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Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth

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Jeanie Finlay

Critically-acclaimed documentary Seahorse follows a trans man's journey to carry his own baby. We chatted to director and producer Jeanie Finlay to hear more about the film as it tours UK cinemas and makes a stop in Sheffield tomorrow.

What was the genesis of Seahorse?

Freddy looked for a director to tell his story and asked me to do just that, along with Andrea Cornwell at Grain Media and Charlie Phillips at the Guardian. The film was built on a foundation of mutual trust. We aimed throughout to not rely on the tired visual tropes of tabloid storytelling - so you won't hear Freddy's dead name or the cheesy "before and after" transition comparison in the film. The thing that is exciting for me is trans people telling their own stories and having agency in the storytelling.

How did you connect with Freddy?

Meeting Freddy made me reflect deeply on my own experiences of being pregnant and becoming a parent and the ways in which it affected my own sense of identity in unpredictable and unfathomable ways. After becoming a parent, I felt like I was now outlined in bold, amplified by the time and the experience of pregnancy, of giving birth and having a child to love and look after.

I was intrigued and fascinated by how this would affect Freddy, a transgender man. Someone who had already experienced profound physical and emotional transitions in his life. How would this new emotional and mercurial experience affect him? What would be the impact on his sense of identity? What would the small, personal, domestic and intimate details of that experience be and what would they look like on film for an audience?

What did you hope to shine a light on by following Freddy's story?

I'd really like Seahorse to be a conversation starter and for people to feel moved by the intimacy, honesty and complexity of Freddy's journey. There's something electric about showing a film on the big screen and then taking part in discussion - we'd love to do that as widely as possible.

Freddy watched a documentary on YouTube about trans men having babies. He saw a potential future reflected back on screen. I would love it if Seahorse was able to articulate something for someone else, or that someone was able to understand their trans family member or neighbour a little better.

Freddy had an amazing experience giving birth in an NHS hospital and it would be wonderful for health care professionals to share in this positive experience.

What were the challenges in directing and filming?

There were a lot of challenges. Would Freddy get pregnant? Could he get pregnant? Would we be able to film in hospital locations? Would I be there when he went into labour to film and capture the birth (I camped out for 2 weeks before his due date). The film was a huge risk for all involved, there were no guarantees of anything.

The biggest challenge was that making a film is tough! It's one thing to initiate a project when you're feeling strong and ready to take on the world. What happens if you're going through one of the most emotionally challenging experiences of your life and a filmmaker is there to capture it all? It was important for all of us that we honoured the story and didn't just capture the easy bits of the journey. The finished film is rich in emotion and reflects the rollercoaster of emotions in the journey.

What is Reclaim The Frame and why is it important?

Reclaim The Frame is a mission to bring ever-greater audiences to films by women, run by charity Birds Eye View and funded by Lottery funding via the British Film Institute's Audience Fund. It aligns equality activism with film-going and has networks in 10 cities, having launched in Summer 2018 and expanded in 2019. They host events around the films they spotlight and bring funding to the table to support the film's release in cinemas and other platforms. We asked them to see the film and thankfully they loved it and that's why we are now on tour. It's a valuable spotlight for us.

Seahorse is screening tomorrow (4 September) at the Showroom at 6pm. Tickets available here.

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