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Skinny Dipping for the Environment


9 Minute Read

Annie Sprinkle, a golden era porn star cum environmental activist, and her partner, Beth Stephens, a queer artist/activist, and professor, have always been all about sex, sharing their enthusiasm publically. Now, as ecosexuals, they’re skinny dipping for the environment. Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure that they directed and produced, is a documentary about water which conveys its message through the ecosexual gaze. Together, Sprinkle and Stephens, with their art, are shifting the metaphor “Earth as Mother” to “Earth as Lover.” They’ve married the Earth, Sky, Sea, Moon, Appalachian Mountains, the Sun, and other non-human entities in nine different countries. Experiencing nature (human and non-human) as sensual and erotic, they aim to make the conservation movement sexy, pleasurable, and diverse. Their partnership reflects a merging of concerns about the environment, broadening definitions of sexuality, and an expansion of radical feminist art.

From tree hugging to dirty sex—orgasmic mud baths for example—the ecosexual approach to battling climate change is more fun and maybe even more effective than mainstream, dry-mouthed techniques. Sprinkle and Stephens, the co-creators of the ecosexual movement, which teaches that humans aren’t separate from, but are part of nature, use ecosexuality as a platform for environmental discourse. “Ecosexuality is a new sexual identity, an environmental activist strategy, and an expanded concept of what sex is (and can be) in our culture. . . . What most ecosexuals have in common is a love, passion, and interest in the well-being of the Earth, and they find “nature” sensually pleasurable… .” Today they estimate 12,000 to 50,000 people identify as ecosexuals. The relationship between Annie and Beth, playful and sexual throughout, provides the medium to appreciate the erotic interplay between humans and nature embraced by ecosexuality. Their sensuality thrives in the watery milieus of Water Makes Us Wet.

The subject matter of the film is significant, yet there’s plenty of opportunities to smile and even laugh. Social issues are presented in a playful, performative and humorous way. Sprinkle and Stephens, are free spirits, which also characterizes the ecosexual movement. Working collaboratively with E.A.R.T.H. Lab, a nomadic institute situated in the University of Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arts Division with a mission to create new forms of environmental art, conduct research, develop theory, and produce happenings, Stephens, Sprinkle and their dog, Butch, embark on a performance art journey in their “E.A.R.T.H. Lab mobile Unit” around California, investigating the pleasures and politics of water. As viewers, we’re taken along for the ride. Sprinkle, about to turn 65 and be a full-on senior citizen, and Stephens, 58, in keeping with their past, briefly appear naked in the film, feeling that it was important to be naked older women countering a taboo.

Boston Performance, Calderwood Pavilion, November 13, 2009
Boston Performance, Calderwood Pavilion, November 13, 2009

This documentary is part of their film trilogy to raise awareness about the environment. In Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story (GGM) (distributed by Kino Lorber), they raise performance art hell in West Virginia to help save the region from mountaintop removal destruction, which climaxes with their wedding to the Appalachian Mountains.

A porn actress and pleasure activist in the 1970s and 1980s, Annie Sprinkle was a key player in the sex-positive feminist movement, her art projects a vehicle for promoting sex education and equal rights. Now, an ecosexual, she’s enlarged the scope of her efforts, approaching her mission with the enthusiasm with which she embraced her life as a porn star and pleasure activist. “My work is still very much about sex, and I’ve done work about sex for almost five decades. Just that now my ecosexuality and love for the Earth comes into play.”

Beth Stephens, her partner, and collaborator for eighteen years, realized her connection to nature growing up in West Virginia, spitting distance from Gauley Mountain. An interdisciplinary artist and activist, she’s explored themes of sexuality, gender, queerness, and feminism through art since the eighties. Currently, a professor, Chair of the UCSC Art Department, and founding director of the E.A.R.T.H. Lab, Stephens’ visual art, performance pieces, and films, have been shown extensively, nationally and internationally.

Initially, I didn’t take ecosexuality seriously, but I’ve learned it can be very serious and may be a surprisingly successful conduit to express crucial messages about the natural world. The environmental ethic suggests that survival requires a mutual relationship of respect and care between humans and the Earth. Who can argue with that? (See Sexecology.org)

“Why water?” I asked.

Living in California after their wedding to the Earth, the state was experiencing a severe drought.

“So not having water, being on water restrictions, and reading about places where over 100,000 people don’t have good drinking water, like the central valley in California, we got worried. We just love water. Plus we depend upon it for life.”

To some extent, the water problems of California provide a paradigm for water crises occurring elsewhere in the United States and globally. The U.S. is technically water-rich; however our usage is outpacing our resources. For the past few years, the effects of serious drought have been extensive throughout the west—not just in California.

In 2016, when Sprinkle and Stephens set out on their road trip, the reservoirs, rivers, and aquifers in California had dried up. Narrated by the Earth, Water Makes Us Wet is informative, funny and engaging—and focal.

