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Transforming pain to passion: film sheds light on transgender experience

'I no longer see myself as a burden towards people,' says filmmaker Simon McKerral

Two local cinematography students hope their new film will help people gain a better understanding of the transgender community.

Entitled 43%, the short film by first-time directors Simon McKerral and Carter Rainville will be screened at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, taking place in Toronto from Oct. 22-27. 

The film's title is a stark reminder that 43 per cent of transgender people attempt suicide in their lifetime. It tells the story of Greater Sudbury's Rita Olink, a transgender woman, activist, volunteer and author. The feature focuses on Olink's experience with gender dysphoria and depression, conditions aggravated by the public's reaction to the transgender community she so proudly represents. 

McKerral and Rainville, both members of the transgender community, shot the film as part of a class project for Canadore College's digital cinematography program. Students were tasked with producing a documentary on a topic they are passionate about. Having written stories together for as long as they remember, working together seemed a natural fit for the two young filmmakers, especially given the topic Rainville had in mind. 

McKerral is from Markstay and Rainville calls Hagar home. Close friends since they were six years old, both went to high school at Sudbury Secondary School, where they first met the exuberant Rita Olink. 

She became an inspiration to the pair from that day on, and when they were deciding on their documentary topic years later, Rainville said there was no doubt who their subject would be. 

"Rita's the first trans person I'd ever met in my life when I was young, and she definitely inspired me to accept myself and come-out," said Rainville. "So I wanted to kind of showcase her to the rest of the world."

The film was shot in Sudbury, allowing the directors to watch how she takes charge of her everyday life despite the barriers. Through Olink's story, they began to understand their place in the world and develop new-found confidence.

As members of the transgender community, this sense of self and security is something both filmmakers said they have struggled to find. 

"In high school and my first years of college, I had this huge fear of just accepting, acknowledging and feeling proud that I'm trans," Rainville said. "And it's still hard because I'm young and I'm learning.

"Rita (is) very much the opposite … She's very comfortable with who she is, she knows who she is, and she's very open about who she is."

The filmmakers said this helped them realize that so long as they are true and kind to themselves, there will be people who accept and support them. Rather than viewing themselves as a burden to others, working with Olink helped them realize their value as people.

"Just talking to Rita and seeing how wonderful and comfortable she is, and like we've been saying, unapologetic, it just gave me a boost of confidence that I really needed," said McKerral. 

"I shouldn't have to make excuses for you or try to make you feel comfortable before my own happiness and comfort. I don't have to feel sorry for who I am."

This struggle with identity was part of what inspired the two to pursue a career in cinematography, as a way to amplify the voice of marginalized groups that otherwise have been muffled or pushed aside. The two hope the film will provide a more balanced narrative surrounding the transgender community, and provide invaluable role models for people struggling with their identity.

McKerral said the message is transgender people have a right to live as their authentic selves, not as someone everyone else expects them to be. And for people who don't understand the trans experience, he hopes they will learn the impact their words and actions have on those around them. 

"It's important to embrace and be a part of the change you want to see, even if you're just an ally," said Rainville.

Rainville and McKerral are now 20, living together as roommates during their final year at Canadore. Both plan to pursue a career in digital cinematography. 

43% will premiere at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival on Oct. 25 as part of the short film series entitled, Perceptions. After the premier, it will be published to Canadore College's Vimeo account for public viewing.

For more information on the festival and to buy tickets, visit

Click here for a full schedule of activities, events, and screenings from Oct. 22-27.

Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A graduate of both Laurentian University and Cambrian College, Keira Ferguson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, at
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