Danish filmmaker Elvira Lind’s Songs for Alexis wasn’t intended to be an intimate portrait of a teenage relationship. Her debut feature was originally supposed to follow two teens at different stages of transitioning.
“I’d spoken to a large number of kids, all with very different stories and backgrounds,” Lind says. “But Ryan came with such a clear and honest approach, he provided a whole new angle to the story I wanted to tell.”
Part rock-documentary, part Romeo and Juliet, Songs for Alexis tells the story of Ryan, an 18-year-old Long Island trans musician who falls for Alexis, a girl from San Francisco he meets at camp. Though Ryan’s family is totally supportive, Alexis’s parents are just the opposite, and the tension eventually threatens to tear them apart.
Lind wanted to make a documentary without interviews, hanging out and letting the camera roll with minimal interference. That required a certain chemistry between her and the film’s main players, something that couldn’t be created, but just had to be “there.” She spent several hours talking to Ryan on Skype before eventually driving to Long Island to spend a day with his family.
“There’s this strange moment, where you try to feel whether something like this will work,” Lind says. “I was going to be part of their lives for a long time, following them around with my camera for months, so it was crucial we could all be relaxed.”
Confident things would work, she began to explore Ryan’s story. An activist from the age of 14, he’d appeared on Larry King and Tyra Banks and had maintained a popular video blog charting his experiences transitioning in unflinching detail. An aspiring musician, he’d already released a handful of albums and was booking steady gigs. As Alexis came into the picture, the film gradually found its core, shifting to focus on their relationship.
Lind captures the pair in the most intimate moments: late-night Skype sessions, parking-lot arguments and lying in bed staring into each other’s eyes.
“Love struggles are universal,” Lind says. “It always either hurts or feels absurdly magical. Anyone can connect with this story, no matter who they are.”