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Marcel Côté chuckles when he tells the story about how he met up with director Rachel Bowers and how it led to the filming of “I am Skylar.”
Around 2014, Bowers was shooting pieces for the IWK hospital and was working on a story about Joshua Côté, Côté’s son, who has hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, a condition that affects the hair, skin, teeth and nails. A few years later, Marcel Côté ran into Bowers again in Yarmouth and she asked how his family was doing.
“She was filming 'Land and Sea' down there and so she walked over to me and asked ‘how are the boys?’ I looked at her and I said we don’t have ‘the boys’ anymore. We have a boy and a girl and her jaw just dropped,” he said. “She said what do you mean by that and I said, do I have a story for you.
“She said can I take this further and see if I can make a documentary of it and at the time I didn’t think much of it but here it is three years later and here we are.”
The Côté family story has come alive three years later in the short documentary, “I Am Skylar,” which will make its Cape Breton debut at the Highland Arts Theatre with two showings on Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The film has already won film festival honours, with best documentary at the Silver Wave Film Festival and best Atlantic short documentary at the 2019 Atlantic International Film Festival. The film is about Skylar, the transgender daughter of Marcel and Jill Côté of Mira Gut and her transitioning.
While many people might not want a film crew follow their every movement, the Côtés didn’t see it as a problem.
“You have to know our family,” said Marcel Côté. “We’re the furthest thing from being shy. It was amazing.”
Skylar, now 15 and a Grade 10 student at Riverview Rural High School, knew from an early age that things weren’t right for her and when she was in Grade 5, she made her concerns known to her parents.
“I went into the bathroom one day and looked in the mirror and when I looked I was confused because I didn’t see the person who I am,” Skylar recalls. “I didn’t see me in the mirror. I felt I was a different person and I wasn’t meant to be who was in the mirror. I was trying to express who I am, which was a girl. And that was a pretty big deal in my house but everyone was so accepting and it was absolutely fabulous. I feel extremely lucky to have parents who are so supportive.”
Skylar’s story is one of acceptance from her family and friends.
Jill Côté, Skylar’s mother, says she and her husband knew they would always support Skylar on whatever path she chose.
“We had known Skylar was special from a very young age,” she said. “We weren’t sure what direction it was going to take. Although we were surprised, we weren’t shocked because we had always seen signs that things could change. We just weren’t sure in what direction. She was never into the stereotypical boy toys or even boy clothing. She loved dressing up and wearing princess dresses — she would gravitate towards the more stereotypical female toys in a store. She was who she was. She was open and responsive to both gender types.”
The filming, which took place over five days, was a positive experience for all.
“Rachel and the producer made the experience very easy — it was very easy to open up to them and share our story,” said Jill Côté.
The fact the film is going to receive its Cape Breton debut at the Highland Arts Theatre is especially moving for Skylar, who hopes to have a career as an actress. She currently participates in HAT programming and has taken part in several productions including “Seussical” and the upcoming production of “Frozen Jr.”
“It feels amazing to have my film be at a place that feels like a second home to me,” said Skylar. “I want to thank the director Rachel for helping us out and the NFB for actually making this happen and making it possible for people to access it.
“The goal is to create further acceptance. I’m not a trailblazer, I’m a trail guide — the trail has already been blazed, I’m just helping people down it.”