DOXA 2021 review: Sheona McDonald's Into Light illuminates experience of a trans child in Canada's magnificent North

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      As we approach International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on Monday (May 17), "Into Light" provides a real-life example why it's so worthy of acknowledgement.

      This 19-minute National Film Board documentary, directed by Sheona McDonald, offers a single mother's first-person account of raising a transgender girl, set in the splendour of Canada's North.

      The mother and her daughter remain anonymous—after all, the girl couldn't provide informed consent at the age of seven.

      But McDonald deftly creates an engrossing connection with viewers and conveys the emotion of this story through the mother's riveting storytelling, the daughter's voice, soft-focus imagery, and the changing of the seasons in Yellowknife.

      "Into Light" not only refers to the shine that comes with embracing a child's transition. It also reflects how invigorating life can be in the Northwest Territories with the onset of summer.

      In the beginning, it's a dark and gloomy winter. Mom reveals how her "son", as a toddler, wouldn't talk to people, preferring to growl and sometimes bark. But by the age of three, this child starts embracing her girlhood, fomenting confusion in the mind of her liberal-minded mother.

      What follows is an odyssey of discovery, set amid ice sculptures, rugged landscapes, and the ever-present snow.

      This is Canada writ large—not only in the scenery but also in how important trans human rights should be seen. In the hands of McDonald, an experienced documentary maker, the story come alive in part by turning the North into a central character in her film.

      At one point, "Into Light" reports that 40 percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide at some point in their lives if they're not supported at home. One doctor told Mom to her face that she could have a happy daughter or a dead son.

      "What I had been grieving before was the loss of my son," she says. "And what I'm grieving now is never knowing her before. I missed her first birthday. I missed her first steps.

      "And when she talks about her transition, she always says 'when you let me be a girl'," Mom continues. "And if I feel guilty about anything, it's that." 

      It's powerful, authentic, and uplifting. Anyone who's ever been to Yellowknife needs to see this film. Anyone who knows a trans parent needs to the film. Anyone teaching elementary school students needs to see this film.

      Oh, what the heck, everyone needs to see this film if they are truly curious about how to bring children up properly in a world still marred by bigotry.

      Video: Watch a question-and-answer session with director Sheona McDonald.