How Canadian director Luis De Filippis’ debut film about a family vacation leaned into trans joy

While Luis De Filippis was developing her debut feature film, Something You Said Last Night, the Canadian filmmaker recalled her childhood vacations in Florida.

It was a final family visit to the Sunshine state as an adult that held the spirit she was trying to capture in her story about Renata, a 20-something trans woman who accompanies her family on a trip to a small, lakefront resort in Ontario cottage country.

A rarity among films with trans leads, Something You Said Last Night has no climactic coming out scene, no tension related to gender identity, no trauma. It’s a slice-of-life story that revels in the humour and awkwardness of an ever-changing family dynamic — an approach that felt novel to its creator.

I think speaking for myself and speaking for the trans women I know, we’re just tired. We’re tired of the drama. We’re tired of seeing ourselves portrayed as sad people or people who have to be brave or people who have to constantly suffer on screen,” the Toronto director told CBC News in an interview. “My life is not like that.”

A woman is shown smiling and speaking into a microphone during an event.
De Filippis spoke with CBC News during a one-on-one interview and again during the film’s red carpet premiere earlier this month. (Michael Cole/CBC)

Renata constantly fights with her entitled sister, Sienna who, naturally, is also her best friend; she loves and sometimes neglects her quiet father Guido; she contends with boisterous mom Mona’s lofty expectations. When is she going to quit vaping? When is she going to wise up and get a real job? (Unbeknownst to mom, Renata’s been unemployed for months).

The main cast spent a month filming at the Fern Resort north of Toronto, arriving a few days before production began to have their own vacation, drinking tequila and playing board games. As a character-building exercise, they mused about which child might be the favourite, and whether the children knew this or if they were oblivious to it.

WATCH | A testy family vacation in the Something You Said Last Night trailer: 

“I just think we deserve more laughter. We deserve more laughter from our characters and we deserve more laughter in our stories,” De Filippis said.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022, is now playing in theatres across the country.

How Julia Fox got involved

The film is steeped in appreciation for the Italian family on which it is loosely based. The characters’ patience with each other unravels between pop singalongs in the mother tongue and phone calls to nonna, Renata’s unseen grandma.

De Filippis pulled from her own experiences growing up in an Italian-Canadian family, exploring how those trips abroad could shift the way they interacted.

“It was weird because the places were exactly the same, but we were different as people, and our relationships to one another [were] different. And that’s what I think the film is kind of based on,” the director said.

“It’s about this experience of going on vacation with these people who know you the best but also … have a very particular idea of who you are.”

That’s where the film’s well-known executive producer came in: Julia Fox, the Italian-American actor who co-starred in the 2019 drama Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler, got hold of a Something You Said Last Night screener when it was sent to her by a friend who also knew De Filippis.

WATCH | Why Julia Fox identified with Something You Said Last Night

How Julia Fox became the executive producer of an indie Canadian film

Julia Fox, executive producer of Something You Said Last Night, spoke with CBC News about the importance and relatability of the story at the heart of the award-winning Canadian film. The film follows a 20-something transgender woman who accompanies her Italian-Canadian family on vacation.

Fox was reminded of her own family: the closeness, the lack of boundaries, “the kind of love that you just didn’t question,” she told CBC News during the film’s Toronto premiere.

“It was so nostalgic for me,” she said. “It just kind of transported me back in time and I felt like a little girl again in my grandpa — my nonno’s — house.”

Fox, who is from New York, also stressed the significance of authentic trans representation on screen, calling it “life or death.”

“I hope that people can really keep an open mind and realize that people need to be able to see themselves on screen and not in a way that’s traumatizing and not in a way that brings up old wounds … it’s just about love and family.”

De Filippis’ first film, a 2017 short called For Nonna Anna about a trans woman taking care of her sick grandmother, touches on similar themes about trans womanhood, intergenerational dynamics and Italian culture that the director expects she’ll continue mining in her future work.

For now, she says the reaction to Something You Said Last Night has been a dream.

“The biggest compliment I get is when people are like, ‘Oh, I really saw myself in that,’ or ‘I really saw these people that I love so much in it,'” she said. “It means that it’s touching people, it’s affecting people, and I think that’s the power of cinema.”

WATCH | Tired of unhappy trans representation, Luis De Filippis made a film about joy: 

How director Luis De Filippis mentored trans youth on set

Canadian filmmaker Luis De Filippis spoke with CBC News about her debut feature, Something You Said Last Night, and about offering trans youth the chance to work on a film set.

Building a trans-inclusive set 

Something You Said Last Night also marks newcomer Carmen Madonia’s first-ever onscreen role. The Toronto-born actor said that, like many trans people, she was wary of lending her image to another person’s vision, but found a kinship and trust with De Filippis that made her feel safe.

“I feel like a lot of people get excited to include trans people in their features or in their projects, but they don’t really think about how much it entails to support a trans woman through that journey of putting herself out there,” Madonia told CBC News at the premiere. “Then I met Luis and she was different and the story was different, and it was me.”

It was important to De Filippis that she and Madonia not be the only trans people on set. The director added that she wanted to “make sure that other people are profiting and getting experience from my opportunities and my experiences.”

As a result, the director launched a trans mentorship program to populate her crew.

Five trans youth were invited on set, becoming intrinsic members of the production — but there was so much interest in the program that De Filippis hired several other applicants with more experience for additional crew roles.

“It meant that Carmen knew that when she woke up in the morning, there was a trans girl doing her makeup, there was a trans girl getting her dressed, there was a trans girl behind the camera,” De Filippis said.

A woman wearing a blue sweater and gold necklace is shown outdoors.
Something You Said Last Night marked lead actor Carmen Madonia’s first onscreen role. (Elevation Pictures)

For Madonia, it was also an opportunity to work with and meet other trans people in the industry — and to feel at ease while working as a professional actor for the first time.

“We had trans people in every department, which meant that there was no conversations being had without a trans person in the room, ever. That meant that I didn’t have to advocate for myself as much, explain myself as much,” the actor said.

“I think it’s just a really rare environment for a trans person to find at work. And I’m really lucky that I had it. It changed my life.”


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