In their teens, Amber, born as a girl from a Swedish mother and Italian father, realised they didn’t like being seen as female. It was their best transgender friend Sebastian who catapulted them onto their journey towards transformation.
In filming this journey, and the circumstances leading to it, Swedish makers Lia Hietala and Hannah Reinikainen create an inspiring, colourful and moving portrait of a young trans and their changing generation.
“What gender would you like to be referred to as?” asks the doctor whom Amber is seeing about her request for a mastectomy. “As they”, Amber says without hesitation. It is one of the scenes actually filmed by the makers of the documentary, which is in the main constructed from Amber’s own extensive collection of smartphone movies and a selection of home movies, shot by their parents when she was still a young, happy, uninhibited girl, loving her family and her life.
Amber admits the documentary was originally to be about them and Sebastian, their best friend and soulmate, whom they refer to as a brother. The footage of him shows a person we would perceive to be a girl and, as it happens, he is on his way to transforming into a boy. But the focus of the movie shifts when Sebastian falls in love with Amber’s girlfriend, ahead of the subsequent and painful break-up.
From then on, Amber blossoms into a bird of paradise, fully embracing the trans scene they are part of, offering us a delightfully candid and beguiling look into a world of love, acceptance and creativity. Parties are a colourful assembly of people of no particular gender, all of whom understand and take each other for what they are.
The filmmakers have managed to create a new perspective on the already much documented transgender scene. They are not problemising the issue, but showing an alternative – a world close to the paradise island Amber describes, where people are accepted for who they are and how they perceive themselves, where it is no longer necessary to adjust to suffocating societal norms. You can be whoever you are, without being labeled and judged when you step outside of society’s pre-determined boundaries.
Amber is diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a defect which of course wouldn’t exist in a non-binary world. It is both touching and encouraging to get a glimpse of what the future could look like: a society where gender is simply not an issue anymore, where you can behave and dress according to your feelings and state of mind.
The documentary is a celebration of progressive thinking, creative behaviour and being (happy with) yourself. It is fresh and fun, but also honest, introspective and emotional without ever vain or sentimental. Already looking forward to Always Amber: the sequel, to find out who they’ll be in the future.
(Review first published during Berlinale 2020)