Being part of a community can have such a strong impact on your life. The sense of belonging, the social connections and the confidence you get from being around like-minded people will make anyone’s existence on this planet infinitely better. The story of Alexa Berriochoa, a trans skater who struggled to find her place in the skateboarding community, is the perfect example of this, as is evident in Diane Russo Cheng’s affable short doc Transenders.
Created with the aim of amplifying the voices of trans and queer people, Russo Cheng’s short introduces us to Berriochoa after we’ve seen a slick montage highlighting the joys of skateboarding. As she details the “toxicity that dominated” the community and explains how it wasn’t until she moved to Seattle and discovered the Women &/or Trans sessions at the All Together Skate Park that she really felt like she’d found her place (and her people) within the sport, we begin to realise that although this is very much Alexa’s story, the main takeaway from Transenders is one of acceptance and inclusion.
After initially quitting her passion when she first came out as trans, stating that “skateboarding doesn’t have a place for me”, Berriochoa credits an injury for helping to really cement her place in the skating community. Now at a “place of gratitude” with skateboarding, her focus is centred on helping others and ensuring that her experiences help other queer or trans filmmakers from feeling excluded from this space.
With Russo Cheng revealing she “felt an immediate connection with Alexa”, the filmmaker set out to portray her story “truthfully and honestly” on screen and ensure she “did her story justice”. To do this, the director decided to shoot her film on a variety of cameras, giving her short both the look of a slick profile doc and the homemade feel of skate film.
“We used a mix of Sony VX, ’90s digi-cam, and iPhones shot by members of the skate community to capture the skateboarding”
“It was very important to me the look of the piece felt elevated and cinematic but also spoke to skateboarding’s DIY roots, Russo Cheng explains as we discuss her production. “We used a mix of Sony VX, ’90s digi-cam, and iPhones shot by members of the skate community to capture the skateboarding, and a pro cinema camera to capture the rest, plus a little bit of the new FPV drone to get dynamic movement.
It has to be said that it’s a successful approach and for me, it achieves exactly what the filmmaker set out to portray, finding that sweet-spot between the lo-fi videos associated with the sport and a heightened look which really showcases the director’s skills. In terms of the production, Madeline Kate Kann’s cinematography is the real headliner here though, making you feel submerged within this community and highlighting the beautiful individuals at its core. The repetitive thread of setting up these “portrait” shots are my favourite element of the photography, feeling, at times, like a family photoshoot (that often goes wrong) they perfectly capture the close-knit connections of this group of kick-ass skaters. It’s all brought together by editor Sophia Lou, who seamlessly transitions between the different mediums and helps inject the film with its emotional range.
With Transenders recently championed on the Vimeo Staff Picks channel, along with another of the director’s films ‘A Significant Name’ for British Vogue, Russo Cheng is now focused on a new narrative short film called Reign.