What is it like to have a mother who changes from a Jane to a James? The Australian avant-garde film “52 Tuesdays” deals with exactly that question. In the movie, 16-year-old Billie (played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) must come to terms with the revelation that her mother is transgender.
At James’s request, Billie moves in with her father. But for one day a week, on Tuesday, Billie and James (played by Del Herbert-Jane) spend time together. As Billie processes this change, she explores her own budding sexuality, embarking on a relationship with a couple at her school, which she records in a video log.
Sophie Hyde, the director, chose a cast of amateur actors for the movie, which was shot in Adelaide only on Tuesdays, every week, for a year. Conceived under the South Australian Film Corporation’s FilmLab, which encourages low-budget filmmaking, “52 Tuesdays” challenges preconceptions of gender, as well as film and storytelling.
In January, it won the World Cinema Dramatic directing award at Sundance. The following month, it took the Crystal Bear for best film in Generations 14+ (the program for teenagers) at the Berlin International Film Festival. “52 Tuesdays” was released in Australian cinemas in May and is slated for release in the U.S. and U.K. early next year.
The Journal spoke with Ms. Hyde about the significance of Tuesdays, the joys of filming just one day a week, and having a gay father. Edited excerpts:
Matt [Cormack, the screenwriter] always said, “Tuesday is the night where you don’t do anything. It’s the night where life happens.” [Plus] 52 Tuesdays, it’s got a ring.
“52 Tuesdays” explores teenage sexuality, motherhood, gender. What were you most interested in looking at?
Change, or the promise of change. We liked the idea that it wasn’t a given, that we wouldn’t do a Hollywood vision of transformation. That it was something that was incremental, that might not fulfill its promise.
Is “male mother” an oxymoron?
There are stringent ideas of what a mother is…[what] we call motherhood. But actually being a mother is just a parent raising a child, in whatever form that takes.
How was it shooting just once a week?
Inefficient in every way. That was the pleasure of it as well, it allowed for so many things. The biggest pleasure was the engagement with the cast. The characters go a long way with shifts and changes that would have been hard to do if we had shot it all together.
Some critics have pointed out that it is a narrative gimmick.
Making low-budget films, making any films, you have to have a way to stand out. The 52 Tuesdays was that. [But] we were very clear that we needed it to be more than a gimmick, [we needed] a genuine exploration of narrative and storytelling.
You only gave the actors the script in installments, once a week, so that they never knew the whole story. How did that impact the final film?
It lends it a raw, honest quality. [The actors] are only inside that moment, they are not pre-empting. We couldn’t go back [to reshoot scenes]. That’s kind of like living life. If I have a fight with my mum, I can’t go back and relive the fight. I have to do something different next time.
Del Herbert-Jane, who plays Billie’s mother James, is nongender conforming in real life. How did that inform the part?
Del [believes] the idea of binary and gender, male and female, is restrictive. Of course, Del brings a wealth of experience and understanding, despite being incredibly different from that character. I don’t want to talk too much about Del’s life, as Del has chosen to be quite private after the film.
What did you discover about gender?
That every interaction is gendered. Every time I meet somebody, every time I order a coffee, every time I sit down to an interview, we treat each other as women. People react very strongly to [those] who don’t fit into the norms.
Is the story personal to you at all?
I come from a queer family. My dad has come out as gay since I was very little. Obviously, it’s a story that I feel strongly about. My parents were married and they made the decision together to live that life very openly, to not hide, to say strongly, “This is who I am.”
And your screenwriter Matt?
Matt is an identical twin. One is gay and one is not, so he questions quite strongly how identity is structured and how it can be formed.
None of the actors had performed on film before. Why?
I think we knew we were looking for them to have a certain kind of quality that we wouldn’t find in an acting school. Rawness, I guess. A willingness to jump.
Photograph: 52Tuesdays still, Billie (TildaCobham-Hervey). Credit: Bryan Mason