What started their quest? The drought was a factor, but it was a clogged toilet at home that made them ask, “Where does it all go?”, leading to their investigation into what happens to San Francisco’s wastewater. The education they received was the impetus for their journey. Blending the scientific with the spiritual, their exploration into the ways of water include visits to research labs and field stations, conversations with a wildlife biologist and a Director of Public Works, and meetings with others of a more spiritual bend.

At Big Sur they swam in the perennial stream, Big Creek. “When you spend a lot of time in nature you don’t need to know the name of the thing,” their biologist guide, said. “You just need to know its place in the environment, stop talking all the time, see where your mind goes”—an ecosexual message.

A visit to Annie’s family home and pool where they stop to swim provides the opportunity to share details about the water burden associated with pools. Annie gave her first blow job in this pool which is why she picked the name Sprinkle when she got into the sex industry—she loved it wet. Here, Annie and Beth cavort naked talking about water magic, against the backdrop of information about the burden of the more than 1.2 million residential pools in California, 250,000 in Los Angeles County. Thirty-thousand gallons are required to fill most pools: California water usage varies according to the socioeconomics of a region. For example, the daily average for residents of Compton—a community with few pools and below average median incomes—is 106 gallons, compared with Beverly Hills where residents average 284 gallons.

Informational screenshots about the ocean are sobering, letting us know the consequences of greenhouse gases on ocean waters, and that between 1970 and 2012 there’s been almost a 50 percent decline in marine life populations. Poignant and humorous images, such as their communication with elephant seals, capture the sexuality omnipresent in nature.

In the mountains east of Los Angeles, Stephens and Sprinkle learn how Nestle is mining water off the mountain, depleting the water supply, endangering more than half a dozen animal species, and creating a shortage for people living there.

Annie succumbs to eating a Big Mac that she says, “is more embarrassing than making porn,” which never embarrassed her. This moment, the film’s editor, Keith Wilson feels, reflects the complicated relationship many have to water and consumerism, to food and humor, and our ability to handle and juggle that complexity. Annie’s downfall provides the opportunity to explore the relationship between water and beef, resulting in a trip to stockyards: 1799 gallons of water are needed to make one pound of beef in California. California Feedlots

One of the last places visited is Lake Tenaya, where Annie’s dad had wanted his ashes sprinkled. Tenaya is an alpine lake in Yosemite National Park, and problems associated with high visitor use have been increasing, information that would have been good to include. This is one of the scenes which best reflects the sensuality of their relationship with nature, and an understanding of ecosexuality.

The interplay of the sexual with the ecological, the personal and the informational, the mixing of levity with significance, is successful. At the end of the film Annie and Beth “crash” the San Francisco Pride Parade, add an “E” to GLBTQI, reflecting the integration of sexuality and ecology, and the connection to their earlier lives.

To respect, love and be kind to the environment, to realize that we are part of a beautiful ecological cycle and every move counts—are ecosexual messages delivered by Sprinkle and Stephens, by the experts they meet, and the photography which reinforces the magical dynamics of nature. Screenshots of facts are effective, as are visuals such as endless shelves of bottled water and the stockyards. However, depending on the target audience, moments such as the baptism of a childhood friend, Beth learning how to use a netipot, or the extent of time spent at the San Francisco parade, were distracting.

Keith Wilson, who’d edited Goodbye Gauley Mountain, also edited Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, with assistance from Jordan Freeman, Sprinkle and Stephens. Wilson was the cinematographer for most scenes and arranged a number of interviews. The second camera was managed by Jordan Freeman, who also did the aerial shots. Footage of Big Creek, Sagehen, and Yosemite was shot by Seth Temple Andrews. Water Makes Us Wet, distributed by Juno Films (junofilms.com), runs 80 minutes, premiered in documenta 14, and was shown in New York City at several venues, including the Museum of Modern Art. It is being shown at the British Film Institute in London, March 23 at 8pm.

What’s next for Stephens and Sprinkle? In spite of their ages, they aren’t slowing down. “As the Earth is our love, we are in an intergenerational relationship with the Earth. We are just a few decades old. The Earth is millions of years old. We are very young by these standards.”

And, they are completing a book, Assuming the Ecosexual Position, University of Minnesota Press, chronicling their ongoing art collaboration and exploring their ecosexual work, combining sex and gender activism with environmental activism. To quote Annie, “We expect the book to make a big splash in the academic world.”

Water Makes Us Wet | BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2019

AofA People: Michele Kirsch – Writer, Cook


14 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, 57, is a brilliantly witty writer and cook. She used to be a cleaner. She’s a regular AoA contributor. NME, City Limits, and Men’s Health were all lucky recipients of her work. Her first book Clean – one woman’s story of addiction, recovery and cleaning – is out on March 7th. Buy it here,

What is your age?

I am 57, turning 58 in April.

Where do you live? 

I live in Hoxton. I am the Accidental Hipster. I live in a Tower Block and none of us talk to each other but we nod in familiar, ‘You’re not a ruffian on the stairwell’ sort of way. We have many ruffians on the stairs. It is a warmer place to do drugs than outside.

