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“My Hope Is That the Film Itself Is An Impact Campaign”: Alex Hedison on Her Sundance Short Alok


“What lives outside of the frames of this camera and your own eyes?” is the question the poet/comedian/actor/public speaker Alok Vaid-Menon challenges the viewer to ponder at the very start of Alex Hedison’s Sundance-premiering short Alok. Currently on the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, and premiering at IFC Center on June 14th (with both the nonbinary star and Hedison, who also happens to be married to her EP Jodie Foster, in attendance), the doc is based on footage Hedison shot during the performer’s recent international tour and is supplemented with highly stylized interviews with the spiritually enlightened artist and their equally deep-thinking friends (including Dylan Mulvaney, who poignantly self reflects that “replacing fear with fascination” is what has made her life worth living).

Indeed, for Alok, eliminating the binary between “us” and “them” is more important than the blurring of he and she. (Alok likewise stresses that the most controversial pronoun they have is “we,” which requires acknowledging our interconnectedness.) Transphobia is just another form of pain, they firmly believe. And by the end, as in the beginning, we’re faced with another potentially revolutionary question: “What would it look like if our weapon was love?”

To learn more about Alok and Alok, Filmmaker reached out to Hedison, likewise an internationally-acclaimed artist and actor (and fine art photographer whose work has graced galleries throughout Europe); along with producers Natalie Shirinian and her wife Elizabeth Baudouin (also credited as music supervisor), who together founded indie production company Not All Films.

Filmmaker: You basically went from following Alok online, to meeting them through a friend, to globetrotting around the world filming their performances fairly quickly. So was Alok immediately onboard with participating in this project, or did it take some convincing?

Hedison: I wouldn’t say it took convincing, but it did take time and trust. From the moment I met Alok we were engaged in deep conversation. They understood my intention and my investment in the project pretty quickly.

What I was invested in was curiosity, not just about them, but about myself as well. Their work invited me to look at the ways in which I had exiled parts of who I am over the course of my own life. I think my personal experience, combined with not having a preconceived idea of what the film would be, helped gain Alok’s trust. I wasn’t interested in projecting my vision onto Alok. My aim was to make a piece that reflected them and their work. I wanted to create a portrait of Alok as a means of enticing the audience to look inward, using all the possibilities film provides.

Filmmaker: How collaborative was Alok in the film’s creation? Did they suggest certain people to include? Comment on rough cuts?

Hedison: In terms of filmmaking, the collaborative process I had was with Natalie and Elizabeth, and (producer) Meggan Lennon. Though there was collaboration with Alok in the sense that, because I followed them every opportunity I could, who they are and the work they’re doing in the world is what guided my storytelling.

Every step of the way Alok introduced me to their friends and family, from the East Coast to South Africa, and from Namibia to Los Angeles. My decision to do interviews was something that happened naturally. It became clear early on in the process that the conversations I was having with Alok’s friends were an expression of this unifying “we” that is at the heart of the film.

Filmmaker: Since you’re primarily a photographer (and artist and actor), I’m curious to know why you chose this specific format, as opposed to a photo essay or even a feature?

Hedison: For the last 20-plus years I have predominantly been a photographer, and the work I do with a camera has been primarily abstract photography. (I stopped acting quite awhile ago.) However, I’ve always been drawn to people, whether it’s taking portraits or delving into their stories one way or another.

While Alok is compelling to shoot photos of, it would have been an incredibly wasted opportunity to not record what they are saying at the same time! Film offers so many opportunities for artistic expression and storytelling. In this case it was the perfect medium.

As an artist I follow my gut and what inspires me. The first conversation I had with Alok was so impactful that I knew right away that I wanted to film them. I wanted to make something that reflected who they are, what and how they deliver their brilliant message — something that others could experience.

Shirinian: I’d add that collectively we wanted to get the message out there sooner rather than later. The current political climate calls for it, the hate algorithm calls for it, Alok’s current trajectory called for it. A feature would take years to craft and it was imperative to get the message out now. A short was the best way to achieve this, and we had enough footage to cut a story together.

Also, Alok has many messages, and Alex’s footage could have taken the viewer on many different roads, so we felt the short format would help keep the audience focused on what Alex wanted to say through her experience documenting Alok’s world; and what she wanted to offer the world with this film. So we all communed and sifted through the footage, and picked out the parts that best supported Alex’s vision. Together we went through many rounds of edits, and streamlined the journey of the film to get the message of “we” to be the staple message that was put forward.

 Alex, your initial travel footage is supplemented with in-depth interviews with Alok (and others). Which makes me wonder what led to that decision. Was this ever going to be just a vérité, performance tour-style doc?

Hedison: There are myriad directions to go with Alok. They were in the midst of a comedy tour, so of course we followed them throughout that, and that footage is predominantly vérité. But there are so many sides to Alok that I felt that solely focusing on their comedy and seeing them from the outside would be missing the point: They (and we) are never just one thing. Why not try to experience as much as possible? This is why I used shots from their tour, sit down interviews, quickly cut together montages which went backwards and forwards in time. I wanted the film to reflect Alok, and how they are many things all at once.

Baudouin: When we came onto the project in August of 2023, Alex had about 30 hours of field footage. Natalie, Meggan and I watched almost all of it, with Alex cueing up and showcasing for us the parts she felt were strongest; and looking for the interviews and footage that would best support the message she wanted to put out with her directorial debut, that would best bring her initial ideas to life in a full film journey.

After finding the key segments and moments together we were all in agreement that Alex needed more interviews with Alok to support the journey of the film. (Luckily, at that point they’d be visiting Los Angeles in a few days, which gave us the opportunity we needed.) Natalie and I brought in Dylan Bell, a filmmaker we frequently collaborate with on projects, as a DP and editor. We thought Dylan would be great to pair with Alex because he has this ability to bring the world a filmmaker is trying to create to life in a poetic way. There is an intimacy to the way he frames a shot, to the way he moves the camera.

To juxtapose Alex’s field footage with a more fine art — almost portraiture — look they decided to film new interviews with Alok and their LA friends on a RED Komodo (with Kath Raisch executing the color grading). These deeply felt vignettes with each subject allows for their personal messages to cut through and connect with the audience and, most importantly, supports the landing of the film’s overall message.

Filmmaker: So is there an impact campaign attached to the short? Is Alok going to tour with the film?

Hedison: Natalie, Elizabeth, Meggan and I have been taking our short through the film festival circuit, and now on the Sundance tour. Sometimes Alok has been able to join us, but since they are on tour themselves right now that’s not always possible.

My hope is that the film itself is an impact campaign. People who do not identify as queer or gender nonconforming, who have preconceived ideas of what it means to be trans, have shared their experience of watching Alok with me. And what I’ve learned so far is that these people understood something for the first time after seeing this film – and that something is about themselves. That’s the campaign. This is not about “them.” It’s about all of us.

I really think that interviewing Alok provided this opportunity for the audience to understand their process. And interviewing Alok’s friends contextualized Alok’s work, and how necessary it is in the world right now.

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