It’s hard to fit the incredible story of Victoria’s Frankie Edroff into one short documentary, but that’s exactly what a group of Vancouver Island filmmakers have done.
Penny Girl details the illness, fame and gender transition of Frankie, formerly Jeneece, in only half an hour. The short film was created thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Telus Storyhive program and is now available for viewing on YouTube and on Telus Optic TV.
Frankie, diagnosed with a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis at only three years old, became known across Vancouver Island for his philanthropy as “Penny Girl” after he collected more than $1.5 million in pennies for Variety Children’s Charity. A part of View Royal’s Hospital Way was even renamed Jeneece Place to honour Frankie’s work.
Neurofibromatosis causes tumours to grow on nerve tissue and is likely to eventually cause terminal cancer.
But none of that would stop the now 25-year-old from starting his gender transition in September, 2018. It was that bravery, to accept who he really was and not let anything get in the way, that inspired filmmaker Joseph Boutilier to reach out and see if Frankie would like to share his story.
“Despite everything he had been through, it was still the most brave thing that Frankie had done to date,” Boutilier said of Frankie’s transition. “It was almost a frustration that the community wasn’t celebrating that in the same way as his other achievements. That’s when I got in touch with him to see if he would be interested in telling that side of the story.”
The filmmaking team, which included Emery Wright, Mia Golden, Jamie Francis and Carlie Voisin, collected hours and hours of footage and interviews, including candid and compelling interviews with Frankie about his life.
Frankie told Black Press Media that being a part of the filming and production process was “absolutely amazing.”
“Joseph approached me last year and said, ‘hey I want to do a documentary, not just on your past but [about] you coming out as transgender,’” Frankie recalled. “And I said, ‘yes, definitely I would love to do this.’ And it all just kind of came together.
“I was almost feeling like I had my own TV show in a way. It was quite a neat experience for me.”
Frankie is happy to share his story in hopes that it will help others.
“I’m transgender and I’m still the same person and always will be the same person that [the public] grew up to know,” he said. “They might have a son or daughter or family member who will come out as a [member] of the LGBTQ2+ community … I want them to respect and love their kids like they did before they knew. Like my parents have.”
Frankie asked that viewers are kind to his parents, who have supported him the best they could throughout his journey.
Boutilier said he remains close with Frankie and continues to learn from him as a person.
“Just his tenacity and his ability to stand up for himself and realize that he had to prioritize his mental health above all else … ” said Boutilier. “And that meant transitioning despite everything else he faced … and all the potential risks and sacrifices involved … There was so many risks. But at the end of the day, being yourself really is always the answer. It’s almost cliche but its so true.”
Boutilier and his team are seeking more funding to create an extended, 75-minute version of the Penny Girl documentary.