What do you do?

At the moment I am working for a charity that supports people living with the effects of brain injury. I support people in getting kitchen confidence skills back, or learning how to cook. It doesn’t feel like proper work. A lot of it is just hanging out and having chats with people who, outside this setting, are treated as ‘other’. In our place, we just shoot the breeze, cook, play music, play games, hang. It’s brilliant. I never want another job. Except I sort of have another job. I’ve written a book and I still write. The book is a memoir, out on 7th March, It is called Clean and available from the proper WH Smiths, the ones on the train stations. As well as other bookshops and Amazon. Some people thing it might be big. That would be great. But I am OK with just doing the job I have now. I am glad I have written and published a book that is going to be in proper shops.

Tell us what is it like being your age?

I am happier now than I have ever been, probably. I had a drug problem for a long time and I am free of that, now. I didn’t get on with my children for a long time and we get on very well right now. Physically, I am very well though I feel I may have messed up my stomach with the long term drug and alcohol use. Though I had stomach problems always. I love my job, I have a good roof over my head in a great neighborhood, I see my grown-up children as often as we can as we all work, and I have a good relationship with their dad, my ex. I guess the one difficulty is that I only get to see my mum and sister, who live in NY, about once a year. My life feels contained and structured, in a good way. Recovery is the gift that keeps on giving. I don’t mind the physical effects of getting old nearly as much as I used to. I still love Topshop and Miss Selfridge. I am absolutely working the mutton dressed as lamb thing and I don’t give a hoot. If the book does well, I suppose I can dress up as more expensive lamb.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Oh my gosh, where to begin? Mainly I live in a country and city I LOVE. I grew up between Liverpool and New York but always felt pulled to London. To live here is an honour, a dream. I have a job I love. At 25 I was starting out as a journalist and making very bad money and I was never getting the great stories anyway. I had no confidence in my ability as a writer. I also thought I was passable in the looks department, but never actually pretty.

These days I have pretty moments or pretty days. It comes from inside, nothing to do with men. I have two wonderful, street smart, loving grown-up children, a huge amount of very good friends, a lovely ex-husband. I also have a sense of purpose, which comes with my job. I can make peoples’ lives more bearable. And I’ve written a book, which some people may find that they can relate to, on some level. I also have, as well as all my new friends, all my old friends. I am a stickler for keeping in touch. I love the internet for that. It makes it much easier. I have freedom from my addiction. That is my number one gift.  57 has probably been my greatest year, in terms of contentment.

What about sex?

I find at my age my appetite for it has diminished but not disappeared. Having said that, I still get the horn if I see a Paul Newman film, or Betty Blue. In real life, I have a boyfriend, and though it’s slightly complicated at the moment, I would say we are well matched and all will be well. We tend to be in the same mood at the same time, which is a bonus.

I have this notion of myself of being rather plain when I was younger, but I always had boyfriends or husbands (two) or men after me. I have no idea where this idea came from, that I was not fanciable. I was a very late developer. I did not start my menstruation until I was 16. Then it all kicked off. I also had the luck to be in love with my very first lover, when I was nearly 18. It was mutual. He loved me too. We are still friends.

One thing that has always been the case is that I feel ridiculous when I try to ‘look sexy’. It never works and I always burst out laughing. I can barely put stockings on, I don’t understand the little clippy things at the top, and I still put a bra on with the back facing the front so I can see myself doing it up. I used to have good rack, but after children and a pretty druggy career, my curves diminished, so bras don’t really do anything for me either.

My bed is never sexy. It is covered in books and newspapers and the cat and cat hair. I’m a mess. My sheets are mismatched and I fall asleep most nights listening to old comedy shows on the radio. The only thing that looks right in my bed is my hair, because I have permanent bed hair. I don’t have to buy a product to make it that way. It’s just like that. Oh, I will say this! I do have an erogenous zone I never knew about until recently. I have an unusually long neck and I like people stroking it. This man at work, he’s, you know, brain damaged and has no impulse control, he stroked my neck and I had to firmly pull away and tell him that it was not OK to do that, in a nice way of course. But I have to say, it felt really nice. That’s a shocking thing to say, but, a brain-damaged guy stroked my neck and I liked it. Doesn’t really scan so there won’t be a song….

Relationships?

I have many, many very good friends, some for 30 or 40 years, in America and over here. My relationship with my boyfriend is a separate thing. I do not have sexual relations with people unless I am married to them or they (he) is my boyfriend, or I think I am in love with them.  Serial monogamy is what I do. Though I had some short-lived obsession in my early 20s. That drove me crazy. Everything now feels so much easier. I LOVE Facebook and I’ve made many virtual friends as well as all my real life ones. The relationships I value most are with my family, children and best friends.

How free do you feel?

