STAFF PICK OF THE MONTH
“Never say never, because you never know where you’re going to end up next”.
Iman knows this sentiment all too well. Born with a “silver spoon” in her hand, she never anticipated spending the past ten years as a sex worker in Toronto. But after coming out as a transgender woman to her family, she found it was her only option for survival. After a decade on the streets, Iman noticed a glaring lack of social services for “girls like her.” Her experiences seeing transgender women suffer inspired Iman to change her life, and become a social worker.
One Leg In, One Leg Out follows Iman as she takes the initial steps to pursuing a new career path. As Iman meets with a college advisor, she realizes the program requirements, time commitment and financial obligations are very different from the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to. Following Iman in her day to day, the film shows the humanity and challenges within sex work, focusing on the tension between the need to survive and the desire for change. As Iman begins to consider what a new career path could look like, One Leg In, One Leg Out questions whether tenacity, ambition and a life-long dream are enough to overcome one’s situation.
I met Iman during the production of my last documentary film Take a Walk on the Wildside. A cross dressing store was the focus of the film and Iman was a customer. I liked Iman from the first words she jokingly spoke to me, “You better do what your man wants in the bedroom or he will come to me”.
Over the past year, we formed a quick relationship. We met at coffee shops, restaurants and bars. She welcomed me into her home and introduced me to her friends. Iman told me about her childhood, her family, how she ended up in sex work, how she overcame addiction and how she dreamed of leaving sex work to pursue social work to help “girls like her”. Iman’s life had been difficult but she spoke about the hardships with humor, and she spoke about her future with a sense of hope. Her confidence and ambitious nature overshadowed her past.
I wanted the film to embody Iman’s future ambitions. Often films about transgender people or sex workers focus on the past. They examine the why, why are they sex workers, was it abuse, was it a difficult family? When I met Iman, it was clear she was not focused on the past. I did not want the film to either.
While the film follows Iman as she takes the first few of becoming a social worker, I wanted to honestly look at the complexities of shifting from a career of sex work to social work. The film is not a judgement on one being better than the other, or a condemnation of sex work. It is a contemplation of the tension between the realities of survival and pursuing one’s dream.
I hope that One Leg In, One Leg Out humanizes transgender sex workers to viewers who have little exposure to their realities. I hope it illustrates the strength it has taken for Iman to survive and how difficult it is for people in her situation to pursue their dreams without any support. I am grateful Iman allowed me into her life and has the courage to share a piece of her story with the rest of the world.
With Director Lisa Rideout
What motivated you to make this film?
It started with Iman. Her optimism, her humour and her ambition were inspiring. I felt that viewers who would judge someone like Iman, would be moved by her story. This was what really motivated me, to reach people who might write off Iman and other transgender sex workers to show them the realities these women face. My hope was by illustrating the complexities of leaving the sex trade as a transgender woman, I could prompt audiences to think more about the social support systems that need to be in place.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
That women like Iman need support to transition into a different career path (if that’s what they want). That not all sex work is equal, some choose it, some don’t, all should be kept safe. That it is important to have social workers from the communities that they are taking care of.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
There is a focus right now on sex work needing to be recognized as real work, which is important, but there are people that still face forced into sex work without options, need to talk about how transgender women and still left out of the traditional workforce and how to change that.
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
We are currently working on turning Iman’s return to school into a feature and are looking for broadcaster to come on board.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
Ha. Please connect me with a documentary filmmaker whose initial story was what they came out with in post (so they can tell me how they did it). The evolving story is one of the best and most challenging aspects of documentary filmmaking. Documenting anyone’s life, there will be unknowns, spontaneity and events you can’t plan for, which makes for a better film. The uncertainty about whether Iman would actually go back to school, was always lingering. We didn’t know how it would be resolved. I think at the beginning I would have liked a more concrete conclusion to the film regarding this but I think our ending is honest and really speaks to the reality of Iman’s life.
What was the most rewarding experience you had while making this film?
I think the most rewarding experience has been the reception of the film. When it was finished, we showed the film to Iman, one of her family members and a small audience at a private screening. Iman and everyone else loved it. Audiences have connected with Iman in the way I hope they would have. I’ve had women from the Somali community tell me how they have never seen someone like Iman, from their community on screen and how brave they think she is. And other transgender sex workers talk about how important this film is. This kind of impact, with Iman’s communities, was really important to us.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
I make POV documentaries and I really think that social issues are best presented through the people who are living in those situations. I’d suggest finding someone compelling, spending time with them so you have an immersive understanding of who they are and how they view the world, and then really focus on “showing not telling”. I think a film with engaging and complicated character will have a much stronger impact than one that feels like an academic essay.