“Raising Ryland,” screening Saturday in Olympia, is about a transgender boy who understood his gender identity before he knew how to read.
But the short film, part of the Lunafest traveling film festival, is also about the surprises and challenges of parenthood.
“As much as this is a story about a transgender boy and a transgender experience, it’s also a story about parenting and unconditional love for a child,” said director Sarah Feeley of South Pasadena, California.
“Ryland” is one of six short films featured in the 15th annual festival, which focuses on films “by, for and about women.” The Olympia screening is sponsored by Soroptimist International of Olympia, which will use its share of the proceeds to fund educational awards for women and other programs. Fifteen percent of proceeds at all screenings go to the Breast Cancer Fund.
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The festival also gives women filmmakers needed exposure, Feeley said. “We definitely have a lot of hurdles to overcome,” she said, citing a study conducted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles. “Female directors are not getting those next big breaks.”
The director began working on “Raising Ryland” in 2010 after seeing a lot of media coverage about the rates of suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youths. “It was heartbreaking,” she said.
The film quotes a statistic from the National Center for Transgender Equity, which found in a survey that 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide.
But families can make a difference. A study by Trans Pulse found the rate of attempted suicides drops by 93 percent among transgender youths who have strong parental support.
“The solution is love,” Feeley said. “That is such an easy solution to a devastating problem.”
Her 13-minute film is a snapshot of the early years of Ryland Whittington of San Diego. Ryland’s body is female, but before he even entered kindergarten, he let his parents know that he is a boy.
Ryland was also born deaf. He was diagnosed at 13 months, but now can hear thanks to cochlear implants.
“As soon as he got any kind of understanding of communication, he would say, ‘I am a boy,’ ” his mom, Hillary Whittington, says in the film.
And when the filmmakers ask him what he wants people to know about him, Ryland — then just 6 years old — replies, “It’s cool that I have two different kinds of things: my cochlear implants and that I’m transgender.”
Feeley is working toward making a full-length film about Ryland, now 8, and his family.
“We’re working on it,” she said. “Making documentaries is a long process. Even to make one that’s 13 minutes long took five years.”
The other films in this year’s festival are:
Balsa Wood: A light-hearted film about two mixed-race siblings visiting their extended family for lunch.
“Beach Flags:” An animated film about a young Iranian lifeguard determined to participate in an international competition.
“Boxeadora:” A documentary about a female boxer in Cuba and her efforts to make it to the Olympics while she’s still young enough to compete.
“Finding June:” A drama about a young deaf woman coping with a diagnosis of breast cancer.
“First World Problems:” About a tired housewife who loses her car in a parking garage.
What: This traveling film festival, showcasing six short films by, for and about women, screens in Olympia as a fundraiser for Soroptimist International of Olympia’s education awards for women and other programs.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Building 26, Lecture Hall 105, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia.
Tickets: $15, $10 for seniors and students.
“Raising Ryland:” Get information and see the film at raisingryland.com.