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(The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival ran April 24-May 5 in New York City. HtN has writers Matt Delman, Chris Reed and Mike S. Ryan at the fest to get ready for our always deep coverage! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

The seahorse, a marine fish, is the only vertebrate species on earth where the male becomes pregnant. As such, it becomes the perfect metaphor for the rare (at least for now) phenomenon among humans where a trans man decides to carry and birth his own child. Despite the fact that such men still have ovaries and other biologically female organs, the process of fertilization and pregnancy is not as easy as one might think, given the hormone treatments (including testosterone injections) that they undergo, which suppress the body’s original estrogen. But it is not impossible, as we discover in director Jeanie Finlay’s moving portrait of one such man, Freddy McConnell, following him throughout his lengthy, emotionally and physically grueling journey to become a parent. The resultant documentary, entitled simply Seahorse, teaches us profound truths about sex, gender identity, empathy and love in its brief, but comprehensive, 90 minutes.

When we first meet McConnell (a journalist for The Guardian), he is on the edge of the decision cliff, hesitant but eager, feeling that his fast-approaching thirties will only complicate matters. What will it mean to him to stop testosterone treatments? How will that affect his body and his self-image? At least he has a partner in close friend CJ – another trans man who, like Freddy, is also gay – so he will not go through the pregnancy alone. As prepared as Freddy may be, however, situations inevitably become more fraught, though he never wavers in his commitment. Fortunately, he has, in his mother, Esme, an extraordinarily supportive partner, by his side the whole time. She is a model to all parents on how to champion one’s child. By the end, when we find ourselves in the hospital at the moment of birth, we have come to know Freddy and Esme so well – and to feel such affection for them both – that this added layer of raw intimacy seems like only possible way the story could end (though it also comes with a lovely coda with the baby, a boy named Jack).

Finlay (Orion: The Man Who Would Be King) structures the narrative around interviews – some staged, some on the fly – with her subjects and their families and friends, phone conversations woven in as voiceover, observational footage, self-shot confessionals by Freddy, and archival material that shows Freddy as a young girl. She also cuts in sequences of actual seahorses which, with their ethereal movements and striking texture, and a lyrical touch. It all makes for an evocative mix, powerful in its reconstruction of a life fully lived. We are always engaged and always rooting for the best possible conclusion. How lovely to experience the joy, however painfully obtained, of others.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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