struggle with the outside world because of Sasha, they have built a fortress around themselves and are like a group of soldiers with real solidarity for each other.

Do you think there is a need for films that talk about such topics? What would you like to achieve with it?
I know that there are a lot of movies about queer topics, but not many talk about transgender children. People associate the theme instinctively with sex and sexuality, which is absolutely not the case. It’s about identity and a struggle that has always existed. I want to raise awareness of that. My film is not only about a transgender child; it’s also about showing people who don’t correspond to the norm or who are different. Sasha, in my opinion, is a modern-day heroine.

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