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Tag Archives: Sara McDermott Jain

Student Work: 'Assigned Sex' by Shaun Dawson

Obsessed with the art of storytelling since she learned how to walk and talk, Shaun Dawson followed a very unique path before she landed in the world of filmmaking. She was a surgical technologist for 7 years in the US military, when her dream of becoming a storyteller became more concrete. The experience of providing aid to earthquake victims in Haiti, in January 2010 spurred her on. It was at that time that Shaun met a journalist who also served as a major inspiration to her to really pursue filmmaking as a career choice.

Shaun Dawson

After studying for a BS in Marketing followed by an MA in Communications, Shaun decided it was time to master the art of visual storytelling. She enrolled at Digital Film Academy and hasn’t looked back since.

Her new project, ‘Assigned Sex’, tackles a very important subject and it has been highly anticipated among the LGBT community. The documentary unveils the hurdles that gender-variant individuals face and forces society to bear more responsibility. The piece follows five transgender individuals as they break away from America’s more traditional gender roles. The project was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter and is now about to be released to the public. Here, Shaun tells us a little bit about her campaign journey, project and future.

Assigned Sex 2

DFA Blog: Tells us the biggest secret of your successful crowdfunding campaign. What really worked?
Shaun Dawson: Defining your target audience is essential. Once I pinpointed my target audience, the rest was a breeze. I’m pretty sure I’m part of every online LGBT community now. LinkedIn was a huge resource. Over 70% of the donations were driven by LinkedIn.

DFA Blog: What was your main challenge with the campaign?
Shaun Dawson: The biggest hurdle was the courage to actually start. Kickstarter is all or nothing, which is discouraging for most people. Keeping my team motivated and staying positive throughout the entire campaign was definitely a challenge.

DFA Blog: How were you first made aware of the alarming statistics on attempted suicide among transgender individuals?
Shaun Dawson: I met a transgender individual who began his transition during my freshman year of college. We were close friends in the early stages of his transition, but, as it progressed, he began to isolate himself. His social isolation and depression eventually led to several suicide attempts. By the beginning of my sophomore year, he had completely cut me off because he felt as a cisgender individual I could never understand him. Little did he know, I actually really wanted to understand. I, then, began following transgender individuals who shared their journeys on YouTube and realized that most were severely depressed with suicidal thoughts.

DFA Blog: What else made this project a must for you?
Shaun Dawson: The current peak in transgender-based hate crimes across the country.

DFA Blog: What is the most moving story for you from the documentary?
Shaun Dawson: One of the cast members of the documentary is an elementary teacher here in New York City. He is very passionate about his career. He agreed to be a part of the documentary because he felt that venting would be therapeutic during his transition. His biggest fear is for parents of his students to question him as a teacher. Watching him progress over the past year and a half has been very moving.

Assigned Sex 1‘Assigned Sex’ was written, directed and shot by Shaun Dawson and edited by another DFA student, Richie Lanzillotto Jr.

The documentary will be released to the public on OCTOBER 16, 2014. Stay tuned!

Connect with ‘Assigned Sex’  on Facebook & Twitter:
www.facebook.com/ASSIGNEDSEX
www.twitter.com/ASSIGNEDSEX

by DFA Marketing & Social Media Manager Carol Mazzoni and DFA Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain.

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July 30th DFA Student Screening!

July 30th turned out another series of exciting, diverse short films from DFA students at New York City’s Anthology Film Archives!

Patricia Olivera and Silvan Friedman in The Dawn.
Patricia Olivera and Silvan Friedman in The Dawn.

First up was The Dawn, a film written and directed by yours truly. Despite his very sheltered point of view, the five-year-old protagonist pieces together the fact that his beloved mother has killed his father. The biggest challenge of making this short was working with such a young child, although hopefully his youth and innocence serve to create that much more of an impact once you realize his life will never be the same.

Ananya Sundararajan
Ananya Sundararajan

Next there was In the Bedroom, a short by Ananya Sudararajan, who also co-wrote and acted as DP for another short film in the line-up, Jam. In the Bedroom was more experimental than the other offerings. The camera remained in one position the entire time: at the foot of the bed of a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. This served to make the viewer feel almost as if they’re spying on a real couple from a hiding place, rather than watching a short film. After the male lead fails to perform in bed, he takes his anger and frustration out on his girlfriend; however, she’s the one who gets the last laugh.

Filmmaker Pauline Gefin (right).
Filmmaker Pauline Gefin (right).

Next up was The Potluck, from frequent screening contributor Pauline Gefin (and Jam’s sound recordist!). In the course of 9 minutes, the audience sees a very strained relationship between three former friends, and how catty two of the girls are toward the third, Victoria. However, when the hostess, Ashley, begins choking, she’ll find out who she can really count on. The short packs a great visual punch at the end, when Ashley puts a photograph of her and Victoria in a place of pride on her shelf.

Kaylyn Scardefield and Joseph Ernest in Jam.
Kaylyn Scardefield and Joseph Ernest in Jam.

Jam, the fourth short, came from Nacho Diaz-Guerra. This piece served to keep viewers guessing as different details were revealed. The three characters meet when young Alice buys back her grandfather’s watch from a pawnbroker and his friend. It’s clear that both Alice and the pawnbroker’s friend, Luke, have strained relationships with their father figures. In Alice’s case, we hear one side of a tense phone call; as for Luke, we witness his older friend’s constant badgering. In the end, Alice and Luke form a bond – and take a small revenge on society.

African masks.
African masks.

The last film of the evening, Thousands: Sonnets of the Sun, was also the longest at close to 29 minutes. This film, from Lucas D. Oliveira, was ambitious not just in terms of length but in subject matter. A true coming-of-age story, viewers were treated to an intimate look inside the mind of a young boy, Tolo, as he struggles to understand nothing less than the meaning of life and his place in it. His father, an African mask carver, has taught him the stories behind the masks, and how masks would be used in special ceremonies where children became adults. Of course, these ceremonies aren’t common in Brooklyn, where Tolo lives – but that doesn’t stop him from exploring their power and doing what he feels he needs to to get to the next level in his life.

Congratulations to everyone who screened! I’m looking forward to what’s next to come from this group of my fellow filmmakers.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain.

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