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Ara’s Pride Week Profile Boosted By Ara Staff Involvement In Transgender Film Funding

As New Zealand launches into Pride Week 2021, Grae Meek is busy at her day job but she’s also launching into pre-production for her first short film - appropriately enough, a story about a transgender woman returning home for a potentially tense reunion dinner with her family.

Grae identifies as a trans woman, and her passion for story-telling and film is matched by her drive to promote understanding of and empathy for the LGBTQIA+ community, and to combat lingering, unhelpful stereotypes about trans people. She works to achieve these aims through a range of channels; a skilled videographer, Grae now has over 20,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel ‘Seadresa’ where she explores topics related to the transgender community and she also donates her time to work as a facilitator for the transgender support group ‘Phoenix’.

Grae sees a definite need to produce and disseminate more positive imagery about the trans community, identifying a definite and damaging lack of this across the current mediascape. "There are still hardly any positive role-models out there for young trans people to see and relate to; we’re still depicted as monstrous, pathological, murderous. I’m thinking of the ‘Buffalo Bill’ character in the film Silence of Lambs, or the serial killer in Dressed to Kill - there are just so many examples of films that depict trans people as horrifying or dangerous - even Ace Ventura: Pet Detective has a storyline where the villain is a transgender woman, and Ace starts vomiting after realising this."

Her latest project, which is due to commence with workshops in Auckland, has been in the works for almost a year, and while it’s timely that the start of her formal work on the project coincides with Christchurch Pride Week, she is a strong advocate for year-round visibility and support, especially for young trans people who may be finding some aspects of their journey challenging.

"The trans and LBGT community tend to globally experience higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation as well as attempts, so whatever learning institutes such as Ara have been doing - it’s good, but still more could be done to help young people who are vulnerable to biases, prejudices and potentially alienation from family and friends once they start talking about their identity."

During Pride Week, Ara will be hosting events and helping to direct learners and colleagues towards other city-wide happenings. The highlight of the Ara-based Pride will be the mid-week ‘Vogue Ball, billed as an "explosion of dance, camp, glitter and self-expression as the team from Compound Studios strut the runway, voguing the house down…"

Grae’s film - which she will write and direct - will be produced by fellow Ara professional Anna Canton. Anna is an experienced filmmaker, with a history of championing unconventional edgy and inspiring film and television projects, while Grae is a 7-year veteran of the 48-hour film competition. Her 2019 film Trial #37 was nominated for Best Visual Effects, and her recent romantic comedy Framing Love notably featured an entirely transgender cast.

Grae says of her latest venture "Owning our stories is incredibly important, and I am so proud that Homecoming represents a story told by us and about us. It’s a story that builds on the tensionand anxiety of coming out and tropes so often seen around trans people in the media,then subverts them, building hope, optimism and acceptance. The way it ends is something I find vitally important to the film; it’s a transgender story that ends well, something whichunfortunately and ridiculously is almost never shown on screen."

Homecoming is to be made under the auspices of ‘Kōpere Hou - Fresh Shorts’, which is an NZFC initiative run in partnership with Script to Screen. In 2020, Anna and Grae were one of the six teams selected and represent the only South Island-based project chosen from the original pool of 97 applications. This was narrowed down to 18 shortlisted groups, from which the final six were selected.

Each year, the six selected filmmaking teams receive funding of up to $15k, and they also get the opportunity to attend a two-day lab in March and benefit from a six-week mentorship process designed to get every team ‘shoot-ready’. Anna and Grae’s team will be looking to gain crowd-funding on top of the NZFC grant to support the production of the film.

More information can be seen here:

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