Director and documentary filmmaker Nick Sweeney recently discussed the process behind creating his latest documentary for TLC called "Transgender Kids Camp."
Camp You Are You takes place once a year at a secret location in America and this is the first time a film crew has been allowed to document the experience.
During the time spent at camp, kids aged 5-12 are able to be free and can discuss a number of important topics, such as whether or not they want to come out at school. While there are many fun events during camp such as a fashion show, it also gives parents time to talk about more serious subjects such as bullying.
You can read A Plus's exclusive interview with Nick Sweeney below.
Can you tell us about your background? What other projects have you directed or partaken in?
Nick Sweeney: Over the past couple of years I've produced and directed four TV documentaries for U.S./U.K. channels, including Girls to Men, and the recent Transgender Kids Camp, featuring a summer camp for transgender kids aged 5 to 12. I usually bring my own ideas to the channels, and I'm very lucky to have only worked on subjects that I'm truly interested in.
What inspired you to cover the transgender summer camp? Where is the camp and when does it take place?
I first came across a beautiful series of photos taken by photographer Lindsay Morris, who had been attending camp for a few years and documenting the extraordinary world that the camp organizers had created.
I was struck by how happy and confident the kids were in the photos at camp, but was also aware that kids who identify as transgender still face a lot of challenges. So, I wanted to make a documentary that showed both of those things.
What was the filming process like, seeing these kids in an environment where they can be free and themselves without the fear of being judged?
To me, it was crucial that the kids and their families got to tell their own stories in their own words rather than having anyone else speak for them. But I was worried that with a topic as complex as this that people might have difficulty sharing their stories, especially being so young.
We attended the entire camp, and filmed with families before and after, and as soon as we started filming, I was completely blown away by how articulate the kids were when talking about their gender identities and experiences. One of the young attendees named Maxy comments in the film, "I'm not changing who I am, I'm becoming who I am," which is such a profound statement.
Why do you think it's important that kids and parents have a safe place to talk about these subjects?
I'm not transgender myself, so it's difficult for me to say what's important. But one of the young camp attendees put it better than I ever could, saying, "I think it's, like, really awesome how a lot of people can get together with the same stuff going on, and we can just be out with it and not be embarrassed. And that's pretty cool."
What was it like for the kids and parents who attended the camp for the first time? How do the kids and parents who have been at the camp for more than once help out?
In the documentary, a family attending camp with their 8-year-old who had just transitioned socially described it as "emotional." They said that at camp, their daughter Linzey "connected so quickly. I've never seen that type of quick connection with other children and I think it's because she just recognized in them her; herself. She knew she had allies immediately." That was something I definitely observed, too.
What kind of events do they partake in at the camp?
It's a mix of typical camp activities, like kayaking and rock climbing, plus what the organizers describe as the "highlight of the week": the fashion show. The reason I think that the fashion show is important for the kids is actually nothing to do with dresses and makeup.
I think it simply comes down to the event being a display of support and acceptance. Outside of camp, that isn't always the case for these families, and that's why I found it moving.
Did you see a noticeable change in terms of their outlook on life from the kids and/or parents after spending time at the camp? What do you think the most important thing is that they learn?
I wouldn't pretend to speak for the transgender community, but I would say that no matter which child we're talking about, acceptance and support from family and community is key.
Were there any particular stories that stood out?
After camp, one of the attendees who is worried about bullying and gossip at school decides to speak to the headmaster about it. I won't spoil the documentary by saying what happens, but it's a nerve-wracking moment for her.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only this: 40 percent of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point. Young lives are at stake, so we all have a duty to educate ourselves. I'm proud of the families who took part in this documentary for being brave enough to share their stories with the intention of helping others.