Obviously, I have commitments, my job, my children, my bills, my relationships, my recovery (first and foremost) but paradoxically the more I do, the free-er I feel. Unfortunately, I am still plagued with worry and anxiety, these are long-standing issues, but I have come to accept they are part of me and just try to ride the waves of panic. It’s not always a heap of fun. I find travel …. hard. But most of my friends know this about me and know if I don’t go somewhere I am not being antisocial, just a bit agoraphobic. I have never found anything- meditation, yoga, exercise, chanting, whatever, that works totally, but I did have a short course of hypnosis, which helped a bit.

What are you proud of? 

I am proud of my children. I am proud of my job, which is the best job I ever had. I am proud that I wrote a book that might make waves, somehow. It might help people who have been through a similar situation – feel less alone. I try not to be too proud, as I absolutely believe pride comes before a fall.

What keeps you inspired?

I find inspiration in so many things. I am proper nosy and I love to listen in to other people’s conversations on public transport. Whole little dramas unfold. I can’t wait to get somewhere to write it down. I love little alleyways and cobblestone streets. There are loads of alleys in Liverpool and lots around Hoxton where I live so I love to just wonder down one and wind up somewhere I’ve not seen.

Music always inspires me. I play all my old records all the time, and music can transport me back to a certain time and place in my youth more than anything else.  I dance all the time, anywhere. I have no shame. My sponsor inspires me in her recovery. She has gone on to do remarkable things after a very long period of drug-induced crazy times. She is so loving and caring and inspirational. I can’t tell you who she is but I think she will be famous in the thing that she does, professionally.

I am also inspired by couples who have been couples for a really long time. Just because very long lasting love didn’t happen to me, though I was with my second husband for nearly 20 years, most of them pretty good, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I am also religious, and I find inspiration in Bible stories. I did something quite unusual several years ago, which was a formal conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It’s a long story, but actually there are many similarities in the two faiths, as I understand them, though they end differently. I do pray, but I don’t pray for obvious things like success or money or to win something. And I don’t pray for big, worldly things like world peace and a reversal of climate change. I can’t tell you what I pray for, it’s personal, but it’s important to me and it is an inspiration. The Big Book we use in recovery is inspirational to me as well.

When are you happiest?

Without a doubt, I am happiest when I am dancing. I don’t get out dancing enough. I used to go to a soul night with my girlfriends and dance all night. Not even on anything. At work, I have music on in the kitchen, where a few of us make lunch together. People get very excited about lunch where I work. It is the dividing time between morning and afternoon. And people are really into their food. They love it.

I’m am OK cook, not a great cook by any means, but when the music is on and we are, say, all dancing to ‘Monkey Man’ ( I LOVE Ska!) I am just so happy and thinking, I can’t believe I am at work, dancing and cooking and getting paid for it. I cook with this one guy who absolutely goes nuts when he hears Justin Bieber. I am not even a fan, but when this guy goes so crazy when Bieber comes on, I go crazy with him, and we dance and do the bad boy rap gun hands and all that silliness. I am extremely happy then.

I also love walking home from work. And if I am feeling low, I take myself down to the Thames and stand on London Bridge and remind myself that I live here. I live in this fantastic city. People save up all year to spend a few days in London. I LIVE here and I LOVE it. I am also happiest just hanging with my kids. They are great, really grounded and good people.

Where does your creativity go?

I like to think some of it goes into my cooking that I do at the centre, but I have had mixed reviews. I am the skinny chef you are not supposed to trust. My creativity goes into my writing. I write all the time, even if it just little entries on Facebook, I am always writing.

What is your philosophy of living?

Tricky. Though I am religious, I would not say I was particularly spiritual. Many people think the two go hand and hand, or you can be spiritual without having the structure of religion. My philosophy of living is to do no harm, and to try to be kind and considerate. Don’t shout, except for joy. Be patient. I have waited all my life to be patient (see what I did there) and it is finally starting to sink in.

Working where I do, you HAVE to be patient. Chose your battles, and when possible, chose not to have battles. Be generous with time as well as material things, or only with time if you have few material things. Don’t preach. Don’t complain about minor ailments, though I did this all the time until I started working with people living with brain damage. It’s a real wake up call. Be grateful, every morning – think of at least five or ten things you are grateful for. This is not original, it comes from working my recovery programme, but it’s a good way to live. Be kind to your friends and animals, always. Be kind to strangers, unless they are unkind to you. Then you can tell ‘em to fuck off. Keep your body in good nick as much as you can. If you can exercise, exercise. Get fresh air every day.

And Dying?

I have had more than my fair share of death in my life, compared to other people I know. Death has punctuated and punctured my life at various points. I would like to die when I am old, and after a brief illness. I hope whatever takes me out doesn’t take too long. I don’t really have a fixed notion of an afterlife, but I do secretly (well not so secretly as I am saying it here) I hope that  after the body dies, we are somehow reunited with the dead people we have loved and lost. I don’t know how I would find them. There are a gazillion dead people. I hope they have a sort of filing system and index cards. There are definitely people I want to see again. But I don’t like the idea of an eternal afterlife. That idea horrifies me.

