It’s time for Heretic TOC to turn film critic, as several new films of MAP interest have been brought to my attention recently. Well, I say critic, but it’s more a modest noticeboard function as most of the movies in question have not yet been released, or are not readily available with English sub-titles.
Among the latter is Daniels World (Danieluv svet), winner of the Audience Award at Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. There’s a trailer, but most of us will probably get a much clearer impression from a couple of other sites, including one with distribution details and a synopsis:
Daniel is a young man. Daniel is a student and a writer. Daniel is also a pedophile. He is in love and makes no secret of his sexual orientation; not even in front of the parents of his beloved boy. Daniel has never hurt any child. Neither have Jirka Fx100d, Tomáš Efix, Petr Kasz, MR_Xguard, Host, Simgiran, Silesia, Elrond or others from the community of Czech pedophiles. What is the way of the most intimate of feelings in Daniel’s and his friends’ heart? The film introduces the rises and falls of people living with paedophilia. It portrays Daniel and the community of Czech pedophiles. It narrates a story of a forbidden love and constant struggle to come to terms with oneself and the society.
The marketing information at the above site actually tells us English subtitles are supposed to be available but it doesn’t seem to have happened just yet: the title does not appear alphabetically in the distributor’s English-language catalogue.
Director Veronika Lišková has described the origins of the project and how it was handled. What I found particularly interesting and promising is Daniel’s total openness – a very brave choice for a young man in today’s world, even allowing for differences between Czech culture and that of the Anglophone world. What makes it slightly less difficult for him, or perhaps a lot less, is that he is committed to being what Lišková calls a “harmless paedophile” i.e. he is sexually non-active even though he is in love with a boy.
At least, this is what I picked up from the inevitably garbled (but much better than nothing) Google Translate version of a review that appeared on a Czech site. The shrewd-seeming review of this 75-minute documentary said Daniel’s World is “definitely a very important contribution to the public debate on this topic” albeit with serious limitations, notably as a result of Daniel being portrayed almost entirely in terms of his sexuality.
My chief anxiety, though, and doubtless that of other heretics here, would be somewhat different. The portrayal of paedophiles who present themselves as “harmless” all too easily becomes just propaganda for “virtuous” paedophilia – repressed, neutered, making no demands on society to end the current lunacy. The reviewer tells us, indeed, that Daniel’s doctor makes an appearance, giving his diagnosis on screen. That doesn’t sound good. But his “patient”, who is a literature student, has come out to all and sundry by writing his autobiography as well as appearing in this film. This encouragingly suggests a touch of Paedo Pride rather than the hand-wringing angst of those sad, shipwrecked souls who find themselves washed up on the desolate shores of Virtueland. He doesn’t seem like a beaten man to me, or a reflexive conformist. He is surely no mere CBT fodder. Let’s hope not anyway.
Ice-Cream Hands is a 10-minute short film made in 2002 but elusive to me for a long time. It didn’t come to my attention at all until about 2010. My name had been in the programme notes of the Brazilian University Film Festival, where the film had been screened in 2003. The notes said:
Experimental. Mr. Sprinkles. Single, 35 years. He loves ice cream … as well as little Jude, aged eight. An experimental narrative that relies heavily on the biographical work of Tom O’Carroll, a confessed “lover of children” in the UK.
As may be imagined, I was intrigued to know what this was all about, so I emailed Gavin Youngs, who had been listed as director. He replied, promising to post me a copy of the film, but somehow it never happened. I was prompted to try again this year when something jogged my memory. This time he came good, telling me I could see the film with the password 2002 on Vimeo. Ice-Cream Hands was the first film Youngs made at film school and he claims not to have watched it since. He now runs The Apiary, an independent company that produces films for clients in the creative industries. Commissions have included work for the Royal Australian Ballet and the National Gallery of Victoria.
One can understand that he might be keen to distance himself from such a controversial subject now that he has such prestigious connections in the art establishment of his native country, but he need not be modest about this first work, which was shown in 2004 at St Kilda Film Festival, Australia’s largest and oldest short film event, which is an Academy Award qualifying event; and much later it was featured in the Berlinale Talent Campus section of the 2011 Berlin Film Festival.
