‘Real Boy’ a journey through transition and acceptance

An award-winning film airing nationally this week over PBS has an Alaska connection.

Real Boy” is the story of a trangender youth who is building a career as a musician in the Bay Area of California.

The film was directed by Shaleece Haas, a former news intern at KCAW in Sitka.

It is Haas’s first major independent project after receiving a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, but not her first time on national television.

Her 2010 thesis film, “Old People Driving,” aired on PBS’s “Newshour,” and also traveled to some film festivals — including a screening in Sitka, where Haas had been an intern in 2009.

Looking for a new project, she became interested in documenting the life of a transgender adult vocalist.

Instead, she discovered the story of a trans boy named Bennett, on a different musical path.

“The central relationship in the film is between a young transgender musician and his mom, who is on her own journey from resistance to acceptance of her trans kid,” Haas said. “While she’s working through all the things she needs to work through, Bennett is taken under the wing of his mentor, an older transgender musician named Joe Stevens, who helps guide him while his family of origin are trying to figure out how to support him.”

The film follows Bennett for four years, from age 19 to 23, and examines his life from many perspectives — not just trans issues, but family and peer support, addiction and recovery, mental health, and the healing arts.

Haas has screened it 150 times in 20 countries — sometimes Joe and Bennett perform afterwards, and often there is deeper interaction with the audience.

Haas finds this part of film making gratifying.

“It’s really a pleasure to share the film with community and to allow people to share their own stories and the way the film resonates for them in their own lives,” Haas said.

“Real Boy” has won a pile of awards and is a huge success for Haas in the world of documentary film, where she said “there are many great films and not enough funding.”

She’s grateful to the Independent Television Service for it’s early support of the project.

“Real Boy” is the season’s final installment in PBS’s Independent Lens series.

Haas spent four years working on the film, and a fifth year marketing it. She’s not looking for another movie of her own right now; instead, she’s hiring out her skills and talents to other projects.

“Real Boy” is far from over. There are more screenings, festivals, and fundraising still to come.

“All of that is carried alongside the responsibility that I feel toward people in the film — and how much I love and care about them and want to honor them in telling their story, but how much responsibility there is to get it right,” Haas said.

“Real Boy” will be rebroadcast June 21 and 25 on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local TV listings for details.

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