The first time Toronto director Lisa Rideout (What Remains, While We Wait) saw Susan Gapka, she was a vivacious blur running through the halls of York University and stoking the flames of student rallies. Years later, Rideout would learn Gapka’s incredible story, from spending 10 years living on the streets to establishing herself as a prominent advocate for Toronto’s transgender and mental health communities.
Rideout and producer Sasha Fisher want to tell that story in a feature-length documentary, which is currently in production.
When the director decided she wanted to do a film about people involved in local politics, she remembered Susan from her time at York between 2005 and 2007.
“I Googled her and read about her and did the research, and then after meeting with her for the first time I got exposed to what she’d been through in her life,” she says.
In the years since Lisa saw her at York, Susan Gapka’s profile as a human rights activist had grown exponentially: in 2008 she lobbied for the restoration of Ontario’s funding for sex reassignment surgery (which it was) and she was part of the campaign which got the sordid “conversion therapy” used on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people banned in Ontario. And this year, Gapka was recognized as the LGBTQ Person of the Year at the Inspire Awards.
It’s Gapka’s incredible resilience and inspiring success that Lisa is hoping to connect audiences with. “I want people who aren’t trans to be able to identify with her as a person, her struggles and how she’s been able to overcome them, and then hopefully that will give them an avenue for being able to understand trans issues.” she said. “I really think what’s important with documentaries, is to have empathy for the subject and to see yourself in them.”
But before Lisa and her crew can finish documenting Susan’s story, they need to overcome the barrier that so many independent films face: funding. “We were shooting the film with our own resources, we were putting our own money into it and we’ve gotten to the point where it’s not sustainable for us to keep paying our crew and continue shooting on our own.”
In order to maintain the control of an indie production, the crew has turned to crowdfunding, which Rideout says is also a way to ensure the integrity of the project.
“We are making it a collaborative process with Susan. She has input in it, so we wanted to keep that control over it which is why we’re going the crowdfunding route rather than pushing it over to a broadcaster.”
You can contribute and find out more about the project here.