Thursday, 11 February 2021

Interview with Cameron Laventure


Monika: Today I would like to invite you for a meeting with a talented woman who writes and directs her own movies. Cameron Laventure is an independent filmmaker and writer wi­th an MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. 
Hello Cameron!
Cameron: Hi, Monika! Thanks for speaking with me today.
Monika: How are you holding up in the pandemic times?
Cameron: Quarantine has been hard, but I’ve been luckier than most. My brother Brandon and I co-write and co-direct all our projects, and fortunately we’ve been able to shelter at home, building a writing portfolio while we search for paid screenwriting work.
It breaks my heart that so many people in my country, including relatives and dear friends, aren’t so lucky. So many of us are exposed to senseless risk because our government won’t just pay us to stay home. I carry a lot of anger over that. I try to channel it into my art, and into activism when I can.
I started my transition in the summer of 2019, and it’s strange to realize that over half of it has now taken place in quarantine. I find myself missing the highs and lows of publicly expressing my gender, but it’s been nice to have this one part of my life that’s constantly changing and progressing, while so much else is locked in stasis.

"Every production I’ve ever done has challenged and transformed
me in some way, but Potion Masters gave me a much-needed push
to reconsider my whole gender."
More info about the films available here.

Monika: I was looking at your movie portfolio and I was surprised how diverse it was in terms of stories and genre. Your 2019 short “Potion Masters” was a fantasy/romantic comedy, whereas later that year, you decided to shoot “Out of Order,” which was a period-piece horror. Was it your intention to avoid being pigeonholed into one specific genre? 
Cameron: It had more to do with passion than strategy; I work in many genres because I love so many genres. The films that have made me laugh until my body hurt, or made me grip the armrests in suspense, have all helped to shape some of my fondest memories and my sense of self. I relish every opportunity to pay those experiences forward.
Working in comedy prepared me really well for working in horror. They require so many of the same ingredients: close attention to the main characters’ emotional experience, precise visual and narrative clarity, and a sense of rhythm and timing which I had to refine endlessly in the edit bay. All the same tools of storytelling are called upon, to draw out a similarly visceral reaction.
As different as they are, both films have an element of fantasy: casual magic in Potion Masters, and a strange dimension of shadows in Out of Order. I’d love to explore fantasy and sci-fi further, in future works.
Monika: ‘Potion Masters’ seems to stand out for your personal life. I understand that you thought of yourself as a cishet ally, when you set out to make this fantasy rom-com about a lesbian couple.
Cameron: I owe a lot to that short! Every production I’ve ever done has challenged and transformed me in some way, but Potion Masters gave me a much-needed push to reconsider my whole gender.
I was a grad student at NYU Tisch – and, as far as I knew, a straight cis man - when I first thought up the idea for Potion Masters

Shooting "Out of Order" (2019).
The first day as a femme-presenting director.

The film’s premise was gender-neutral: a quarreling couple tries to celebrate their anniversary with a series of magic potions. Still, I always pictured a female relationship at the heart of the film, from the moment it formed in my head. I never really considered any alternative.
If you’d asked me, at the time, why the main relationship had to be between two women, I would have given the boilerplate “super-invested ally” answers: the world needs more interesting female characters; featuring queer relationships in gender-neutral stories can help to normalize them; women and queer people don’t need to be justified in the first place. All true things! But, as I started to realize in therapy, none of them were the real reasons.
Monika: Did you reflect on these characters differently?
Cameron: I saw more of myself, in these characters, than in any I’d written before. This became clearer to me throughout the writing process, through conversation with spectacular lead actors Pearl Rhein and Dani Martineck, and even through weeks of editing. I was driven to portray this relationship, it turned out, because I’m a lesbian.
I began writing this film, in 2017, as a cishet ally. I brought it to festivals, in 2019, as a trans woman. I believe, and hope, that the unique energy of this journey is woven into the film; the joy, excitement, and nervousness of being on the precipice of something. My pre-transition self has a brief, background cameo in the bar scene, and I smile fondly at it every time I rewatch the film.
Monika: Did the transition change you as an artist?
Cameron: Without question, yes. Artistically, as in so many other ways, I felt that my mind was unblocked by transition. My lifelong experience of gender dysphoria had always been subtle and abstract; a series of invisible walls within myself that I had to maneuver around for almost 30 years.
Without realizing it, I had been slowly exhausting myself with millions of tiny decisions against my own nature: to hold a glass with a firm, masculine grip, when my initial instinct was to hold it delicately. To force myself to identify with the male lead of a film, when my heart was aligned with the underwritten female love interest. To lower the pitch of my inner voice whenever I was reading a book.

"My lifelong experience of gender dysphoria had always been subtle
and abstract; a series of invisible walls within myself that I had to
maneuver around for almost 30 years."