Are you still dreaming?

I am not sure what you mean. If you mean if I have big dreams for my life, not really, no, I am amazed I get to be this happy, right now. I would be happy to feel this happy for the rest of my life. I guess I can choose this, I can chose to be happy. At night I have strange, psychedelic dreams but I don’t talk about them as nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams. I used to love it when my kids told me their nightmares. They were damp with sweat, I remember the little wriggling bodies, the recounting of the story, a glass of water, a cuddle, ‘til they drifted off back to sleep.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I chased a swan all along the Thames embankment. I know the swan could have turned on me, they are angry birds, but the tide was out and the swan was pretty tame, as swans go. My friend and I went there to look for treasure, but she wound up getting all eco and picking up garbage, and I chased this poor swan around. I said to my friend, ‘See, this is a fundamental difference between you and I. You see a discarded bottle and pick it up to put it in the bin. I play silly buggers with a swan.’ The other tiny act of outrage I always commit around Easter is when all those little gold chocolate bunnies are facing one way on the display in a shop, I take one and put it facing the other way around. I have to do this. It is a compulsion. I am really not very outrageous. A bit mischievous, but not outrageous.

The Culture Interview – Laura Benson, lead actress in the award-winning and challenging new film Touch Me Not.


9 Minute Read

Laura Benson is a British actress based in Paris – she was in Dangerous Liaisons – who plays a lead role in the controversial and challenging new film Touch Me Not (which also features Seani Love, a sex worker who appeared in the AofA Tantra Hot Tub Salon which was FB Live). Touch Me Not follows three characters, one of which is called Laura, a 50 something woman, who is in out of touch with her sexuality and takes some radical steps to address this situation. The film coasts a fluid line between reality and fiction. It won the Golden Bear earlier in the year in Berlin and is the London Film Festival on Oct 16 and 17th plus a special screening at the ICA on Oct 23rd.

How were you cast in Touch Me Not?

Through a casting agent, who works with the French co-producer. They were casting in several countries. I was asked to send something that I had shot recently. The film I had just done wasn’t out yet and I didn’t have anything recent in stock. So they sent me five pages about the subject of the film and I was asked to do an exercise: a video diary for my lover. I thought about it for a week and then did it and sent it, like a bottle in the ocean. The next week I was asked if I could go to Bucharest to meet the director. I obviously agreed. We had a four-hour meeting. I had understood what she wanted from this meeting.  It wasn’t going to be a chit-chat… she wanted to feel who was in front of her and what I was made of.  So my challenge was to go and not contain myself and be as free as possible.

What were your initial thoughts about playing this character, Laura who has difficulty with sex and intimacy?

What I had read gave little insight into her feelings and her struggle.  She seemed cold and terribly cut of from herself…  dead in a way.  I didn’t know how I was going to bring her to life.

Were you excited by the original script in that you were playing a woman in her 50s who is the main character in this revealing/naked about vulnerability way? It’s unusual to get this opportunity, isn’t it?

I would say that what is unusual is to have a lovely part to explore (which has nothing to do with the age) and to work with an inspiring director that you get on with and understand in a way as well as on a project you like. All those ingredients are not always present all at once!  I never actually considered that I had the main character and her vulnerability appeared during the process.  I didn’t know before we started working that this would emerge.  And yes yes, it was a lovely opportunity, which came out of the blue! I feel very lucky. I think that Laura could be 40, 45, 50, 55…

Obviously, it was a wonderful opportunity to have an interesting important part to play, considering that most important characters in film are under-45! A casting agent friend of mine told me that in France when they suggest actors over 50, the producers and TV say ‘no, menopaused’! But I do more theatre than film, and a female actor’s age doesn’t have the same significance on stage, because there aren’t close-ups — the body and how you move and your energy are more important than the reality of your age. I’ve seen some Comedia dell Arte where the character is 20 and the actor behind the mask 80. So to answer your question, I didn’t realize really how lucky I was.

What were you challenged by in the process as an actress where it sounds like you had to get in touch with your own vulnerabilities?

For me, the challenge wasn’t as much about being in touch with my vulnerabilities than it was about dealing with my fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and my doubts.

And how did the improvisation go? Do you enjoy this way of working?

The script was just a starting point, like a trampoline that we could bounce off.  A kind of skeleton, if you like. It acted as a kind of safety net. There was very little dialogue.  A great deal of the material, the nature of the interaction, came from what was happening on set and how it was happening. Doing a scene when you have no idea where it is going to go, and more to the point – if it is going to go anywhere at all can be very uncomfortable. I would say that ‘exploring a situation’ rather than ‘acting a prewritten scène’ is a lovely way of working when you have a director that you can understand (and can understand you) and with whom you share the same vocabulary. There is a certain amount of preparation needed in that kind of approach. Adina has her way of working that takes you into a profound process, so you’re not lost and you are pretty charged. What was nice about the relationship on set, was that she was as worried and excited as us.  So we all worked together (technicians included because for the camera and sound people, it wasn’t easy either) to do the best we could. The work was about being in the present moment, being spontaneous and authentic.

