Life as a transgender teen: SAE London Film students tell us about their upcoming final project

08 May 2018

SAE London Digital Film Production students Ambar Welle and Danielle Vale have launched a crowdfunding campaign for their Major Project - ‘AVA’, a short film that hopes to shed important light on the story of a transgender teen.

Coming up with an idea for a film, especially when the film will be your final project before completing your degree, is no easy task. 2nd year student Ambar is the Director and co-editor of ‘AVA’ and carefully considered various ideas before settling on the poignant story of transgender teen Damian.

Looking back at her first film ‘NOT SORRY’, the tale of a young male coming out to his religious father, Ambar knew she wanted to produce an equally emotive narrative that explored a sensitive subject and had the appearance of being a true story. 

“Instead of focusing on the topic of homosexuality, this time I wanted to create a narrative which focused on a certain issue which isn't always addressed/understood - someone being transgender,” she explains. 

Ambar crafted the compelling story of ‘AVA’, a short film that tells Damian’s story: a 17 year-old boy seeking acceptance from his friends, family and society as he embraces his female identity. Set in Braintree, Essex in the summer of 2014, the film will illustrate Damian’s genuine struggle as a transgender teen and in doing so essentially hold a mirror up to society.

Raising awareness and educating people about a topic that is still considered a taboo was a key motivation for the film. Sharing that motivation and having already worked with Ambar on previous projects, fellow SAE Film student Danielle Vale was eager to get on board to provide her creative talent. As Producer, 1st AD and co-editor, Danielle believes that ‘AVA’ will have greater significance than your typical student film:

“‘AVA’ is not only tackling a relevant issue faced by many all over the world, but is also something which for centuries has been a taboo subject. This film is designed to create awareness of the struggles faced by both the individual and their friends and family. It’s to educate those less informed and to challenge those with opposing views. I believe, 2018 is a year of change for the better and with movements showcasing minorities as equal and strong, this short film is extremely relevant and important!”

Wanting to flesh out the idea and finalise a script, the duo drafted in the help of their mutual friend and talented writer Andrea Zantiras. Her simple yet meaningful style of writing was what Ambar felt was needed for ‘AVA’, and as a team of three, the girls have been refining the script to make sure it is perfect ahead of filming.   

“At the moment we are on our 6th draft and each time the story gets better,” Danielle tells us.

Covering a topic like transgender people and transphobia is an important and noble move that will inevitably cause people to consider the ways in which society needs to change. Rather than being a cold and distant documentary about the issue, ‘AVA’ will show raw emotion and provide an authentic story that will resonate with its audience. Ambar explains that the film should make people feel emotional.

“Emotional in a good way as the film lets [people] see one way a narrative could play out when someone does come out as transgender to their friends and family even though there are many outcomes in real life.”

Trans-visibility is at the core of the film as it uncovers the very real struggle of transgender people in today’s society. Despite being a fictional story, Ambar wanted it to have the look and feel of films such as ‘The Danish Girl’ which are based on real events.

“I want my audience to be able to understand what the protagonist has been through, as people in real life deal with these elements/situations too,” she says.

Their film will both raise important questions and be a poignant reflection of our society, as we aim for further progress in terms of equality. Both Ambar and Danielle hope that the film will help people understand transgender people better, empathise with their struggle and provide a respectful representation of the transgender community.

“I've always liked to create concepts which address topics causing my target audience to think, I believe 'AVA' will do so because it's a topic that needs to be understood and accepted more in my opinion and to let the audience know that this topic shouldn't be a taboo subject and should be normalised.

Playing the part of the protagonist, Damian, will be actor Edward Saunders who forms part of the talented cast that Ambar and Danielle have worked hard to find. Headhunting six out of seven of their cast members themselves, Ambar and Danielle wanted people involved that were particularly interested and committed to the film - people who wanted, just as much as them, to share Damian’s story.

The cast of 'AVA'

The rest of their crew includes fellow SAE student Vajen (Jay) Jeyanathan as Onset Sound Mixer & Foley Artist, and personal friend Harry Constantine as the Director of Photography. Now with their team on the road to being complete, Ambar and Danielle have set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the £500 they need to bring ‘AVA’ to life. The money will go towards renting a house for five days as their main filming location, as well as transport and food for the cast and crew, purchasing/hiring props and costumes and promotion once the film is complete.

It is clear from speaking to Ambar and Danielle that they are brimming with excitement to get going with this fantastic project and see their vision for ‘AVA’ materialise. They have big ambitions for the short film, hoping to enter it into various Film Festivals and showcase it to short film professionals as part of their portfolio once they embark on their careers later this year. Wanting transgender people to get the recognition they deserve, the duo even hope that the film gets seen worldwide. But above all, their measurement of success is whether the message behind ‘AVA’ educates and inspires.

“I want to be able to make people aware and educate those who are not so understanding in regards to those who are transgender. Even though I want the film to be successful, I want it to be successful for the right reasons and hopefully inspire future filmmakers,” Ambar explains.

To support ‘AVA’, visit the crowdfunding page here.

Visit the ‘AVA’ Instagram page here.