CPH:DOX Songs for Alexis
Screened as part of CPH:DOX 2014
An intimate look at the love between two American teenagers, Ryan Cassata and Alexis Ann. Ryan is 18 years old, a dedicated acoustic singer-songwriter, and, yeah, a transgender 18-year old man. He captivates the screen from the start. Not only is he proudly androgynous, not taking hormones, having slender features and long dreaded hair, he also parades around shirtless, with the scars from his mastectomy still clearly visible. How awesome is that? He’s preparing to play the main-stage at an LBGT-festival in San Francisco, talking with his loving mom, and Skyping with Alexis who lives on the West Coast.
While in the beginning, most of the interest is held by the struggles of the young trans-gender man, trying on fake facial hair, hoping for a surgical procedure to give him hair around the belly button, and getting through this transition along with his awesome family, the middle stretch of the film turns into more of a standard teenage love story. The couple deal with jealousy, Alexis has a friend who – Ryan is certain – clearly is in love with her, and it all puts severe strains on their relationship. It is teenagers being teenagers, and honestly, teenage histrionics, universal as they undoubtedly are, aren’t the most joyful thing to watch. But then a couple of revelations bring into focus, in a short span of time, just how much bigotry and discrimination the young lovers have to deal with, which turns the former slightly tiring stretch into a vessel for one cathartic scene after another, turning the love story into one for the ages.
Songs for Alexis is a small production, the debut feature for director Elvira Lind, funded by the New Danish Screen program, devoted to funding low-budget productions from upcoming directors. The film was made through the director following the Cassata family over many months, and the results gets close to the characters to an extent rarely seen. After the screening, a Q&A with the director and the cast brought a few more revelations: An impromptu performance of two new songs revealed that Ryan Cassata has progressed quite nicely as a singer and a textwriter especially, as well as the story of what later happened to the relationship. That his mother Fran was amazing was clear to see from the film, but her description of how it was to have ‘had a girl but then having a boy’ was fantastic. Once she got used to his new name, and changing pronouns, it was easy. He is the same person, he just has a new name, and new pronouns.