“Film just encapsulates all the things I love – a little bit of production design, costume design, camera work and editing,” Luis De Filippis says. “It’s one big puzzle and I love puzzles.” The emerging screenwriter and director in the trans filmmaking space, and one of the Chanel Women Writers’ Network participants in the Toronto International Film Festival Writers’ Studio class of 2023, makes movies about trans people where gender identity is a detail, not the whole story.
Eschewing the typical trans film arc of before and after transition, the Canadian-Italian filmmaker’s quietly revelatory feature debut, Something You Said Last Night, follows a week in the life of Ren, a twentysomething aspiring writer on a beach holiday with her younger sister and their parents. Played by Carmen Madonia, Ren is a young trans woman trying to find her place in the world and her tight-knit family. “I don’t set out to make political films or teach lessons in my films,” De Filippis says. “I really strive to tell stories about people I’m interested in telling stories about. Right now that happens to be trans women.”
Following its world premiere at TIFF last September (where it won the Shawn Mendes Foundation Changemaker Award), the comedy-drama garnered acclaim as it toured film festivals before arriving on indie cinema screens in July. It was one of the biggest openings of the summer at TIFF’s Bell Lightbox theatre, a testament to the community that De Filippis built around the movie. Actor Julia Fox, who joined Something You Said Last Night as an executive producer shortly before its wider debut, praised the “deep sense of connection” she felt after screening it.
Exploring the bittersweet workings of intergenerational relationships is De Filippis’s terrain. Her intimate 2017 short, For Nonna Anna, earned a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for its affecting look at the tender bonds of acceptance and vulnerability between a young transgender woman and her ailing Italian grandmother. “The through-line of my movies is family and I’ll probably make stories about them for the rest of my life,” De Filippis says. “The one you nurture into being is just as valid as blood families but they’re almost more fragile because of the choice. There’s something interesting about that I want to explore.”
De Filippis is among a group of Canadians chosen for the Chanel Women Writers’ Network. Launched in 2021, the partnership with TIFF’s Writers’ Studio provides additional funding to advance the careers of women and non-binary talents and supports development of a feature-length script. In her case, the work-in-progress is a second feature called L’estate (Italian for “summer”). She’s cagey about the exact nature of the project but hints that, lately, she’s been intrigued by fairy tales as a mirror to society. “I loved that the Writers’ Studio was about the creative process [and] gives you time and space…removed from the production and business of it all,” she says of an intensive five-day workshop in March. The hands-on schedule included improv exercises and artist talks. One of De Filippis’s highlights was a table read that brought the humour laced through her first draft to life. Under the initiative’s one-on-one mentorship, filmmaker Andrew Ahn of Fire Island will continue to provide feedback on L’estate’s successive drafts.
For her part, De Filippis is focused on creating more space for her community on screen. In addition to organizing the first Trans Filmmakers Summit at TIFF last year, De Filippis is also a founder of Trans Film Mentorship, a training program that facilitates paid work placements in film and television. She knows opportunities for creative breakthroughs such as her own career depend on championing trans representation on both sides of the lens.
Styling by Nadia Pizzimenti. Makeup and hair by Jordan Giang. Photo assistant: Marc Santos.