What did you discover personally?

I discovered how little I knew! How much there is to experiment with!  I think the most surprising thing I discovered was when I was filming myself on a day off.  It was a way of staying involved in the process and not losing touch with the film.  It was something that spontaneously came to me when I woke up that morning. I put my body in the window frame (the window was very big) and I pushed and pushed against the structure. The architecture became my prison.  And since I had voluntarily put myself in that space – that I wasn’t a victim – my frustration and anger transformed into pleasure. Close to a sexual pleasure. It was very empowering.  When Seani Love talks about ‘conscious kink changing the world’, I understand how some sexual activities can release and transform very powerful negative energies. And that changed my outlook on BDSM.

What kind of dialogue about sex and intimacy was going on between you and the director, Adina Pintilie? This is also included in the film?

We spoke about many many things; I don’t remember it being focused on sex.  But the conversations, when we weren’t talking about work, were generally intimate I think they contributed to creating a particular dynamic based on trust.

Did it make a difference having a female director?

I have often worked with women.  Doing this film with a man would no doubt have been very different…  but how, I cannot exactly say.

Do you think it is valid not to explore why the character Laura has ended up with such difficulty in her sex and intimacy life? Anger with her father is intimated but not explored.

I think that Adina is more interested in looking at someone’s attempt and struggle to change than explaining where the problem comes from.  As far as I am concerned, we don’t need to know where Laura’s problem comes from – what is important is that she can move towards going beyond it.  A young couple at a film festival said that it was the only ‘positive’ and ‘uplifting’ film they had seen in the film festival.

What was your interaction with Seani Love like? He was in our AoA FB Live Hot Tub event on Tantra, we loved him. He’s playing himself in the film? A sex worker, who deals with intimacy issues.

Seani’s work is really interesting and I would say that the interaction we had is what you see in the film. We didn’t meet and talk before, my only interaction with him is when we were on set filming. I didn’t even see his face before he came into my sitting room!

Were there moments when you had to say ‘No’ to the director?

No.  Adina was very respectful of limits even though wanting everything!  She never – or rarely – asked for anything precise. So the limits were where you yourself put them. I asked her at the beginning of the film, when we were preparing the escort scenes : ‘Are you expecting me to sleep with them?’ She said: ‘you do what you want’.  Things were generally not decided before.  It was more organic than that.

The film’s reviews have been very mixed, I read the Guardian one by Peter Bradshaw and laughed. I wondered if this is because these reviewers have difficulty themselves with intimacy issues?

I think the reactions correspond to the anger someone can feel when they are going out to have fun and escape reality, then find out that someone is forcing them to have a therapy session and that they weren’t asked if they wanted, let alone warned that they were going to have one (whether they like it or not).

What kind of conversations has come out of it for you?

People have shared some lovely things.  One young man said that he spent his first night with his girlfriend just after they had both seen the film and that it totally changed his way of relating with her and changed both of their approaches to their intimacy. I am surprised because a lot of people have thanked me and given me hugs. I recently spoke to a woman who said she was happy to meet me because she had been worried about me during the film. I think it is a film that is a relief for a lot of people who have suffered feelings of inadequacy. In Kiev, a young woman had been thrown out of a café three weeks earlier because she suffered from cerebral palsy.  She was so pleased to see the film. It gave her courage and hope.

What did you enjoy about making this kind of film? And the responses?

I enjoyed the complicity with Adina, the challenge and adventure and am relieved that I managed to overcome any fears and doubts, or at least deal with them. I am pleased to have managed to be spontaneous. So I guess that I have grown up a bit!

AofA Interview with Nuala OSullivan: Women over 50 Film Festival


12 Minute Read

Could you tell us about WOFFF and why you created it?

Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) champions and showcases the work of older women on screen and behind the camera with an annual short film festival and year-round events and film screenings.

Our next festival, WOFFF18, is 20 – 23 September at Picturehouse Duke of York’s, Brighton and Depot, Lewes. We’ll be screening two feature films, 58 short films, as well as hosting workshops, panel events, talks, filmmaker Q&As and an evening banquet for festival audiences, filmmakers and guests.

WOFFF addresses the ageism and sexism many women face in the film industry and in so many other walks of life. We screen films celebrating older women on both sides of the camera. We believe inclusive spaces to watch films together and conversations between generations of women can help make older and younger women feel less isolated and feel more connected to each other and to their surroundings and communities.

I’d been a writer and producer (mainly for radio and theatre) for a number of years when I wrote and produced a short film, Microscope, about a middle-aged woman examining her life and marriage, when I was in my early 50s myself.

