I am a documentary film director. Subjects of my films have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. I am best known for the Real People, Real Life, Real Sex series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema. This is my "Safe" blog.
“Damon and Hunter” was shot in January of 2005 in a house in Rego Park, Queens, New York, in the middle of a huge snow storm. When we arrived at the location the pavement was dry, but by the time we packed out there was nearly two feet of snow. It took us nearly two hours to drive the 7 miles back to our house. The film, music and culture critic Steve Dollar was there, and somewhere between the set and home, he slipped and fell, breaking his arm. Maybe that’s why we never got a story out of it.
“Damon and Hunter” had its world premiere to an overflow crowd at the 2006 Melbourne Underground Film Festival, and ultimately received the Best Documentary award. Unbeknownst to me, this screening had taken place in direct defiance of the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification, who had refused to grant the film a festival exemption and ordered the film not be screened.
This was also unknown to the Sydney International Gay & Lesbian Documentary Film Festival, and they booked the film for two nights at their 2006 festival.
But in Australia, film festivals are required to submit their “play list” to the government, and still stinging from Melbourne Underground’s defiance, the OFLC lowered the boom. The Sydney festival director was told that if he screened the film he would face fines and jail time. The screening was cancelled, and the slots filled with a British soap opera. (A year later, the OFLC would send police to stop the premiere of “Ashley and Kisha: Finding the Right Fit” at the 2007 iteration of MUFF.)
Since the Sydney debacle, the film has gone on to screen in several other countries – Israel, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and here at the US at the 2006 Cinekink Film Festival (the first time I ever had the opportunity to see one of my films play for an audience.)
The film has also been enthusiastically embraced by the educational and therapeutic communities; and it held in the libraries of The Kinsey Institute, The San Francisco Sex Information Hotline, The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and Planned Parenthood.
In July of 2000 I spent several weeks in Zimbabwe, mostly talking to children who had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Our driver and translator, Henry, was a tall, elegant and taciturn man in his mid 40s; and I could tell he was suspicious of us. It wasn’t the first time he had driven a foreign film crew around from one village to another, and he had grown cynical about people flying in with cameras offering to “help”.
Making films, even films about easy subject matter is hard work, and negativity is contageous. But more than that, when you parachute into other people’s problems, you’d have to be pretty oblivious to the dynamics not to be put in a reflective state of mind. It would be odd if you didn’t spend at least a little time thinking about your motives and agenda.
So I made it my mission to win Henry over. I figured if I could convince him, I might be able to convince myself. As we drove from one place to another I rode shotgun and Henry and I spent hours talking to each other, and between our conversations and his sitting in on numerous interviews, Henry came to trust me, and believe in what we were doing.
We spent our last day in Zimbabwe at Henry’s farm, about 2 hours outside Harare. Henry had built a house in the traditional village style, but larger, and with some modern touch. He was especially proud of the properly thatched roof, a craft that was slowing dying out in the face of modern materials.
He was also proud of his recently planted mango orchard. “Export mangos” he called them, and when the orchard matured, he was looking forward to the price they’d fetch from European buyers. Henry had already sunk two unsuccessful boreholes meant to keep his crop irrigated in the absence of rain, and was saving up to make a third try.
I returned home, and began editing what became “A Generation of Hope”.
When we finally hit PLAY to have our first, uninterrupted viewing, the producer and I held hands. We were excited and proud and humbled. At that moment it was the best thing I had ever made, and I don’t know that anything I’ve done since has exceeded it.
But I was also acutely aware that my film had been made out of other people’s misery. What a strange feeling, to want to shout from the roof top “Look what I made! Look what I did!” and then to think of the vast distance between the ease and surety of my life, and the desperation of the people in the film.
That was 10 years ago. I stayed in contact with Henry for a while, but our correspondence grew less frequent, and then ceased. Over last decade the news out of Zimbabwe has only gotten worse and worse. I don’t know what happened to Henry, or his orchard, or to any of the children in the film he helped me make.
I got my first W-2 back in 1985 when I worked for about nine weeks as a dishwasher in a deli in Ashland, OR.
I didn’t get another W-2 until 2003 when my wife and I incorporated our mini-media empire.
With that as background, perhaps you can understand why my back gets up when Google, or the MPAA, or any other private enterprise gets accused of “censorship” when in fact they are merely running their business as they think best. (Add to that the fact that in the course of making, promoting and distributing our films, we have encountered actual real-deal jack-booted state thugs censorship.)
I do, however, find myself frustrated by the combination of algorithms and user complaints that run places like YouTube.
We’re about to start a fundraising effort to submit our upcoming film BRETT AND MELANIE: BOI MEETS GIRL to the MPAA. Now doubt the “directors cut” would earn an NC-17, but I can ask the MPAA what I have to take out to get an R or a PG-13.
No such mechanism exists for YouTube, and it couldn’t. YouTube can only do what they do via mechanical processes. So the best you can do is see what’s on the site and use that as a guideline.
Of course it doesn’t take long for you to find out that some YouTube content providers are more equal than others, which isn’t surprising either. That’s the way the world works, and if you can’t make peace with that at some level, the years between now and death will pass slowly indeed.
But with the move to living our lives online, the boundaries between public spaces, spaces where we are citizen, and private spaces, spaces where we are consumers seem to be blurring.
So never mind art vs. porn. Let’s start talking about public vs. private in this brave new world we’re making.