In a bizarre world where a female nipple is seen as pornographic and censored by the majority of platforms it is a delight to see work exploring and challenging those boundaries. I AM THAT I AM from Audrey Mascina follows a series of couples and individuals through open and exploratory interviews as they talk about their own versions of sexuality and what that means to them. The film also opens up a very welcome conversation about the often conflicting rules as to what we deem acceptable vs. what is labelled as explicit. Mascina embraces sexuality as a power beyond physical acts and asks us to examine what it means to each and every individual on their own terms and how that is viewed by society and damaging outside perceptions. By selecting a diverse group of contributors with differing desires and experiences, the film expresses a universal theme which highlights the importance of being able to explore our individual approaches to sexuality free from outside judgement. We spoke to Mascina about using I AM THAT I AM as a jumping off point for a longer and more in-depth exploration of the subject, the challenges of creating all of the unique environments for each exploration and using a mix of digital and film to achieve her desired look.[A heads up, there are some NSFW images in both the film and the following interview.]
Why was this an important film for you to make?
In a society where sex is everywhere and still so taboo, it is important for me as a filmmaker to question how we can talk about it differently, create resonance between different paths, journeys, identities, and stop being judgmental about it. How can we film bodies? Until where? At what point is it pornographic? How to free the speech around sexual experiences and desires? And most importantly, overcoming fear so we can experience joy and empowerment through our sexual exploration. Whatever way we choose to explore it. In a society obsessed with well-being, confidence and self-development I want to remind us that sexual wellness is a key pillar of our well-being. Exploring one’s sexuality feels very important to me. It’s really a true encounter with ourselves and understanding where your limits are, thinking where they come from, and what they are made of.
This first chapter is like a universal sentence created by the respective stories of all the participants. Showing that healing our sexuality helps us become more empowered beings. It sets the tone and feel of how I want to approach it and develop it in a longer format where I will be able to go deeper with each character in their respective journeys, experiences, what they learnt from it, and how it has transformed them.
You present a diversity of experiences and attitudes which seamlessly weave together, could you tell us about selecting your participants and telling their stories?
It was very important for me to talk about intimacy resonating between different journeys, identities, and sexual orientations. This subject is such a vast territory, and for this first chapter, I had only two days of shooting in Barcelona. My idea has been to find a way to build one sentence that would be the global narrative and message of the film out of each singular intimate testimonial. I met every person/couple one by one. I let them open up on their journey, their vision of sexuality, intimacy, and talk about their current relationships and their past relationships. I tried, as much as possible, not to orientate them and let them tell me something that was important for them to share. From that exchange, I suggested a certain way to film them and their part of the story.
My idea has been to find a way to build one sentence that would be the global narrative and message of the film out of each singular intimate testimonial.
Some scenes in the film broach the line, according to many platforms, of artistic exploration and pornography. How did you approach the decision of what to film and ultimately include?
Challenging the limits of what we can film, show or not show, how we film sexuality, intimacy, and bodies, is really something I want to dig deeper into as a filmmaker. Challenging the fine lines between eroticism and pornography, and how you position your viewer with your camera. How you chose to make him or her feel at ease or be more disruptive. I remember watching a very good documentary on Rocco Siffredi, with a powerful opening shot on his sex. I found it great that they chose such an obvious and strong take to start the film. When it’s genuine and serves the story, I don’t find it obscene.
Great paintings over time consist of nude bodies and frescos of orgies and they have always inspired me. The goal here was to make the viewer feel good being this close and intimate. In this first chapter, I was not chasing an obvious and direct sex exposure. And I didn’t want to film everyone naked or in bed. The message of this film is that sexuality is beautiful, and so is skin, and every part of our bodies. Assuming the power, beauty and freedom of our naked bodies, and the beauty of bodies fusing together.
My goal was to present the character and create a connection between them and the viewer, and that’s why we have those face to camera portrait shots. But also to create that immersive feel, with a succession of close ups of different couples, the viewer gets lost in the skin and bodies and is just carried through by the voice over.
When it’s genuine and serves the story, I don’t find it obscene.
There is a wonderful mix of lighting in both the indoor and outdoor scenes, was it a challenge to find locations to shoot in?
The challenge was to be able to film 10 people in two days and have locations and atmospheres that felt genuine for every character. We shot the film in two different locations where we managed to create different atmospheres for every story and person.
The cinematography has a grainy quality with these beautiful flashes of colour, how did you achieve that look?
Working with Nicolas Sola the DP we brought about these textures by mixing 16 mm film and Alexa Mini with Lomo Illumina MKII lenses. I wanted the film to bring that warm sensation of skin and bodies, and at the same time hit you visually with strokes of electric colors that recall ideas of passion, desire and orgasm. Each couple or character inspired me to work on a special set up. We also worked on the grain and color in the grading with two amazing colorists, Matthieu Toullet and Philip Louis Hambi at The Mill using a combination of filters on camera to have less definition.
Your editing is snappy and as I mentioned, creates a concise narrative that runs throughout. What informed the structure and flow of the edit?
I worked closely with my Editor Antoine Deslandes to find the right rhythm and tension to create a seamless journey between each voice and story, so it become one sentence flowing from the beginning to the end. The snappy touch is a way to bring this electric feel of desire and build up this confusion at a certain point between all the characters; a way of connecting every story through their skins and touches.
The message of this film is that sexuality is beautiful, and so is skin, and every part of our bodies.
What do you think about the censoring of images by mainstream platforms and how do you think it has affected your film?
I can understand a form of censorship when it comes to an explicit exposure of a sex, and when the access is for all audiences. But I feel it’s very hypocritical and nonsensical when it concerns bottoms, breasts and nipples. I find it crazy that Instagram censors the image of the two girls lying naked in their bed, when the only thing you see is skin, when 99% of Instagram is almost disguised nude pics. Today my film cannot be seen fully on Instagram because there are nipples and bottoms so we had to do a trailer and cut all the so called ‘explicit’ images. But I don’t see my film as ‘explicit content’ at all.
How do you plan on extending I AM THAT I AM into a wider exploration?
My goal is to be able to extend the casting in terms of age, with younger and older people and to be able to spend more time with every character. Follow them in their exploration, in their understanding of this journey, and share more in depth their feelings and learnings from that and learn how it changes them. I also want to push the carnal tension of it and extend the boundaries of what I will show. It’s all about finding the right way to do it so it stays true and genuine to the story and the character.
Apart from extending this beautiful universe, what else are you working on?
I just shot my first short fiction film this January so I’m in the editing process now, I also have another short in development.