The self-acceptance that came with transition allowed me to get out of my own way. I learned to acknowledge and embrace so many of my emotions and desires that I was too afraid to touch before. As an artist, this means I’ve become far less interested in “What *should* I want to create,” and so much more interested in, “What *do* I want to create?”
I started to notice this shift quite early in the process, on the set of Out of Order. Directing in feminine clothes, presenting as a “female director” for the first time, I found myself trusting my gut and forgiving my slip-ups more readily than I ever had before. Even though Out of Order was an incredible challenge to shoot, I found myself moving through it with an unexpected grace; a new sense of freedom and presence that helped me to make quick decisions with Brandon, and collaborate open-heartedly with our cast and crew. I had finally brought my entire self to work.
Monika: Suddenly you started to feel free?
Cameron: Definitely. And as a writer, this freedom has opened up new, fertile ground for me to draw from when I’m writing characters. Through honesty and recognition within myself, I can better identify with a character’s needs and dreams, and grant them the same freedom to express their hearts in messy, human ways.
Monika: You work with your brother Brandon on most of your projects. Was he surprised that he lost the brother but he gained the sister?
Cameron: I came out to my loved ones in many tentative stages, including a period of identifying as a non-binary man, and I had all those conversations with Brandon before anyone else. He was surprised when I first asked him something like, “I might end up being your sister one of these days, how would that be?”, but he never failed to be completely supportive.
It was a relief to me that Brandon never treated my transition as a loss, or as a death in the family. As he phrased it, I was moving toward home, toward my true self, and that was all he ever wanted for me. He’s been in my corner every step of the way.
"To be a trans artist implies such a
unique experience. It’s a profound
vantage point and there is no real
substitute for it."
Monika: Is there anything like transgender art? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
Cameron: To be a trans artist implies such a unique experience. It’s a profound vantage point and there is no real substitute for it. I am certain that my own creative work, even before my transition, has always been subtly shaped by my years of alienation, flashes of self-discovery, moments of trauma and beauty alike, all of which belong to me precisely because I am a trans woman.
Monika: Have you set out to explore the topic in any of your work?
Cameron: Not directly, not yet. Some day, I’m sure I’ll write something that explores gender and transness, and I imagine it will be shaped, in a very clear way, by my own experience of it.
Of course, I don’t want to risk flattening “the trans experience” into one fixed thing. Just as there are countless ways to be transgender, there are infinite ways to be a trans artist. I grew up autistic, white, and working-class, raised by teachers in a rural Michigan town. I transitioned at 29, motivated more directly by gender euphoria than gender dysphoria, and was lucky enough to be accepted and celebrated by my friends, family, and mentors. I bring an entirely different set of insights to my work than, say, a trans man of color who transitioned at a young age, or a non-binary artist in a transphobic community.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on social media?
I believe I was partially motivated by an instinct to “pay it forward.” I used to scroll through dozens of transition timelines and personal stories on Reddit, for years and years, before I even understood why I was doing it. Was it research so I could write for trans characters? Did I just find the whole topic really, really interesting? Was I trying to become the best ally in the world?
It was a slow process, confronting every wrong answer in my head so I wouldn’t have to consider the right one. But all those social media posts lit my way. They helped to show me that there were many ways to be trans, and that my way would be valid; that transition didn’t have to be an ordeal, but could be a path toward a more joyful life; that hormone therapy could help me look the way I wanted to – but even if it didn’t, I could still be happy.
In my own small way, I wanted to pass that hope to other trans people who might be scared to transition, especially if they share my early fears of coming out “too late” (no such thing!) or of being “not trans enough” (also no such thing!).
Monika: Only to other trans people?
Cameron: I also wanted to give my friends and family - who are mostly cisgender, and in many cases don’t know any other trans people - an idea of my experience. Not that this is something we owe to the cis people in our lives, by any means, but I wanted everyone who cares about me to know how happy this has made me.
There is an aspect of selfish benefit to my social media posts, too; and I don’t mean “selfish” in a bad way, but an honest way. For most of my life, I didn’t really care about my body or the clothes I threw over it. But now, for the first time, I’m allowing myself a healthy degree of vanity. These monthly timelines are a fun little art-in-quarantine project that makes me feel good about myself, and how far I’ve come.
In each timeline I share, I see my new self right beside my old self, existing all at once as we never could in reality. Between us, there is a transformative journey across time, contained within a thin black line. All together, I see a beautiful and authentic picture of who I am. And it feels nice to share who I am.
"The broader threats to trans
people, which had always merely
saddened me as an “ally,” became
so much harder to process when
I became a potential target."
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Cameron: So far, I’ve been extremely lucky. I have yet to face any clear transphobia from strangers, or from the people in my life. I can only hope this lasts beyond quarantine.
At first, I was terrified to talk seriously with my parents and Brandon about reconsidering my gender, even though I knew them to be left-wing, wonderfully open-hearted people. I felt like there was a 0.000001% chance that I had misjudged my favorite human beings, all my life, and that they might suddenly reveal a hidden transphobic side I’d never noticed. That tiny probability loomed enormous in my mind; a dark, unknown abyss between “before” and “after.”
Once I broached the subject with them, and knew I hadn’t lost them, I could breathe again. My extended family and friends reacted just as warmly when I came out over Facebook, half a year later. Not only everyone I’d met from New York or Los Angeles, but everyone from Caro, the small Michigan town where I grew up; the kind of place which a lot of people would, mistakenly, write off as a bastion of bigotry.
I hope that’s a sign of big-picture progress, when it comes to our status in society. But I know my experience is far from the norm. I wish this world existed for all queer people.
Monika: And the hardest thing?
Cameron: For me, the hardest part of coming out has been fear. The broader threats to trans people, which had always merely saddened me as an “ally,” became so much harder to process when I became a potential target. I’ve lost many hours of sleep to the US government’s efforts to restrict my rights, and their threats to do a lot worse. And in day-to-day life, I’ve had to adjust the expectations of personal safety that I had always taken for granted. I used to walk confidently through city streets at night; now, even though I only live half a block away from Brandon’s apartment, I usually ask him to escort me home if the sun has gone down. Although this is far less than many trans people have suffered, it is still a higher price than we should have to pay. I look forward to the day when coming out carries no expectation of “cost” whatsoever.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: courtesy of Cameron Laventure.

© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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