'Light on a Path, Follow' shows more than one narrative of a trans person
Short film shot in West Cummington examines transgender life, pregnancy and spirituality
CUMMINGTON — Transgender filmmaker Elliot Montague has long explored the connection between pregnancy and transitioning, about how private journeys can become public ones.
"People who are pregnant, people also think then that their bodies are public display; there's kind of this shift that happens socially, and [it's the] same with transitioning," Montague told The Eagle during a Wednesday telephone interview.
In his latest project, "Light on a Path, Follow," Montague probes the intersections of pregnancy, transgender life and spirituality. Currently in post-production and the midst of an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, the short film was shot in West Cummington over a three-day span in early August. It follows "a Latinx transgender man [played by Vick Quezada] who is pregnant and endures labor alone in rural New England (Pocumtuc Territory) in the mid-1990s, guided only by a mysterious midwife spirit," according to the project's Indiegogo page. Montague sought to portray pregnancy in a different way than is often depicted on screen.
"What I really wanted to do was film a birth and a labor where it wasn't just [someone] screaming their head off," the writer/director/producer said.
The conversation surrounding trans pregnancies has evolved since the South Hadley resident started examining the topic well over a decade ago.
"When I was doing initial research for my film that was touching on this way back, there wasn't a lot to look at," Montague said, "and now, it's kind of extraordinary how many pregnant trans people I know personally, or when I look it up, how more and more common it's becoming."
A Hampshire College graduate who now teaches at Smith College, Montague is passionate about representing different classes, genders and races in his works. He tells students in his courses that they are responsible for "who they're telling stories about, who their characters are and who they are, and thinking about the politics behind it." On this project, according to Montague, every cast or crew member is one or more of the following: queer, transgender, female or a person of color. While blockbusters such as "Black Panther" and "Crazy Rich Asians" have started conversations about racial representation in Hollywood, Montague hopes that intersectionality isn't lost in those discussions.
"In Hollywood, I'm hoping that it then doesn't have to be separate from, 'Oh, this is just about race,' or, 'This is just about class or gender.' Let's talk about all of these things because you can't really extract one from the other," he said.
In regards to transgender portrayals, the film's Indiegogo page says that "[r]epresentations of transgender individuals in mainstream media either center [on] white narratives and or depict graphic violence or death, particularly for those who are people of color."
Montague wants to change those trends.
"What I'm excited to hopefully see more of is showing that there's not just one narrative of a trans person," he said.
Montague's contribution to that shift comes outside of Los Angeles, where he lived for about five years.
"So much gets decided based on money [there]," he said.
Filming in rural Western Massachusetts has been rewarding for him.
"I'd rather make films that align with my own moral compass and where I work with who I want to work with, and where I'm holding myself accountable, and where we're holding each other accountable, which doesn't happen too much if you're more in an industry kind of thing," he said.
Some prominent names are attached to that vision. Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors is an executive producer; Montague's friend Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network") and Eisenberg's partner, Anna Strout, are signed on as producers.
Montague plans to submit the roughly 12-minute narrative to film festivals, including the Berkshire International Film Festival.
"I want to definitely show it locally. I think that's important, whether it's just local film festivals or with schools here, but that's definitely high on my priority list once the film's done," he said.
While the film focuses on bringing a life into the world, Montague had to say goodbye to one on the eve of production. His grandmother, Zoe Montague, died on Aug. 2 at the age of 85. The film was shot in the 200-plus-year-old West Cummington house where she lived from 1999-2015.
"My grandmother really supported the film and really supported my own journey and gender," Montague said. "She said to my cousin right before she passed that it's such an incredible time where my grandchild can be who he wants to be. So, she was definitely an ally and an advocate. She was a pretty radical person."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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