These Are My Hands (Shorts in Support 2018)

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Evi Tsiligaridou | 2018 |  8 min (Selected by Scottish Queer International Film Festival)

These Are My Hands is a short documentary film-poem written and performed by the radical British playwright Jo Clifford. It is a deeply moving, personal account of transgender embodiment in a lifetime, speaking of wounds, challenges, victories and the journey towards self-empowerment. The poet’s voice is embraced by a lyrical, mesmerising soundtrack and together with the graceful and intimate visuals compose a profoundly tender piece.

Evi Tsiligaridou is an Edinburgh-based filmmaker and film programmer. Her main explorations are around the themes of female and queer embodiment, freedom – or lack – of expression, and the wondrous beauty of diversity. Using the medium of documentary and experimental film Evi approaches her subjects with profound depth and intimacy. She is greatly influenced by the works of Werner Herzog and Kim Longinotto, who show an unstoppable urge to understand, look at, investigate, and take viewers into worlds full of characters rarely seen in films. 

These Are My Hands is a very moving, personal and poetic film. How did you come to creating it? Thank you for your kind words. The film began from the poem itself. Jo Clifford had written the poem and performed it at a spoken word event which I happened to attend. I was really very moved by it and by the way it encapsulated Jo’s experience as a trans person over a lifetime. It felt like a very appropriate ground for a queer / outside the norm documentary short project. I then went ahead with working on the soundtrack first, with the marvellous composer Verity Susman, as I wanted the soundscape, Jo’s voice and words to be the backbone of the film, what held it together. We then worked on the visuals with Ania Urbanowska, who both shot and edited the film, in an equally very poetic response. Mirroring the poem’s essence, the images are looking at the body as a form, as a landscape where experiences and memories are stored and felt.

What was it like working with Scottish playwright and the star of your film, Jo Clifford? Oh, it is a real delight to work with Jo! We have worked together in the past during the production of the short film High Heels Aren’t Compulsory and became friends ever since. There is a feeling of belonging in a “queer family” and this trust and care is also at the core of our working together. In the last few years Jo has been discovering the delights of being on the theatre stage or in front of the camera and it is a very empowering moment in time, the self-acceptance of the queer / trans body. I have much admiration for Jo’s ability to be present and to transcend from the personal to the universal. We have very open chats about our life experiences and I guess this offers a certain intimacy that is visible in These Are My Hands. One could think it may have been a challenging shoot, being nude and close up, but in fact it was a very easy going and fun experience for all involved.

Did you feel any responsibility towards producing positive trans representation given a lot of the negativity in British media surrounding trans people? Yes. This was also partly why I wanted to make this film in the first place. To offer a platform for this wonderful trans story to be told, and to give space to this body, a unique trans body with its scars, its experiences, lines and curves and softness to be seen in the light of simply being “just another human body”. And if the audience is able to look at this body in this light, they would hopefully empathise with the person, the soul inhabiting this body. To me it is incredibly sad that people are judged and mistreated because of the way their bodies look and it’s really time to question and change these behaviours in our society.

You mention you have been influenced by Werner Herzog and Kim Longinotto. Can you say more about how their work has impacted on yours? Good question! Looking back at why some of their films had a great impact on me I realise that it has to do with the filmmaker’s point of view. Both these filmmakers have a certain ability to entering the characters’ world, they somehow become internal observers / participants and not outsiders that are out to “capture a story”. They enter worlds rarely seen on screen, or stories of deep pain, injustice, illness, isolation etc and see the full range of the human experience in it all. I relate to that approach very much, and I find that in order to do that a filmmaker must develop the capacity of feeling all that the film’s characters are feeling, and at the same time be able to observe and hold the space. This process requires a lot of work on one’s self, but I think it is the process of changing our world bit by bit, by developing empathy and understanding. 

Do you have any upcoming filmmaking or related projects you are working on? Yes, I’m at the first stages of another queer documentary. It’s looking like a feature length story, and as I have not worked on a feature before I’m trying to figure out how to do it (by currently avoiding doing anything about it…!).

Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.