Private Project

Walk by Me (2021)

Filmmaker and protagonist reconnect 25 years after Lisa Leeman chronicled evangelical artist Gabi P’s gender transition in “Metamorphosis” (1990 Sundance Filmmakers’ Trophy/ POV). This time, traditional filmmaking boundaries blur as Gabi navigates new challenges in her sixties and as Leeman gets pulled into the story over five years of filming. An exploration of aging, art & resiliency, filmmaking, and friendship.

  • Lisa M Leeman
    Awake; One Lucky Elephant; Metamorphoisis; Out of Faith; Who Needs Sleep
  • Lisa M Leeman
  • Exec Producer Kimberly Reed
    Dark Money; Prodigal Sons; EQUAL
  • Gabi P
    Key Cast
  • Chris McNabb
    Whose Streets; Narrowsburg
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 25 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 8, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    535,386 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Lisa M Leeman

Director/Producer: LISA LEEMAN (she/her) – Lisa believes that films can change the world, one story at a time. Over the last thirty years, her films have illuminated contemporary social issues through character-driven stories that follow people at critical turning points in their lives.

Her first film, Metamorphosis, won Sundance’s Filmmakers’ Trophy and aired on POV in 1990. Roger Ebert named her film One Lucky Elephant as one of the best documentaries of 2011. Other producing & directing credits include Awake; Crazy Wisdom; Out of Faith; and Who Needs Sleep (with Haskell Wexler). She has also edited award-winning documentaries for the acclaimed filmmakers Stanley Nelson; Renee Tajima-Pena; Michele Ohayon; Micha Peled; Lourdes Portillo. Her work has been supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund, Catapult Film Fund, the Producers Guild, the Sundance Creative Producing Summit, AFI, NEA, USC, and the California Humanities Council. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences & a former president of the IDA. Leeman writes articles about the craft and ethics of documentary filmmaking, and as a tenured professor, teaches Cinematic Ethics and Documentary Producing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Lisa also teaches documentary filmmaking for Film Independent and the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase.

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Director Statement

Walk by Me will complete a thirty-five year cycle of my making documentaries. It is the most challenging film I’ve ever made – besides the usual documentary storytelling challenges, this film demands that I reckon with the impact of my first film – on the protagonist, and on society; confront assumptions around directorial authorship; and question many documentary practices that I was trained in. I’ve had to interrogate long-held prescriptions to maintain boundaries between filmmaker and protagonist and the idea that intervening to help a protagonist means losing objectivity.

This film grew unexpectedly and organically out of reconnecting with Gabi. Over a three-hour reunion lunch in 2014, we caught up on 25 years of life, and discussed the possibility of making a short ‘follow-up’ film to Metamorphosis, as two middle-aged artists, trans and cis.

A few months later, Gabi invited me to a show where she’d be exhibiting her art. I asked if I could film her there, she messaged back “GET THE CAMERA!” and we leapt into this new project, not knowing what would come out of it. What started as a simple update has evolved into a six-year journey and a 99-minute rough cut. Gender quickly faded into the background as Gabi had to find a new place to live, and as she began to rebuild her life, empowered by her new sobriety and with help from her community and ...the filmmaker.

I didn’t set out to make a film about a trans senior citizen, or about resiliency, or about what it takes to pull yourself out of homelessness and poverty. I just believed in Gabi – that newly sober, with her creativity, faith, and sense of humor, she would rebound - and I believed that there was value in Gabi’s story. Along the way, I learned how hard it is to shake internalized stigma, and how hard it is to lift yourself out of poverty. Gabi taught me the power of faith, and how creativity can be a powerful source of resiliency. I also became aware of my cisgender blind spots and how my unearned cis privilege had opened doors for me that had closed to Gabi after she transitioned. I realized that the most honest and responsible film I could make would always center Gabi, while also acknowledging my cisgender privilege, blind spots, and missteps throughout the film, and that I could serve as a proxy for cisgender audiences. I’ve changed my documentary filmmaking practice, and have chosen to trespass traditional documentary ethics so that I could ‘walk by’ Gabi as a friend and ally, not just as a filmmaker.

I hope this film will contribute to a better understanding of gender expansiveness, and will help chip away at the toxic transphobia plaguing our society. I also hope the film will spark conversations in the documentary community about filmmaking ethics, authorship, and collaboration. Working with an impact producer, we aim to focus on three areas:

1) increasing cultural competency in trans-specific needs and care in medical schools, continuing medical education, social workers, and affordable housing advocates and providers.

2) generating facilitated discussions in faith communities who are wrestling with contemporary (mis)understanding of gender, to expand understanding and acceptance of trans congregants.

3) generating discussion of documentary practices and ethics at film festivals, conferences, and film schools, as well as in media (around the filmmaker/protagonist relationship; filmmaker accountability and responsibilities; and questions around authorship and who tells whose stories; how to responsibly acknowledge and address one’s blind spots in nonfiction work)