Focus Features Announces Fellowship for Trans Filmmakers

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The studio behind the Academy Award nominated feature The Danish Girl is attempting to change the way trans narratives are told with the launch of a new endowment.

Focus Features has announced The Lili Elbe Fellowship, a $10,000 grant for a transgender filmmaker. Named after the real-life woman behind The Danish Girl story, the grant will see winning participants teamed with and mentored by some of the industry’s top tier talent, including Nina Yang Bongiovi (Fruitvale Station), writer and director Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines), and producer Christine Vachon (Carol).

The fellowship was formed in conjunction with Film Independent’s Project Involve. The nine-month program strives to give “new and unique voices… the opportunity to thrive, create and tell their stories.” Project Involve’s writers, producers, directors, editors, cinematographers, executives and festival curators work to offer applicants from culturally diverse backgrounds the opportunity to “meet one-on-one with mentors, attend master classes and networking events,” resulting in the creation of six original short films each year.

The step is a big one, as both Project Involve and Focus Features’ collaboration marks a growing industry awareness about diversity both in front of and behind the camera. It also signals a shift away from trans stories being told only through the lens of cis-gender filmmakers. With more trans creatives behind-the-scenes, we may start seeing more trans actors being cast in trans roles, a controversy Focus Features met head on after casting Eddie Redmayne as the lead in 2015’s The Danish Girl.