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In Conversation with Aurora Brachman, director of Joychild

Aurora Brachman’s short film ‘Joychild’ is a 6 minute-long testament to the experiences of a young trans boy coming out to his mother. In 2020, Brachman produced the film ‘Club Quarantine’ which portrays the various ways in which people used Zoom to connect with others. ‘Joychild’ provides a swift change of tone to Brachman’s voice, as she explores another facet of queerness. I was lucky enough to interview her for Strand Magazine, where we talked about her stylistic choices, and her hopes for the future of queer cinema.

Credit- Aurora Brachman

Ceren Kahveci: How does it feel to have a film with such a specific theme and community be released on a big platform like the New Yorker?

Aurora Brachman: I think it’s amazing, because I feel like often queer stories are pigeonholed and they don’t receive such wide distribution because they’re thought to be only interesting to queer people. For people who are trans, or have trans people in their lives, I hope they feel seen in the film. And for people who are more skeptical or less familiar with gender expansive kids or the experiences of trans people, I hope that it’s a really informative and illuminating film and helps challenge them about their perception of this in general.

CK: One of the biggest criticisms of queer cinema is that it mostly deals with trauma, but your film subverts this. How did you decide to separate yourself from that norm and have a, for lack of better word, more neutral tone throughout the movie?

AB: I definitely did not want to be replicating this traumatic story of queer people’s lives. Frankly, I believe we have enough of that and that it’s not that productive. I wanted the movie to be a blueprint for how someone can be received by a loved one when they come out about their gender identity. I wanted this film to be a really beautiful example of what that can look like. One of the inspirations of this film has been from my own life, because prior to making ‘Joychild’ my partner came out to me as being trans, so this is now kind of a reflection of my own process.

CK: One thing that I wondered while watching the film was why you chose to portray the experience from the perspective of a child.

AB: So, when I was in college I studied psychology, specifically ‘Attachment Theory’, as in the nature of the relationships we form. We sort of learn how to be in relationships based on our relationship with our parents. The role of the parent is to be some sort of a safe haven for the child, making the child feel comfortable exploring the world because the child knows that they have a parent to come back to, so I was really interested in taking that framework of a parent as a safe haven and applying it to gender identity. Also, with all the anti-trans legislation around children, about being in sports and certain bathrooms in school, I feel like trans kids are being spoken at a lot but they do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves, so I wanted to create this as a platform where a trans kid is speaking.

CK: Why did you opt to present the film in black-and-white?

AB: ‘Joychild’ was shot on a film camera called ‘Bolex’. You have to crank it up, and it’s sort of horrible to use, but I chose black-and-white for the film to feel timeless. I think we have started talking about trans people and kids very recently, and I didn’t want it to feel especially contemporary. I wanted an archetypal image of mother and child, a story about exploration that didn’t have to be contextualised in 2020 or 2021. I also wanted the film to feel like a memory, and be evocative of it. The film has a certain texture and grain and I feel like that lended itself nicely to the story as well, so that’s part of why I did it. Stripping the colors was almost meditative because you really focus on the voice. It draws you in to just listening, as anything that could be distracting is eliminated.

CK: Compared to your last film ‘Club Quarantine’,’Joychild’ feels very different. How did that shift in tone come about in your filmmaking?

AB: Definitely! I want my films to be reflective of their medium. Part of the reason why I like making documentaries is because I feel inspired by the world around me. When I knew I was going to make the film on Zoom, I thought it would be silly to try to make it feel polished like it was shot on a nice cinema camera. It would be so much more fun to pull from all of the aesthetics of the internet. I did these glitches I found because that’s what digital life is like, full of glitches. And then with ‘Joychild’, I was shooting on film, so there were certain limitations as to how I could shoot imposed by the medium itself. It sort of felt like the film is this patient, meditative process, and that was being drawn from the medium that I was working with. That’s one of the beautiful parts of documentary making, you kind of get inspired as you go along. I feel like the story tells you what it wants to be, and I felt like these two films just wanted to be very different. They are such different films!

CK: What would you want to see happen in queer cinema in the next few years?

AB: I really feel like every film is a reflection of the person who makes it. I feel like my films are! The only claim I can make is that they are my vision of the world. If other people are interested in that vision and they’re engaging in that, that’s such an honour. I really hope that we can expand the people who have access to tell queer stories so that we can get a wider range of visions of the world. I would like to see a lot more films made by POC and trans people. More films that are made by people that are actually in the community, telling their experiences. I think that’s the direction it should go in. Queer cinema right now is all white gay men and I think that queer experiences are so much more broad and so much more intersectional than that.

Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film Editor