London-based filmmaker Alfie Dale has received widespread critical acclaim and several accolades for his artistic vision. His 2019 short film, My Brother is a Mermaid, is the best example of his creative talents. Utilising the unique lens of magical realism, the film explores questions of personal identity and gender through the story of two brothers: a transgender teenager and a seven-year-old younger sibling who tries to understand everything.
My Brother is a Mermaid was created by Dale as a response to the despicable condition of public discourse surrounding the issue. Instead of the rampant demonising that goes on, Dale chooses to portray the nuances of the subject and adopts a more empathetic approach. It shows how the unconditional love of siblings can result in something completely pure and unaffected by the ideological battle that is being waged.
The film ended up being premiered at multiple qualifying festivals for BAFTA and the Oscars. At the Iris Film Festival, My Brother is a Mermaid won the Best British Short Film, the Youth Jury Award and the Audience Award – becoming the first film to do so in the history of the festival. According to Dale, the success of the film was facilitated by the fact that the audience, as well as the jury, who resonated with the spiritual bonding of the two children.
Dale explained, “I had a few scattered ideas that ended up coming together for Mermaid. I’d been wanting to do something about siblings for a while, I have a younger brother with a similar age gap to Kai and Kuda, and wanted to explore that relationship in my work. Then, when I was in Madagascar, I went surfing with these two brothers who were local surf guides, in quite a remote part of the country. We had a drink after, and when we were chatting I jokingly asked if they had any mermaids around there? The younger of the two looked at me surprised, and said: ‘So, mermaids are real?’ I guess that whole situation played a significant part in the idea!”
Adding, “The transgender narrative came about because I’d been reading a lot about gender at that time, and a lot of my headspace was focused on re-understanding gender. I think I had viewed the world and myself in a pretty gendered, binary way up until that point, as most people do. Reading about how socially constructed gender is really helped me reframe my understanding of the world and myself. Throughout my teens and early twenties, I think a lot of what I disliked about myself was down to a sense that I was failing to live up to what a ‘man’ should be, or that I naturally didn’t have the qualities that make men valuable. This was obviously a ridiculous way to think, but was a lot of the background noise going on in my head!”
Watch the 2019 short My Brother is a Mermaid below.