With my producer’s hat on I started going to short film festivals to see where I thought the film might fit. At the film festivals, I found I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me on the screen and, after screenings, amongst the people in the bar afterward talking about the films we’d just watched, I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me either. I found I was often the oldest person in the room, and usually the oldest women. Not many people talked to me; I felt pretty much on my own; like people weren’t really seeing me; I felt lonely and isolated – which is the exact opposite of how I expected to feel in a roomful of people who had the same interest and passion in storytelling and film as me.

It got me thinking about questions like: Who’s not in the room? Who’s not running film festivals? Who’s not behind the camera? Who’s not on the screen? Then, over a pint in the Marlborough Pub in Brighton one night, I was talking to my pal, Maggi, about how I was feeling about my film and film festivals, and Maggi said, ‘Well, bugger that! Let’s just start our own film festival.”

The word I’d like to highlight from that story from back in 2014, with the knowledge I have now, is “just”!

How are you personally connected to the film industry?

My background is mostly in writing and producing. I worked for the BBC World Service for many years and created, wrote and produced an online soap opera to help people learn English. So I think story telling’s in my blood! And my days as a producer certainly helped me in creating and setting up WOFFF. I’m connected to the film industry now as a programmer and screener of films but before I started WOFFF I didn’t have any particular connection except that I’d always loved films and I’d always loved cinema. Still do.

I see Greta Scacchi is a supporter – how did that happen?

Greta grew up in Sussex and WOFFF is based in Brighton and Lewes so there’s a local connection there. Greta has been a WOFFF champion for a number of years. She said recently, “I’m proud to have been an early supporter of the Women Over Fifty Film Festival before the subject of women in the film industry became such a huge public issue. WOFFF has always been ahead of the curve in its celebration of the unique voice of older women in film and I am delighted to continue supporting the work of such a great festival.”

I think movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo have brought issues like sexism and ageism to the fore in the film industry and it’s great that see stars like Greta and Joely Richardson, Amanda Donohoe and Denise Welch all pledging their support for WOFFF.

And if you’re looking for a bit of star attraction at this year’s festival, we’ve got a great line up – stars of Downton’s Kevin Doyle (downstairs Joseph Molesley) in READY TO GO by Lynda Reiss and Samantha Bond (upstairs Lady Rosamund) in LADY M by Tammy Riley-Smith. You can also see Jane Asher in THE VISITOR by Duncan Roe; Sara Stewart in ROMY by Ornella Hawthorn Gardez;

Lynn Cohen in ARTEMIS & THE ASTRONAUT by A. L. Lee and Rhea Perlman in THE MATCHMAKER by Leonora Pitts.

You celebrate older women on both sides of the camera – how do you make sure both are covered?

We make sure both sides of the camera are covered by asking filmmakers to follow this one simple rule that we’ve had in place since Women Over 50 Film Festival launched in 2015 – every film we screen has to have a woman over 50 at the heart of the piece on screen or a woman over 50 behind the camera in one of the core creative roles (writer, director or producer).

The beauty of that rule is that it makes WOFFF a really open and accessible festival because everyone’s welcome – older women and everyone else too. A 17-year-old boy can make a documentary about his 57-year-old grandma and that film is welcome at WOFFF. In our first festival in 2015, we screened LOVELY ALICE POET a film made by two young trans men (Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox) about the older, trans poet, Alice Denny. To me, that sums up what WOFFF is about. Everyone’s welcome to submit a film to WOFFF and everyone’s welcome to come to WOFFF. As long as you want to be part of the conversation about older women, as long as you’re interested in what it means to be an older woman living in the world today, we want to see at you at WOFFF.

What sort of subjects are covered in the films you show?

The sort of subjects are… us! We screen films that portray older women as we are. We’re human – same as anyone else. We love and hate and have affairs. We can be vicious and proud and generous. We work, we’re unemployed, we retire. We have holidays and arthritis and sex – sometimes all at the same time.

One of the many joys of a short film programme is there’s something for everyone so at WOFFF you can expect animation, drama, documentary and experimental films, and a great range of film subjects too – films about jealousy, a teenager with four lesbian mums, migration, and a bank robbery. We have films from Britain and Ireland, as well as from the US, Canada, Australia, Iran, Taiwan, France, Italy and Turkey. We’re a truly international film festival

I saw that one was called Rebel Menopause from last year?

That was the documentary judges’ top choice in last year’s festival. It’s a fantastic film by Adele Tulli about Thérèse Clerc. Therese was a French, bisexual, feminist who died in 2016. She was in her 80s when this documentary was made about her and one of the things she said in the film which I really loved was this: “I can say I’ve had a great life and that it’s been an amazing time. So while gynecologists talk about menopause as if a woman’s life is over, I say to them ‘No, this is when a woman’s life starts.’” Her words really resonate with me – I love being older. I feel genuinely liberated about what I say, what I do, how I look. I’m in one of the most creative periods of my life, I’m engaged and excited by the work I’m doing and the projects I’m involved with. I can’t recommend getting older highly enough. I think Thérèse’s words really are ones to live by! It’s a wonderful film and I’d encourage everyone to see it if they get the chance.

And you were telling me about one about following some end of life doulas in their work?

