Liv Hewson (“Bombshell”, “Santa Clarita Diet”, pronouns they/them) stars as Denny, a free-spirited artist, who falls for a straight-laced, corporate lawyer named Ryan, played by Alex Russell (“Chronicle,” “SWAT”); but the young romance is tested when Denny begins to explore their gender identity. Though the film has yet to debut, Hewson is nominated for Best Performance at the fest for their role.
Alexis Denisof also stars in the movie, which marks the feature debut of Australian writer-director David O’Donnell. The film is produced by Raynen O’Keefe and Russell. Executive producers are Paul Nelson, Paul Bernard, Tim Larson and Mary Larson.
“This is a complex love story for our generation,” O’Donnell says of the film. “Given our film centers on a gender non-conforming lead, it was a natural choice to also utilize a non-conforming narrative structure that would challenge an audience to question conventions.”
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Particularly unique about the project is that Denny is portrayed throughout the film by an ensemble of actors who identify as non-binary or trans non-binary: Hewson, Bobbi Salvor Menuez (“Nocturnal Animals,” “Transparent”) and newcomers Lex Ryan and Chloe Freeman.
Raynen, who also identifies as trans and non-binary, says having the four actors play the lead role “feels very intuitive.”
“The change points of actors are entirely redirections of internal compass for Denny,” Raynen explains. “Simultaneously, the ensemble cast brings a multitude of perspectives to the experience of being non-binary.”
Raynen is particularly proud of the efforts made to support and re-center trans voices and experiences through the creation of this film.
“At this point in history, the casting of trans, gender-diverse and non-binary characters with people of lived experience is not only a social responsibility of film-making, but is also a moral imperative in the task of uplifting trans and gender-diverse stories, voices, and representation,” Raynen says. “When we move towards greater trans and gender-diverse authorship, we move towards authenticity, belonging, and a valuing of the differences, similarities and intricacies that make up trans experiences.”
“The ensemble cast structure for Denny was a step in this direction, one that intuits a vast and often under-appreciated resource—that is the knowledge, expertise, and wisdom that is inseparable from lived experience. Much can be said for the communities and individuals from which these stories arise, and have always arisen,” Raynen continues. “When we consider the theoretical, social and embodied manifestations of what it takes to navigate such experiences within the world and current climate, we begin to acknowledge the great erasure, and over-sighting of what it means to bring such presence, grace and fearlessness into the living, loving and continuing knowing of each another, and also ourselves.”