The absolute highlight of the festival for me was Ice-Cream Hands, a film about paedophilia. And it is an important film in that regard, asking brave questions such as “Is paedophilia per se, without any abuse, a bad thing?”, but it’s mainly a stunning film due to its form, style and sense of aesthetics. It gets far away from the dreaded naturalism that seems to dominate Australian cinema, and goes for an eclectic, excited combination of various stylised elements.
I’d say that’s one hell of a commendation, not least as he says he personally saw 70 of the 150 short films on show. Another reviewer, Rose Capp, also expressed enthusiasm:
Gavin Youngs’ Ice-Cream Hands… interrogates the idea of childhood innocence, tackling the topic of pedophilia in a courageous and original fashion. Minimal dialogue and an intentionally whimsical visual style mixing naive animation with stylised live action offer an appropriately disturbing take on the subject.
I think she’s a bit off target, especially with the near compulsory “disturbing” cliché, except that for me it definitely was disturbing in terms of sheer suspense. It may have been only 10 minutes long but I found it as gut-wrenchingly intense as any Hitchcock thriller.
Not that Ice-Cream Hands really had anything to do with my supposed “biographical work”, which turns out to have been a mistake in the Brazilian programme notes. Instead, the narrative is interspersed with short quotes flashed up briefly from my 1980 book Paedophilia: The Radical Case. Youngs assures me he was granted copyright permission for this by my publisher, Peter Owen Ltd, but no one from the firm ever bothered to tell me about it! I very much agree with the recent (1 November) comment by “Kit” on a Boy Chat thread that these quotes are a bit heavy-handed and overdone (they also wrongly make me look a bit of a VP but I’m not complaining), but otherwise my verdict is a big thumbs up for the film’s cinematic qualities and overall impression. Do let Heretic TOC know what you think.
As for Butterfly Kisses, it is a project I heard about around a year ago on the grapevine, possibly when Blue Shadows Films were undertaking research by contacting MAPs through Boy Chat and Girl Chat. Their website has now put up a brief notice for what I think may be intended as a full-length feature film due to come out next year:
This story is set right now in today’s world that is perhaps more broken, lonely and self destructive than ever. It focuses on the lives of three best friends. The protagonist, JAMIE (17) has realised he is not like the others but that he’s attracted to girls much younger than himself. He doesn’t want to feel this way. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t want to do anything wrong but is now facing a life of loneliness and abstinence or exile.
Like Daniel’s World, and indeed Ice-Cream Hands, this description suggests a focus on the familiar “virtuous” angle – it looks like being sympathetic rather than radical. But, hey, a new Lolita would be pushing it a bit in these times. Actually, come to think of it, Lolita the novel was widely held in the literary establishment to be a moralistic work that in effect denounced, rather than celebrated, paedophilia, even though author Vladimir Nabokov was, as we now know, a GL himself.
One interesting aspect of Blue Shadows is the sheer youthfulness of the team, although they do have a token boring-looking old suit among them on the financial side, which gives some reassurance they aren’t just a bunch of kids having fun. While it is true they are only just beginning to grow out of their shorts and into their full-lengths, their budgets for the latter now run to a pretty grown-up £7 million per title.
Then there is Passion Despair, which sounds very exciting – so much so, unfortunately, that I’m not sure it would be wise to download it in the UK, and I have not done so. Jed Jones, presumably the same Jed who now comments here, put up a webpage about it in 2012 which begins thus:
The film that’s banned everywhere! The truth they don’t want you to know: a whole studio of former child web models who say, loud and clear, with the full support of their families, WE ARE NOT VICTIMS.
Now, when Jed says “banned” he probably means the film is unable to be shown for public exhibition in cinemas and elsewhere because a certificate has been refused. That would be the usual interpretation. But as I understand it the film could still be legal, depending on the jurisdiction in question. It seems to have passed muster in Poland as it was premiered publicly there at the Gdansk Dokfilm Festival in 2011. Perhaps Jed will tell us more on this specific matter although I should add that his webpage gives all manner of interesting information about Passion Despair, which need not be repeated here.
