Now Streaming: Into Light Shares a Family’s Journey Through Gender Identity

NFB doc observes a three-year-old's awakening

4 mins read

“I feel like my loyalty to my child is compromised when I do that,” says the mother in Into Light. She’s telling the story of her child’s birth and asks which pronouns to use. She’s conflicted about keeping them in line with the narrative arc of the story.

“Keep in mind that we’ll talk about why that changes,” replies director Sheona McDonald (Dead Man’s Switch).

Into Light, now streaming at, shares the story of a mother and child undergoing a transformative exploration of gender identity. McDonald observes the mother and her young child as they recount the girl’s recognition of her true self at an early age. Her friend tells how her child helped others break expectations of gender identity that are taught as soon as a baby is born. Moreover, as the mother wrestles with her three-year-old’s unexpectedly perceptive grasp of gender identity, she confronts the expectations of gender conformity that one carries throughout one’s adult life.

McDonald creates a visually striking space where her subjects can unpack the complex and emotional journey they undertook together. Observing mother and child from oblique angles and unique framing that obscures their identities, which allows them to share their stories within their comfort zones. “The concern I had about this, as a director, was that an audience would not have faces to connect to; that some of the intimacy would be lost,” explains McDonald in an interview with the NFB. “Simon Schneider (DP) was helpful here. Often when the subject of a film is ‘hidden,’ the face is dark and shadowed and there is an element of shame or danger. We wanted to keep it light and beautiful, connective and exposed.

“In the end,” says McDonald, “I feel that the storytelling is strong, the emotions real, the love present and accessible—the images beautiful, the landscape a character that adds breadth and depth. It is intimate and simple… just as we’d hoped it would be.” Without compromising the openness and honesty of their participation, Into Light creates a safe space for both the girl and her mother to capture intimate moments of childhood.


Watch Into Light below from the NFB.

Into Light, Sheona McDonald, provided by the National Film Board of Canada


Synopsis: When a child reveals who they truly are on the inside, how does a parent set aside their own expectations to help them become their most authentic self? Set against the Northern landscape of Yellowknife, Sheona McDonald’s Into Light captures a season of change as a mother and child navigate the complexities of gender identity together. As elemental changes parallel this extraordinary journey, the return of brighter days uncovers a confident and social little girl with an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, a deep love of animals, and a parent who fully embraces this magical person.


Presented in partnership with the NFB.



Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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