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“Is our lot in life based on the genes we’re born with, or can we overcome the destiny of our DNA?”

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Kimberly Reed • Director of The Gender Project


Currently in development, the US director’s new project sets out to spark a conversation between all generations on a wide-ranging, non-binary spectrum

Kimberly Reed • Director of The Gender Project
(© Simon Öhlund)

With her 2008 documentary Prodigal Sons, US writer-director Kimberly Reed made quite a splash with her account of extraordinary events in her own family, including her own journey from high-school football hero Paul to Kimberly, “a confident and successful woman in society”, as per the film’s synopsis. Busy ever since, Reed is now developing The Gender Project and is currently in talks with Scandinavian co-producers. She also conducted an intriguing presentation in the science strand of the Malmö m:brane forum this week (15-17 March - see the news).

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Cineuropa: What made you connect with the m:brane science programme?
Kimberly Reed:
The producer of this project, Louise Rosen, has known the organisers, Lennart Ström and Annette Brejner, since way back and made the connection. We met at Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle, which shares similarities with m:brane, and for m:brane, it felt just right, as it intends to spark this conversation between generations, as well as trying to give the younger generation the factual basis, the scientific, historical and cultural background, and give them that sort of evidence to express to an older generation, “Look, this is why our generation is more comfortable talking about gender on a spectrum, rather than as a strictly binary thing.” At the same time, we want to create a better way of understanding the topics for an older generation. I see nine to 99 as the right target audience age here.

What kind of format do you envision?
We’re not quite sure. It will definitely be a feature to start with, but a series seems to be something that a lot of distribution outlets and funders are interested in. But it’ll be a feature for sure – whether it then turns out to be a first episode of a subsequent series, we don’t know… We do think there’s enough material to develop here, though.

In your presentation, we got to meet and hear Q, your specially created, non-binary MC.
At least as a demo version, yes. Q speaks to the pre-gendered, pre-acculturated viewer on a one-to-one basis. I will write this voice based on my own experiences, and partly draw on my own life journey and written journals. It’s a pretty experimental technique, within a pretty hardcore science discussion! But I think that at the end of the day, the issues that really intrigue me are the almost philosophical ones – like nature versus nurture. Or destiny. Is our lot in life based on the genes we’re born with, or can we overcome the destiny of our DNA? That’s a good title, by the way. The Gender Project is just a working title, which is very generic for now.

In the trailer, we also meet some of the main protagonists. Can you give us a little introduction to them?
There are three of them. One is Karissa Sanbonmatsu, a researcher at Los Alamos labs. She’s the one looking at the epigenetic effects on brain development by visualising models with supercomputers. There’s Pidgeon Pagonis, an intersex activist who talks about issues of bodily integrity and social-justice concerns. And Brandon Ogbunu is a PhD holder, an evolutionary biologist at Yale, who is looking at race – there are social-justice issues concerning race that easily translate to gender issues. Both Brandon and Karissa have a lot to learn from Pidgeon, who’s much younger and not binary. But each of the three has a lot to learn from each other, no matter how you put them together.

The project is US-born, but you’re looking out into other parts of the world. Is this partly why you’ve been to France and now Sweden?
Yes. There’s plenty going on in Scandinavia and Western Europe, and we’re here looking for co-production partners. I’m having meetings at the Norwegian Film Institute and will also be at CPH:DOX.

You got your breakthrough with Prodigal Sons in 2008. Does the film still open doors for you?
In a lot of ways, yes. It took me places, not least to non-fiction projects. I was originally set to do fiction and may still try to get there. I’ve actually done a lot of work in opera, believe it or not – five librettos so far. It’s very much like screenwriting.

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