I’ll just stick with a few key details. Passion Despair is a documentary by Swiss director Steff Gruber. It features his fellow countryman Daniel Leuenberger (yes, another Daniel and another Daniel’s world: very confusing). This Daniel is a photographer working in Moldova who specialises in photographing girls aged between 9 and 14. Gruber met him there while working on another project.
Now for another documentary I first heard about only yesterday on Sexnet although it came out in 2012. It is from Austria and is called Outing. It has enjoyed a few outings itself, at festivals in Switzerland and Iceland in its first year, and very recently, this September, in Norway at Skeive Filmer: Oslo Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
Whereas Daniel in Daniel’s World manages to be totally open with everyone about his paedophilic feelings, the focus in Outing is on Sven, whose situation is surely much more usual. He has spent his entire adult life with secrets that isolate him psychologically if not socially: there are people in his life, but he cannot share his inner life with them. Sven, we are told, is creative, reflective and was willing to talk honestly. That is why, after approaching a group set up for paedophiles in Germany who were seeking support in living within the law, Sven emerged as the “star” attraction for the filmmakers, who appear to have done a thorough job: they filmed, at intervals, over a four-year period, enabling them to see how Sven’s life developed.
One learns all this from an interview with filmmakers Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider at the website of the Austrian Film Commission. There is also a trailer on YouTube which, I have to say, goes out of its way to be not only bleak but also boring: it’s as though the makers feel obliged to depress and alienate their audience in order to show they are serious.
I doubt that this pair took the same dreary approach with a (sort of) incest-based drama they had done earlier, though, called Still Life (Stilleben). The synopsis on IMDB has this:
A father pays prostitutes to play the role of his own daughter. The shocking revelation concerning his long-secret obsession tears up the family’s delicate fabric. The son blames himself, and he resolves to find out whether his father ever acted on his fantasies, while his sister wants to sort out her memories on her own. Despite her uncertainties, their mother’s reaction leaves no question as to what she thinks. The father ultimately has to find a way of coping with his shame and feelings of guilt.
Still Life may or may not be straightforwardly a “sexploitation” movie but the final title on Heretic TOC’s list for today is a drama we will probably find neither boring nor exploitative though it may be controversial. This is Force Majeure, and the great joy is that unlike all the obscure stuff above, most of us should soon be able to see this in the cinemas or buy it for home viewing.
Perhaps that is because it is about manhood, not paedophilia, although the gender issues engaged should be of interest to more than one sort of heretic here. I heard about Force Majeure in the New York Review of Books last month.
It’s all about the emotional and moral fallout from an incident on a Swedish family’s holiday in a French ski resort. When an avalanche threatens to engulf their hotel, the father panics and runs for it, leaving his family to their fate. Nobody in the end dies, but how can the family live with dad after that? Isn’t the senior male supposed to be the brave protector, after all? Or is that out of date in these gender bending times?
There is no way this can fail to be a compelling theme, although I do somewhat suspect it is all part of a feminist plot (though the director is a man) to undermine not just macho culture but masculinity itself, and all trace of why men need to take pride in what their manhood can contribute to a family other than sperm. I am reminded of the wonderful book The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, which challenged the belief that patriarchal societies make rules to benefit men at the expense of women. He argued that men are in reality the expendable sex, often called upon to sacrifice themselves for women and children in a whole range of ways, from defending home and hearth in warfare to being last into the lifeboats when the ship is going down.
And speaking of ships going down, I am reminded of a salty saga of yesteryear that presented a masculinity-affirming take on dereliction of duty and its aftermath. Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim is more than a century old now. It is the story of a mariner who spends a lifetime dogged by guilt over abandoning an endangered ship and its passengers. His years of atonement see his courage permanently on trial and not again found wanting. His story is not, in the end, an exposure of “manliness” as fraudulent, but a stirring affirmation of manhood and its responsibilities.
Anyway, I hope there is something here that will be of interest. This selection is just a ragbag of heretical, or heresy-relevant, films that have come my way. I don’t even bother to follow the mainstream film reviews these days so it is possible I may have missed a lot of important stuff. If so, do let me know, or better still submit a review of one or more films that could be used as a guest blog for Heretic TOC.