NEWFEST 2020 REVIEW! Hannah Reinikainen Bergeman and Lia Hietala spent roughly four years working with non-binary Swedish teenager Amber Mastracci on a documentary about Amber’s life. The result is Always Amber, a true tale of a teen reckoning with their gender identity. The filmmakers often use Instagram Stories, DMs, or Snapchat conversations to guide the story along. It’s a new way of storytelling that proves to work very well in this instance, and it’s not as annoying as it sounds. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would like the film going in because I knew that there was a huge focus on social media, and sometimes that can provide cringe-worthy results. That ended up not being the case.
Always Amber doesn’t only follow Amber. At first, it follows Amber’s transgender best friend, Sebastian, as well. They had been friends since they were small and did everything together. It is sad to see that Amber’s girlfriend, Charlie, starts to like Sebastian more. Amber breaks up with Charlie, but Sebastian doesn’t. Their friendship takes a pause that at first seems indefinite. Amber moves on though, and has fun with all of their other friends, eventually meeting a new partner in Olivera. While these interpersonal situations are happening, there’s also a focus on Amber’s desire to get a mastectomy to better conform to their idea of what their gender expression should be. They have to talk with several psychologists and nurses to receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria disorder, which is the final step towards Amber getting the surgery.
“…a true tale of a teen reckoning with their gender identity.”
The documentary allows us to see all angles of Amber’s life. We learn about their father’s death and their close relationship with their mother. We see their graduation and a kind of disgusting failed attempt at a home lip-piercing. What I enjoy about Always Amber is that it never feels staged, while some of it obviously had to be. Amber has a natural star quality and feels incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. I also liked that the movie is a generally happy story about a teen who isn’t straight. There are so many depressing stories about LGBTQ teens that it is refreshing to see one that shows a supportive family and friends and an altogether positive environment. Did I mention that this was filmed in Sweden? I don’t think that the same story could be told in the United States, especially considering our current political climate.
Always Amber would be a great movie for parents of non-binary and trans teens to watch. Amber’s mother handles everything well and doesn’t take steps to actively oppress her child. Other parents around the world should take notice. Additionally, non-binary teens will love the story and the people and know that there is someone out there just like them. In a world where representation matters so much, Always Amber is imperative. You don’t have to be non-binary to enjoy it. The struggles that Amber goes through as a teenager becoming an adult are universal. We can all get something from the documentary, so please check it out.
Always Amber screened at the 2020 edition of NEWFEST.
"…a great movie for parents of non-binary and trans teens to watch."