The University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism recently named its winners of the 2016 Excellence Awards, and among them was the film, Before Dawn/After Don, a moving documentary by Deana Mitchell about a transgender woman facing extraordinary challenges beyond just transitioning from one gender to another.
For weeks, Mitchell followed journalist Dawn Ennis all around Los Angeles, Westwood, Malibu and Santa Monica, camera and microphone always on, recording the story of her life and her transformation. All the while the director was in a transformation of her own; she was eight months pregnant with her first child.
Then tragedy struck.
Ennis’s wife died unexpectedly in January, following a 30-week battle with cancer. Ennis quit her job, abandoned her life as an L.A. woman, eliminated the 3,000-mile distance between her and her children, and moved back east to raise their three kids alone. It was the start to yet another difficult transition that would ultimately put Ennis once more in the spotlight.
She had been the first out trans news editor at The Advocate, and the first trans reporter to score an in-depth, one-on-one interview with Caitlyn Jenner in her home; the Republican celebrity’s comment that she wished she could be a “trans ambassador” for Ted Cruz raised eyebrows.
Before that, Ennis was an assignment editor at ABC News, where she was the first journalist to transition in a TV network newsroom, and made headlines in 2013 when she abruptly detransitioned. Ennis later resumed her transition and subsequently lost her job. She’s now assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation.
With family in tow, Mitchell flew east about a month after the tragedy to finish the film, and to capture Ennis in her new, yet old, world.
Ennis left penthouses and sunny beaches behind, and picked up the pieces in their broken down house in snowy suburbia. Although a woman, she was still “dad” to her three children, who had talked with her every day via FaceTime, ever since their parents separated in 2013 as a result of her coming out. But as the film shows, Ennis is now a “dad” doing the job of “mom,” working from home and slowly fixing up their house.
Mitchell is pitching her 26-minute documentary to various film festivals, cable networks and LGBTQ conferences in hopes of attracting a larger audience for her film, which has been praised for its honest, warts-and-all depiction of a trans woman and her children coping with grief and the unforeseen consequences of life and death.
Watch a 2-minute preview of Before Dawn/AfterDon, below.