Sex, Lies & Video Tape
Producer turned writer/director John Winter’s 'Black & White & Sex' is an edgy, confronting and captivating exploration of sex and seduction...
Last year's Sydney Film Festival and Brisbane Film Festival were privy to a rare, utterly provocative and unique film by writer/director John Winter. Black & White & Sex is Winter's directorial feature debut after years as a producer on such productions as Paperback Hero and the acclaimed Rabbit-Proof Fence.
This black and white single-room drama sees a documentary filmmaker put charismatic sex worker Angie under the microscope but slowly, surely and cunningly the tables are turned. "Given that so few Australian films seem to embrace sexual themes, I thought it was time to open up a really candid conversation about sex and, at the same time, blow away some of the myths and stereotypes surrounding sex workers," says the first time director. "This film gave me the opportunity to explore and experiment with cinematic forms and performance, and being an independent film meant that I could delve into the subject with complete creative freedom."
The role of Angie is played to perfection by not one but eight promising Australian actresses including Saskia Burmeister (Hating Alison Ashley, The Jammed) and Roxane Wilson (Out of the Blue, Stingers). "The actors were encouraged to interpret the scene differently in each take allowing them to maintain an ‘in the moment' emotional spontaneity." With a plethora of starlets falling over themselves to play the lead, how does one settle on eight when you could have dozens? "As I played with the script it just divided itself naturally into eight Angies. We also wanted a mix of ages, looks and ethnicities. It became like a puzzle - playing with the different possibilities and exploring which actors - and in which order - would work best for the film."
This highly experimental work faced financial roadblocks with government funding bodies not too keen on a film that didn't portray its sex worker protagonist as a victim or lost soul. "This film broke a lot of rules, pushed boundaries and took a lot of risks," Winter reflects. "It was never going to be an easy fit with traditional Australian funding models and the film was subsequently financed independently."
The "rule breaking" Winter refers to surrounds the film's frank, honest and intimate dialogue, written by the director himself. "My sexuality is informed by women - their insights, their perspectives," he says. "I'd probably have more difficulty exploring a male character's sexuality in such detail. As I was writing the script, Angie started to tell me what she would say, how she would respond to the interviewer's questions. You create their characters, then they have a way of taking on a life of their own."
And when it came to research? "I interviewed a number of women who are, or had been, sex workers," Winter reveals. "I didn't want to replace Angie with any other woman's story but I did want to check that I was on the right track. In the process I picked up some gems but was always mindful that Angie does not represent all sex workers or, for that matter, all women. Angie is her own person. Individual. Unique."
The film's short eight day shooting schedule was courtesy of its intended style of multi-camera filming, long takes, and characters tightly locked up in the script. "On the shooting days there were no camera rehearsals, no hitting marks," Winter explains. "Whenever possible, each scene was shot in its entirety in each take. This allowed the actors to always be natural, immediate and grounded."
With screenings in two Australian film festivals in 2011, and more recently the International Film Festival in Rotterdam (where it was voted the third favourite audience film), how have audiences reacted to such a risqué film? "They thought the film was provocative, sexy, funny, to an almost ‘How dare you!?' reaction," Winter says. "It's strange that whilst violence is readily accepted in Australian film, a deeply candid conversation about sex and sexual intimacy is, for some, still a bit of a taboo. Perhaps even more of a taboo is having a male writer/director."
In spite of its title, the "black and white" refers to the public's common misconception of sex workers and sex in general. It's up to Angie and ‘the interviewer' to shake that up and teach the audience that nothing is in fact black and white. The world is simply filled with too many shades of grey. "By revealing Angie and giving her a voice, I wanted her to surprise us and take us out of our comfort zone - opening the door wide to a fearless and uninhibited conversation on sexuality and the role it plays in our lives. Surely that's not a bad thing?"
Picture caption (L-R): Lisa Shaunessy (Co-Producer), Nicola Daley (DOP), John Winter (Director) and Melissa Beauford (Producer)