This Nova Scotia filmmaker is redefining 'Trans-Canada'
Samson Learn is travelling across the country to document the lives of transgender Canadians
For most people, a trip along the Trans-Canada Highway means a lot of fast food, weak coffee and pine trees. For filmmaker Samson Learn, it's a chance to explore the other trans Canada: the country's transgender communities and residents.
Originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, Learn is in the process of a cross-country move from Halifax to Vancouver. And ironically, the journey won't even take place on the Trans-Canada Highway: Learn is travelling on a Honda Ruckus motorbike, which is registered to travel at a 70km/h speed that limits him to smaller highways and side roads.
As Learn travels, he's interested in finding what brings transgender communities together, and showing viewers what else transgender people bring to their communities across the nation. "We are more than our trans status," Learn tells CBC Arts. "I'm trans, but I'm also a filmmaker. So I want to ask, what are you that's not trans?"
The project came together in response to some local forces. Last winter, Learn was living on the other side of the Halifax Harbour in Dartmouth, N.S., feeling isolated as the city's ongoing bridge repairs made travel difficult for those who don't own a car. "I was physically separated from my queer community," Learn explains.
Meanwhile, the provincial Liberal government controversially killed the province's film tax credit, leaving industry workers scrambling. A graduate of the Nova Scotia Community College's film program, Learn decided to join the exodus of filmmakers and see what Vancouver had to offer. From there, the documentary project began to take shape.
The community aspect evolved as Learn developed the documentary idea and joined forces with producer Jake Ivany, a former classmate at the college. Ivany is travelling alongside in a regular car. The two will meet up in the evenings to interview, share meals, and sleep on the couches and spare mattresses of trans people throughout the country.
Travel costs have been partially funded by an Indiegogo campaign, but Learn and Ivany are reliant on the support of the community to help them travel.
In making the documentary, Learn wants to give people the space to tell their own stories. "We're often pigeonholed in stories," Learn says. "I'm not just Samson, I'm your trans friend Samson."
They started their interviews in Halifax the week before leaving. "You have to leave your expectations behind," Learn says of the interview process. "One of the most pleasant things that I've discovered so far is how enthusiastic people are to have someone that's engaged with them and wants to hear their story, that's there for them and valuing their story – and how ready trans people are to be seen."
"Where they lead me in the interview will be entirely up to them, but I will always be looking for a way to pull it back to either their trans status or community," he says.
Along the way, Learn and Ivany will be posting short videos in a web series format, grouping together stories from interviews and sharing a "personal diary" from Learn's journey. Though sharing his own history isn't Learn's main goal, he notes that it has been coming through in the interviews, sharing similar or opposite experiences with interview subjects.
Ultimately, the Trans Canada Documentary will pull together all of these threads of relocation, community and personal stories. "It's my journey from east coast to west via the trans community: people that are part of the community, our allies, our parents, our friends, our siblings, travelling with that community," Learn states.
Learn and Ivany left Halifax June 20 and will be making their way across the country all summer. Follow their journey on their Facebook page or Instagram at @transcanadadoc. Transgender and gender variant people interested in sharing their stories can reach out to them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.