We’re screening a documentary in this year’s festival at Depot in Lewes called HOLDING SPACE by Rebecca Kenyon.

HOLDING SPACE is an intimate, observational documentary about preparing for death, told through the connection between a dying person and their end of life doula. The film is structured around a series of conversations, and the film finds both poetry and unexpected humour in this most universal of experiences. By witnessing three people on the threshold between life and death, the film asks: if you knew you were dying, how would you prepare to let go?

And workshops?

We have five workshops lined up for this year’s festival – a mixture of ones aimed at filmmakers and ones aimed more at our festival audience.

One of the workshops is on after the screening of Holding Space with Aly Dickinson from End of Life Doula UK. Aly is one of the doulas featured in HOLDING SPACE and she’ll be exploring with workshop participants the role of a doula at the end stages of life.

Our other workshops include How to Shoot a Film on Your Smart Phone, A Movement and Dance session which is inclusive and open to all abilities, and a talk by Dr Deborah Jermyn called “About time: Ageing women, (in)visibility and the ‘old lady revolution’ in Fabulous Fashionistas (film by Sue Bourne, 2013)”. This workshop will reference another short film that’s screening at WOFFF18 – THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY by Magda Rakita. Magda’s short doc features one of the original “Fabulous Fashionistas”, Bridget Sojourner, from the Sue Bourne feature documentary of the same name.

Are the films you show mostly shorts? Why is that?

I think a short film is different from a feature-length one in the way that a short story is a different work of art from a novel.

I like the variety that a short film programme can offer and I love that screening short films gives us more opportunity to showcase more work by older women.

But we still love feature films at WOFFF and this year we’re screening two of them – a launch-night film and a closing-night film.

We’re opening WOFFF18 with a Sussex premiere of the Sundance documentary HALF THE PICTURE by Amy Adrion. This film has screened only twice in the UK, at Sundance London so it’s a real opportunity to see this gem of doc that looks at the stories of the women behind the cameras in Hollywood. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with high profile women directors including Ava DuVernay, Jill Soloway, Lena Dunham, Catherine Hardwicke and Miranda July, among many others, as they discuss their early careers, how they transitioned to studio films or television, how they balance having a demanding directing career with family, as well as challenges and joys along the way.

And we’re closing WOFFF18 with FACES PLACES. Director Agnès Varda and photographer and muralist JR journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship. Agnès Varda is now 90 and her films, photographs, and art installations serve as a total celebration of her creativity and her age. A true WOFFF role model!

I like that you mention promoting the connection between older and younger women – how does that happen?

The rule we set of what makes a WOFFF film means that younger people have been involved with WOFFF with the start. We have filmmakers Q&As after each shorts programme and our all-female panel event is always a bit hit with our audience. In the Q&As and the panel events younger women are on the stage and in the audience so connections are made and conversations started which flow and continue throughout the festival and beyond.

One of the best pieces of feedback we got in our first year was from someone in their 20s who wrote that the thing they liked best about the festival was “the chance to hang out with cool older ladies”. To me, that sums up WOFFF – it’s a place where everyone can connect and get to know someone new; a place where older and younger women (and men too) can meet and learn and grow together.

How do you see the future for WOFFF?

As more of the same and then some! Two areas we’re working on are, first, to make WOFFF as inclusive as we can, and, second, to bring WOFFF to more people around the country with the UK our touring programme reaches urban and rural areas all around the country.

This year, thanks to funding from the National Lottery ‘Awards for All’ and BFI Film Hub South East, we’re extending a warm WOFFF welcome to people who are deaf and Hard of Hearing (as many older people are). All 58 short films we’re screening at WOFFF18 will be subtitled, and many of our WOFFF18 events, like our filmmakers Q&AS, will be BSL interpreted.

Some of our WOFFF18 events are free so people who are socio-economically disadvantaged can participate in and feel welcome at WOFFF.

Our UK tour this year has taken us to over 30 pop-up venues, community spaces and mainstream cinemas from Belfast to Bradford. Next year and beyond we’d like to add more locations to the tour to make sure older women, wherever they live in this country, can watch films in a fun, relaxed, communal setting and see work on screen and behind the camera that reflects them, their lives, and their experiences.

WOFFF8 details:

20 – 23 September 2018 at Picturehouse Duke of York, Brighton and Depot, Lewis.

Tickets available:

WOFFF launch night film: HALF THE PICTURE

https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Duke_Of_Yorks/film/woff-presents-half-the-picture

WOFFF short films, workshops and events:

https://lewesdepot.org/wofff

Find WOFFF online and on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wo50ff/

Twitter: @WO50FF

Instagram: @W050FF

Website: http://wofff.co.uk/

Film about WOFFF17: https://vimeo.com/244094801

Film interview with Nuala O’Sullivan ahead of the Women’s Work strand which features the best of WOFFF screening at 20 Picturehouse venues around the UK on Tues 4 Sept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5jVM-fCvJE

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