Trans Children & The Bees
20,000 Species Of Bees is the new film by Spanish director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren. The story of an eight-year old trans child whose family begin to understand her true identity on a family holiday, the film is released by Curzon on 27th October. I had the opportunity to speak to its director, to talk about the development of the film and discuss its wider context. Here's what she said...
Where did the story for 20,000 Species Of Bees come from?
In 2016 a sixteen year-old trans teenager took his own life and before doing so, he wrote a letter that was widely reported in the media. In that letter he said he wanted to do two things; increase visibility around the trans experience and he wanted the lives of trans people who came after him to be easier as a result of his actions.
His actions and the letter sent shock waves through Basque society because until that moment, there had been no dialogue – culturally or on the news – around trans realities for childhood. As is said in the film, “That which does not have a name cannot actually exist.” One of the biggest acts of violence you can do is when you deny someone the right to exist.
I decided to approach an organisation in the Basque Country that works with the relatives of trans children. I started a process of interviewing the family members of these trans children, which lasted two years.
There were two key ideas of what I wanted to focus on in the film. Firstly, it wasn’t just about the child’s transition (as the children always knew what they were, even if they didn’t have the means to express it), but instead about the experience the family went through. Secondly, the stories we see depicted of trans narratives in culture are full of pain, suffering and stigma, but on the contrary, what they went through with their children was a real learning experience that gave them pause to think about their own childhoods, the way they were raising their children, their own education, beliefs and attitudes towards gender. This process of having a trans child in their families meant that they had to shine a light on their own unconscious biases and this had a positive impact; not just for the trans child, but also for the rest of the family, which became more solid as a result of this process.
You found a remarkable young star in Sofia Otero, how did her casting come about?
We knew that Lucia’s character was going to be a very complex person, so it was always going to be difficult to find someone to fit this role. When Sofia first came into the casting, she was very different from the character we had written for Lucia. She was really expressive and joyful, so I didn’t see her as fitting the role. But she had a lot of strengths too, so I cast her as one of the children at the swimming pool.
We had five hundred girls trying out for the role but we found nobody and time was running out, so I decided to go back and try Sofia out for Lucia. There was an analogous process between myself in the casting and the mother in the film because we had both assigned someone such a specific role that we stopped seeing them as they are in their totality. And that stops someone being who they are in their fullness.
In that last casting, we discovered that we had a girl who had a huge capacity for emotional literacy, nuance and complexity when handling emotions. We hadn’t seen that in the first casting because we had been blinded by her expressiveness and thought that these things couldn’t live alongside each other. But they can.
The film is strikingly hyper-naturalistic in the way its scenes are long and feel almost like a documentary. Why did you decide to take such a liberal approach to the film’s editing?
We deliberately constructed this naturalistic aesthetic in order to recreate the feeling I had when I was interviewing the families. I tried to limit the excesses of light and camera in order to make the spectator’s experience with the characters more realistic without emphasising any aspect of the character more than we wanted them to focus on.
Your first feature film has received much acclaim and awards; have you started to work on your second feature?
To be honest, no. My previous film was a short film that was in the Critics’ Week in Cannes in 2022 and then nominated for the Goyas in 2023, and all of this happened just one week before this film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, so the two ran alongside each other. I’m now taking this film to many festivals throughout the world and I think it’s important to take this time to celebrate what has been five years of hard work
20,000 Species Of Bees is released on 27th October 2023 in cinemas and VOD, released by Curzon.