Topline: The great escape of film

Travelling through screens as we wait for the pandemic to end

Hi! I’m Riley Sparks. I make videos at Xtra, and along with our managing producer Chelle Turingan, I’m co-directing our upcoming film, Small Town Pride (more on that in a sec). Right now, I’m coming to you from my hometown on the West Coast, where I’ve been hiding out, hiking, knitting a lot and waiting for the pandemic to end. This is my first try at our newsletter; I do a lot of our behind-the-scenes video production and most of the interviews for the videos you see on Xtra, but you don’t usually hear from me directly. Let’s see how this goes. 

Speaking of hearing more from Xtra, this is just a sample of the newsletter. Get the whole thing by subscribing to Xtra Weekly!

What’s the buzz🐝?

One of the things I love most about journalism is that it gives us a reason to meet people and learn about their lives—it’s partly why I got into it as a career, and I’ve been so lucky to be able to do it for the past few years. 

Obviously, we haven’t been able to do journalism in the same way lately (one of ~just a few~ things I think I can conclusively say I don’t love about 2020-21). After it became clear last March that our two week working-from-home experiment might last a bit longer, Xtra’s video team, like everyone else, started figuring out ways to keep bringing you stories even if we couldn’t safely film in person. Here we are, a year later, and I’m pretty happy with what we’ve been able to do. 

What were we thinking🙃?

For our doc on virtual queer spaces, I talked with community organizers and people running parties, bars and communal spaces around the world to learn how they’re surviving and keeping people together—it was super inspiring! (And I now have a few more people and places to visit whenever we can all travel again.) 

We’ve been doing a lot of fun things closer to home, too. When Xtra first met our now good friend Jennifer E. Crawford (who you may know from Instagram, MasterChef Canada or any one of the million other things they do), they kindly spent hours baking and decorating a beautiful and complicated gender repeal cake just so we could cut into it on camera (thanks again!).


I immediately had visions of a cooking show and all sorts of exciting ideas, but when they moved to Nova Scotia to live in a beautiful house in the woods, we decided to hold off until we could get a crew out to the old sea-bound coast to film with them. Thanks to the miracle of television and Zoom, Jennifer has been gracing your screens and your kitchens since last year—with more to come!

I’ve also been so lucky to hang out with author and columnist Kai Cheng Thom, a wise big sister with all the answers. She’s been on the line every two weeks to assist with reader drama as the weeks we’re forced to spend inside go on and we all slowly become feral. Even some of us at Xtra have taken advantage of having her around and have snuck in a question or two (always “asking for a friend,” of course). 

And of course, the other thing I’m so excited about right now is our upcoming film, Small Town Pride. If you haven’t seen it, we released a quick preview, but here’s the synopsis: We visited three towns across the country in 2019 to see what Pride looks like there, and how people are building stronger communities wherever they live. 

We’ve been busy getting the film through post-production, and it’s now almost ready to go. I’ve been buried in the footage for the past few months. Escaping my bedroom/office to the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and sunny Southern Alberta to spend some time with people who are working so hard for their own communities has been a delight, especially as someone who also grew up in a small town. I can’t wait for you all to meet them, too, later this year! Stay tuned for that soon.

Other Xtra news

👉Lawyer and advocate Maurice Tomlinson has been fighting in court since 2015 to overturn Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law. After six years, the first hearing happened last week. KC Hoard has the story.

👉Sarah Taher writes about her safe space: Her phone. It’s become a window for her to escape into a queer world online

👉Making tech queer-and-trans friendly is about more than hiring. Caitlin Stall-Paquet looks at how the lack of LGBTQ2S+ representation in tech underserves these communities.

👉On the heels of the release of Coming 2 America—which includes a minor, tasteless and unnecessary reference to trans people—Tre’vell Anderson discusses how the continued use of transgender lives and bodies for comedic gain is tired and disappointing.👉Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.


Riley Sparks is a journalist based in Paris, and a former producer and story editor at Xtra.

Read More About:
TV & Film, Editorial, Xtra Weekly, Media

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