Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren on 20,000 Species of Bees

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By Juliet Jacques

Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s first feature film, 20,000 Species of Bees, focuses on the ups and downs of Lucía, a trans girl exploring her identity during a summer in the Basque country. In struggling for the understanding and acceptance that would provide a crucial first step towards a happier life, she provokes her family – and especially her mother – to rethink their own lives, relationships and desires. In this, it extends a line of films about gender non-conforming youths that goes back to Alain Berliner’s Ma Vie en Rose (1997) and includes Boys Don’t Cry (2000), directed by Kimberley Peirce, Lucía Puenzo’s Argentinian drama XXY (2007) about an intersex teenager, Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy (2011), Girl by Lukas Dhont (2018) and Sébastien Lifshitz’s docu-drama Little Girl (2020), amongst others. I spoke to Solaguren about how 20,000 Species of Bees relates to this line of films, and about how it steers away from depictions of physical violence towards its protagonist, concentrating instead on the difficulties of family relationships.

‘It started in 2018 when a 16-year-old child committed suicide’, says Solaguren. ‘It really struck me, and the Basque society. The child left a note, saying “I am struggling”, not because of a lack of family acceptance, but because it was so hard to get hormone treatment. It was published in the media, thanks to the father, and started a big discussion about trans children, which was new for our society,’ she continues. ‘Families with trans children were invited for television, magazine and newspaper interviews. I didn’t know I was going to make a film about it, but I was so touched by the father’s letter that I started interviewing some other parents and felt I could make something with them about this. The families told me that having a trans child made their bond stronger – it was valuable for them. Previous films had underlined the suffering and pain but not this narrative – I wanted to reflect that.’

Some previous films about trans youth – especially Boys Don’t Cry, about the rape and murder of Brandon Teena, killed along with two friends in Nebraska in 1993 – have focused on violent suppression of their characters’ gender identities, but 20,000 Species of Bees specifically avoids this type of depiction. ‘I knew many of the kids I met [during this process] were going to see the film and I didn’t want to focus on violence,’ says Solaguren. ‘Many of these children, between five to 10 years old, they had [gone through] their socialisation process in their schools and almost everything was going well. They were living good lives, having already been accepted, [so] why not tell this story? I wanted to create references that they could identify with in a healthy way. I believe the cinema doesn’t just reproduce reality – it also produces reality.’

Read the full article on the Curzon Journal here.