Louisa Rechenbach’s sensitive documentary They follows a family raising their child with a “gender open” approach
“I want this film to open up a bigger conversation about parenting, whether we impose a specific gender identity on children too early and to find out how possible gender neutral parenting is beyond the home environment.”
- 15 June 2022
- Olivia Hingley
Louisa Rechenbach is a filmmaker dedicated to challenging the status quo. “I am intrigued by human relationships and societal interactions,” she says, “and I’m passionate about presenting audiences with realities that challenge their preconceived notions, stimulate conversations and encourage social change.”
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Louisa sought out a project that interacted with the extensively discussed question of gender-nonconformity. Her short documentary film, They, is a tender and portrayal of a family who decide to raise their child, Anoush, with a “gender open approach”. Spending a few months with parents Jake and Hobbit, the film uncovers their motivations and how those around them – family, friends and strangers – reacted. “The parents were open, well educated, self-aware and very passionate about fighting against the pressure to bring their child up in accordance with the gender stereotyping their biological sex would dictate,” Louisa shares. And certainly, the nuance of their perspective comes across from early on in the 12-minute film. Whilst Hobbit discusses the negative reactions and preconceptions of a gender neutrality, the camera pans over the wide range of toys and books spread across the family’s house-boat. It’s here that Hobbit impresses that as opposed to being a “rejection” of gender, Jake and Hobbit observe it as a “celebration of gender”; welcoming both “blue and pink”, “sparkles and dinosaurs”.
Born in Hanover, Germany, Louisa moved to London six years ago to study film at the University of Arts London. Beforehand, Louisa had worked as a production assistant in commercials and as an assistant director on two German feature films. It was during her time at university that the filmmaker found herself becoming more aware of “social structures” and gravitating towards documentary. “What attracted me to filmmaking over other creative media is that I see the camera as a tool to gain access to intimate and unusual spaces and the characters that inhabit them,” Louisa expands.
With this specific area of interest and approach, Louisa developed a very specific style, one that perfectly synthesised with the content of They. It’s Louisa’s hand-held, observational camera style that gives the film its defining intimate quality. And her preference for voiceover, as opposed to sit down interviews, allows the audience to focus on the scenery being presented, pushing them to interpret how the words and images relate to one another. The voiceover translates particularly well when the parents discuss adverse reactions to their decision. In one such scene, from the canalside Hobbit guides their houseboat through a particularly narrow section of water, Anoush on their back, flower in hand. It shows a happy, loving family, and a content child engaged in day-to-day tasks, but over the top Jake poignantly divulges, “I didn’t realise we would spend so much time holding space for strangers’ discomfort.”
After a very successful festival run, and as Louisa explains “the story continued to evolve quite substantially”, she and her small team have decided to turn the short film into a feature-length documentary. “We have been filming with the family for four years now and the film started out exploring whether a child’s gender has been hardwired at birth or whether it can be influenced by nurture,” the filmmaker explains, “but the story has now taken a rather unexpected turn that will unfold in the feature documentary and for years to come.” This moving, powerfully unconventional story will certainly be one to follow.
GalleryLouisa Rechenbach: They (Copyright © They, 2019)
Louisa Rechenbach: They (Copyright © They, 2019)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.