Friday, November 13, 2015

Talking Sex Work with The Red Umbrella Diaries Producer Audacia Ray

It was a little over half a decade ago that I read at one of Audacia Ray’s intimate Red Umbrella Diaries events on the Lower East Side. Since then this sex worker storytelling series founder – whose resume also includes stints as a bodyworker, escort, and executive editor of $pread magazine – has become one of the foremost voices of sex work advocacy through her Red Umbrella Project (RedUP), harnessing the media to de-stigmatize the oldest profession in the world. Now, after waging battle against violence and for the public health of those in a long-marginalized industry, she’s executive produced The Red Umbrella Diaries – a feature based on a Joe’s Pub performance from some standout Diaries alums – that’s having its New York City premiere at DOC NYC.

So what’s the journey been like from the Happy Ending Lounge to here? Filmmaker spoke with Ray about her crusade to not just change the conversation around sex work – but to put it firmly back in the hands of working girls and boys (and trans-girls and trans-boys).

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Interactive Journey Through Solitary Confinement: “The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace”

It was back in 2013 that I first interviewed filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla for this site. At the time Bhalla was trying to spread the word about his debut feature doc “Herman’s House,” which told the harrowing tale of Herman Wallace – better known as one of the “Angola 3” inmates who’d spent four decades in solitary confinement – through the eyes of Jackie Sumell, a NYC artist. Sumell’s correspondence with Wallace had led to the creation of “The House That Herman Built,” an art installation that toured internationally and, in turn, led to Sumell’s quest to build Wallace’s dream house full-scale.

Though we never see Wallace in “Herman’s House,” his powerful voice – recorded from prison phone conversations – nevertheless serves as our guide. Now Bhalla has teamed up with veteran digital media producer Ted Biggs to create “The Deeper They Bury Me: A Call from Herman Wallace,” a stunning “interactive encounter” with Wallace (who died in October 2013, a few days after his release) and his caged world that takes place in the span of 20 minutes, the time allotted for a single prison call. I was fortunate enough to again speak with Bhalla about this latest activist endeavor, which – fortunate for you – is available to be experienced here for free online.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Criminalizing Kink in the UK: The 50 Shades Effect

Last month I reached out to LA-based expat Anna Span, an English porn producer (and one-time Liberal Democrat candidate) who awhile back, fought the UK’s ban on showing female ejaculation in porn—and won! I was anxious to hear her take on the recent crackdown on sadomasochistic practices in adult films, specifically whether “BDSM-themed art porn” is technically even legal in the UK nowadays.

To find out more visit The Rumpus.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

“Humor Is Always Butting Up Against Tragedy”: Sterlin Harjo on Mekko

Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13th, Sterlin Harjo’s latest narrative feature Mekko treads territory both familiar and new to this Oklahoma-based, Native American director. An ex-con-versus-thug thriller set in the world of Tulsa’s real-life Indian homeless community, the film stars Hollywood stuntman Rod Rondeaux and boasts an all-Native cast (many of whom are part of that aforementioned homeless community). Filmmaker caught up with Harjo prior to TIFF to talk about his fourth feature – as well as German Indian-philia, Herzog’s Stroszek, and Native humor.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Building Trust with the Gringo Mariachi: Aaron I. Naar on Mateo

The story of Matthew Stoneman, “America’s first gringo mariachi singer,” at first sounds more like fodder for the next Will Ferrell vehicle. But in the hands of IFP Doc Lab alum Aaron I. Naar this weirder-than-fiction tale transforms into something far deeper. After a prison stint led to the New Hampshire native’s education in both the Spanish language and Cuban music, the unassuming Stoneman turned his life not just around, but upside-down. With both patience and compassion Naar follows this truly remarkable artist with the voice of an angel as he battles his demons, and ultimately sacrifices everything to realize his magnum opus: a Buena Vista Social Club-level album recorded in Havana.

Filmmaker spoke with the first-time feature director prior to the doc’s L.A. theatrical release at Hollywood’s Arena Cinema on August 21st (to be followed by its iTunes debut on August 25th).

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

Revisiting Milgram and Zimbardo’s Human Behavior Experiments

Several years ago I happened upon a Rolling Stone magazine article that put forth a fascinating idea. It described a little known “experiment” done in the 80s just as the AIDS epidemic had begun its chokehold on the gay community. Gay Men’s Health Crisis and other likeminded organizations desperately needed money for research. However, unless the public was personally touched by the disease (at that time largely confined to homosexual men, Haitians and drug addicts – not a particularly influential lobbying contingent), resources were bound to go to more mainstream causes like cancer and heart disease, which personally affected the majority of donors. So the AIDS fundraisers did something ingenious, repositioning the disease in the public mind. Instead of stating the facts – that unless you were a gay man, an IV drug user or a blood transfusion recipient your chances of getting AIDS were slim to nil – they focused on the idea that “anyone” can get AIDS, from the littlest Ryan White to the oldest Arthur Ashe. AIDS doesn’t discriminate with regards to race, age, sex or sexual persuasion, which is technically true. If you’re a human being you can get AIDS, just like if you skydive you can get killed jumping from a plane. We’re all equal opportunity employees for death, but what this truth conveniently ignores is that most of us will not die skydiving because we don’t skydive – just like most people in the 80s were never going to get (nor know of anyone afflicted with) AIDS.

I thought of this marketing strategy as I revisited Alex Gibney’s 2006 documentary The Human Behavior Experiments, which explores how otherwise good, decent, law abiding citizens will do the unthinkable when guided by a strong authority figure, or not do the right thing when given “permission” by the presence of others reacting unconscionably.

To read the rest visit Hammer to Nail.