Julia Ivanova’s My Dads, My Moms and Me sets a touching tone for this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival by foregrounding the journeys of three same-sex couples, and their foray into parenthood. They are the same families Ivanova interviewed 12 years ago for her film Fatherhood Dreams, and explores the challenges and merits they’ve encountered since having kids through adoption, surrogacy, or co-parenting. With a penchant for portraying the nuanced intimacies of human relationships, My Dads, My Moms and Me explores the universal experiences of parenting by delving deep into these queer families’ experiences.
Having gone through childhood and adolescence with her own daughter, now 26-years-old, Ivanova relates her experience with parenthood to those of the families represented. “It wasn’t an easy ride. We had a very tumultuous relationship during that time.”
While the film opens with a sweet and sugary mood—presenting a young and excited family with their newly adopted baby—the tone immediately shifts when the following scene features an inconsolable adolescent refusing to leave bed to go to school.
“Every single parent can recognize themselves in a situation like this,” reckons Ivanova. “When a parent communicates with a young teenager in a somewhat authoritarian manner, it results in a complete clash with no room for negotiation.”
This film carefully emphasizes the universal family tensions these queer parents grapple with, all while battling societal expectations and status quos that have been pinned against them for years. The queer families featured live in and around Vancouver, Nanaimo, Protection Island and Halifax. While each family acknowledges a general sense of politeness toward their queerness, they still question the true attitudes held by their respective communities. One family notices that, while their neighbours are polite face-to-face, they never invite the same-sex couple into their homes. Another single, gay parent claims that certain moms and dads at his kids’ school avoid talking to him entirely.
While the anxieties they express are fully warranted, the thrust of this film’s focus is on the hopeful, unafraid attitudes possessed by their childrens’ generation. The now-adolescent children experience a variety of stereotypical challenges—not wanting to get out of bed, stressing over schoolwork, or struggling to tear themselves away from their video game consoles—yet the film emphasizes that their parents’ sexuality is and never was a point of contention growing up.
Ivanova stresses that for documentary filmmakers, it is important to maintain integrity. “We don’t manipulate facts. If the film is about gay parenthood, I would never exclude any criticism that a child might have,” says Ivanova. “I am trying to create the portrait as accurate as I am able to see them.”
The filmmaker takes this portrait-approach very seriously, often shooting her subjects alone in order to create a close bond between the reality of the situation and its representation on screen.
“I really like people,” says Ivanova. “I have feelings for them and my audience can feel that.” Her subjects must as well, as they allow her full access to the core of their experiences by putting their lives on full display.
Hailing from Eastern Europe, Ivanova feels increasingly at odds with the way in which LGBTQ+ culture is aggressively rejected and scrutinized in her home country.
“For me, making these films comes from my anger towards why these lifestyles aren’t universally accepted.”
While highlighting non-traditional relationships—from a single gay father to a gay co-parent with a lesbian couple—the universal hardships and unconditional love of parenting transcends and resonates in a way that all kinds of units can appreciate. Ivanova hopes that the film will continue to be shown to diverse audiences in order to normalize the equality of those that have different sexual orientations.
My Dads, My Moms and Me was made with the gracious support of Telus Story Hive. You can still get tickets to final screening at VIFF, taking place Friday, October 11. The film will additionally take part in DOC NYC this November, and will appear on CBC’s documentary channel in the winter.