ALOK Alex Hedison
(L-R) Elizabeth Baudouin, Natalie Shirinian, Alex Hedison, and Meggan Lennon. Photo by Christopher Shintani. Courtesy of Elizabeth Baudouin.

It was early August 2023 when Alex Hedison made a pact with producers Natalie Shirinian, Elizabeth Baudouin, and Meggan Lennon to try to get the 54-year-old first-time filmmaker’s short film debut, “ALOK,” into Sundance. But they only had four weeks to turn nearly 50 hours of rough, uncut footage into an edit worthy to submit to one of the world’s most renowned film stages.

So they rolled up their sleeves and got to work on the doc, which follows the story of trailblazing trans, non-binary activist, writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon, who uses they/them pronouns. The film promotes a message of queer acceptance and togetherness as an antidote to a divided world.

Five months later, “ALOK” premiered at Sundance, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the filmmaking team. Baudouin and Shirinian are the married writer-directors behind shorts like “Parev Mama” and “Breakup Text”. Joining them was producer Meggan Lennon, who worked on the 2009 HBO documentary By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, and whose husband Craig Wedren composed the score for “ALOK” with Simon Wilson.

The final piece of the puzzle was Hedison’s wife, The Silence of the Lambs and NYAD actress Jodie Foster. She served as an executive producer, providing thoughtful notes on various cuts of the film.

“It’s been a beautiful ride accompanying Alex on her directorial debut,” Foster tells MovieMaker. “She’s such an accomplished visual artist but she’s finally getting to explore character and tone within a new medium. Alok (the human and the short/doc) has opened up a spirit of healing and possibility that has so much to teach us all.. I’m just grateful to be a supportive witness and cheerleader to it all.” 

She adds: “Alex is blessed with her wonderful producing team of Natalie, Elizabeth and Meggan whose support was invaluable. They got to share in all the fun and anxieties that are part of the filmmaking process and together, they somehow made it to the finish line in lightning speed.”

After an entire summer dedicated to the edit, during which time Hedison, Lennon, Shirinian and Baudouin — alongside editors Dylan Bell and Achim Mendoza — were inseparable, they settled on a first cut to send to Sundance. But they didn’t stop there: they collectively kept tweaking the edit until November 13, when they found out they were accepted. Then they continued to make the edit better and better until just a few weeks before its Sundance premiere this past January.

“She was finding her voice,” Baudouin says of Hedison. “This is her first time making a film that was going to screen publicly, and doing this at 54-years-old, is so inspiring. We were on board to help her make it happen — and we believed we could make it happen.”

She adds: “Jodie sat in on select edits and watched intently, giving us the most precise, smart, creative notes to help us get to our goal. She really encouraged Alex to just do her thing. She let all of us do our thing and was clear about being here if we needed anything and believing in us. In our first meeting, she sent us out with support, telling us, ‘I’m happy it’s happening now,’ making it clear that this film is timely.”

Shirinian emphasizes the importance of the team’s tight-knit dynamic in getting the short edited so quickly.

“Our personalities harmonized seamlessly, which is a truly rare occurrence. We all united with a clear vision of our end goal and hit the ground running,” Shirinian says.

More About Alex Hedison and ‘ALOK’

Alex Hedison ALOK Sundance
(L-R) Alex Hedison and Alok Vaid-Menon in ‘ALOK’ courtesy of Not All Films

Hedison’s background as a fine art photographer and actress gave her a unique perspective into filmmaking. In the past, she’s made a few short films before as “pet projects,” she says, but never felt the call to release one to the public — until she met Alok through mutual friends.

That first meeting “turned into a long car ride, which then segued into one mind-blowing conversation that left me radically transformed,” she says. “I feel like my life has changed in this conversation, and I need to follow them around with a camera.”

“I wanted the audience to fully experience the generosity and humanity of Alok’s message as it articulates itself in the world,” she adds. “To live a non-binary, non-gender conforming life is simply to embrace freedom and celebrate love as central foundations, guiding principles for all people. Like nature, we are all transforming all the time. That’s a truth that resonates with audiences from every walk of life.”

In addition to screening at Sundance earlier this year, the film was selected as one of seven shorts to be part of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour. It starts on Friday, when “Alok” will screen at the IFC Center in New York, and continues through March with screenings taking place all across the country.

“I think it’s particularly wonderful for this film as it goes to a lot of smaller cities around the world where Alok’s message may not necessarily be preaching to the choir,” Lennon says.

Looking back on the success of her first film, Hedison is grateful for the whole experience — and is already looking forward to making her next one.

“It’s the best coming out party I could have imagined,” Hedison says. “I mean coming out as a director. I am an out queer person, but I think that there are ways, even as someone who’s a 54-year-old lesbian, there’s a heteronormative model many of us have been following as gay people. And I think there’s a way of embracing queer for queer people that may be new for a lot of us. There are more ways I can express myself. There are more ways I can consider myself. There are more parts of me that I can invite into the fold.”

“ALOK” is currently seeking distribution. Upcoming screenings include Thursday night at the Provincetown International Film Festival, followed by ShortFest in Palm Springs on June 22 and Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 29.

Main Image: Elizabeth Baudouin, Natalie Shirinian, Alex Hedison, and Meggan Lennon. Photo by Christopher Shintani. Courtesy of Not All Films.

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