Film Reviews

REVIEW: From This Day Forward

Hot Docs 2015

USA, 74 min.
Directed by Sarah Shattuck
International Premiere

A personal doc of daughter-as-director reconciling the transgendered sexual identity of her father, From This Day Forward succeeds as a contemporary telling of self-acceptance, unpacking family resentments, and enduring spousal love. In the film, Trisha Shattuck, formerly known as Michael, admits to waiting decades for her family to relate to her in the female pronoun; this review respects that wish.

Structurally, the film bookends the filmmaker’s own journey toward marriage, while exploring that of her parents’ amid many tests and trials. When Sarah is a teenager, her father confides a dream to one day wear a dress at her wedding. This is the narrative tidbit used to unravel all the confusion, shame and anger that she and her sister lived with during their equally confusing adolescence when “identity” is also shifting and susceptible to outside scrutiny.

The treasure trove of archival footage is a boon capturing the changes that Trisha/Michael and the family have gone through. We see Michael first as “Mr. Mom,” the family’s primary caretaker, and Trisha’s evolution into a new persona as a platinum blonde. Toward the end of the film, the use of such material is superfluous. Sarah’s mother, Marsha, shares her range of feelings experienced during the course of the marriage and subsequent acceptance of Trisha, though there’s a sense of some lingering unresolved inner conflicts not dealt with on film. Zooming out, there are a few testimonies from townsfolk about their opinions of Trisha, but the main commentary comes from within the family. The film could have benefited from better contextualizing Trisha’s life with people other than her family and the unnamed musical friends she likes to jam with acoustically in the backyard.

Trisha is articulate about a lifetime of challenges “owning” her not-fixed sexual identity, and what it’s like to be “on the fence.” She’s outdoorsy and funny (especially describing the trappings of hosiery and heels); and elicits empathy as she navigates her marriage, past regrets, and present predicament: a “nagging need to express femininity.” Scenes of Trisha in her painting studio, mushroom hunting with Marsha, and preparing for Sarah’s wedding provide a view into how they exist together as a family. One of the strongest sequences is of Trisha sitting in an armchair. Every few seconds, the shot changes: first it’s Trisha dressed as a woman, then as a man, then a woman, a man, cycling through outfits. This is who she is: all of it. Neither a celebrity nor an activist, she’s a “regular,” complex suburban American, who loves her family, plays the ukulele, and is passionate about art and planting trees.

Sometimes there’s a confluence of “global” events and a documentary’s debut that confirms this is why non-fiction counts. Think of what was going on in American culture at the respective times of Michael Moore’s Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story, or Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour. The week before From This Day Forward’s premiere at Hot Docs, Olympian golden boy Bruce Jenner publically confirmed a lifelong struggle with his gender identity. One sentence embodied a cultural tipping point: “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” As gender orientation becomes less fixed and more fluid, this doc is a timely reminder that life isn’t a binary concept; and that enduring relationships are based in tolerance and communication – “an ongoing conversation” – and love.

Hot Docs 2015 Screenings
Sun May 3, 9:15 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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Noelle Elia is an artist, writer and filmmaker whose politics are based in aesthetics and emotional connection. Interested in what makes us similar rather than different, she searches for common threads as a way to get inside this never-ending question.

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