It’s a film that makes you question your position as a viewer: Patrick Muroni on Fierce: A Porn Revolution
Sunday 9 April 2023, by
All the versions of this article: [English] [français]
In Lausanne, a group of twenty-something women and queer persons start directing ethical and dissident pornographic films: the OIL Productions collective is born. Committed to an artistic and political approach, they create adult films aiming to positively represent sexualities and bodies in all their diversity.
Patrick Muroni’s debut documentary is a sensitive and eye-opening look at the process of Oil’s work and productions and the context they developed them in. Where his film works particularly well is in its earnest - albeit humane - depiction of Oil’s journey in a way that sparks conversations around the issues it brings up. I found myself having internal conversations and tussles with my own conscience throughout the film, oscillating between various takes and attitudes to pornography, fetichism, feminism and objectification of the female body. There is something to be said (and this will be levied at Oil) for the fact that perhaps engaging in ethical pornography and the discussions around it requires a certain amount of privilege BUT ultimately, someone needs to be initiating these discussions and it might as well be Oil. And to be fair to them, they’re toiling away at their 9-5 jobs, which are essentially bankrolling their productions, which they very generously share for free (an Instagram code is required). On the whole, Patrick and Oil shared with us an honest and quite brave celebration of physical pleasure on screen. Pleasure is the key word here. Participants are keen and happy to be involved, and the focus is very much on their own enjoyment, (and only be extension, the audience’s). There’s no real argument to be had here about coercion or anyone finding themselves financially compelled to take part. In this sense, this is a true example of actual "ethical" porn, a term too often applied wishy washily to much more dubious practices. Good on Oil for offering a genuine alternative.
Can you tell us more about your background as a filmmaker? How did you start making films?
I didn’t think I’d get into cinema. It wasn’t even an option. My parents didn’t know that world at all but my dad had a DV camera. I started nicking it to film, without quite knowing why. I now realise that I was trying to make sense of the world around me. I was then fortunate enough to get into ECAL, a film school in Lausanne where I learned the ropes and upon graduation, I directed two short fiction films and then Fierce, my first feature-length documentary.
How did you decide to turn to documentary after focusing on fiction?
It was nearly by accident. One evening, my friend Nora, who now goes by Aron, told me she wanted to direct and produce porn. Nobody had ever told me that and I wanted to understand why. Why and how this group of young queer people wanted to embark on this adventure. I think that’s what drove me to film them. They were such strong characters, who really wanted to question the world we’re living in in a way that’s still quite rare in Switzerland. Without them, I don’t think the documentary would have been made. Today, I’ll keep making fiction but who knows, maybe I’ll meet someone with the same strong personality that makes me want to direct documentaries again. I’d love to but it’s such a hard, demanding process. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that real life can be more powerful than our imagination.
What were the challenges of shooting a documentary in terms of format?
I had to learn to make all sorts of concessions. Between writing the first draft, shooting and editing, there are entire worlds of difference. But I actually think it’s good thing when a film slips from you grasp a bit. You have to accept being carried by the initial urge and follow whatever real life throws at you. Of course, that doesn’t mean negating the importance of the mise en scene and simply sitting back and filming, on the contrary, it means trying to make sense of things that are beyond our control and, importantly, not letting go of our story. Even if that story changes, or the film becomes radically different during the filming our editing process. It’s about finding a balance between what we want, what happens and whatever reality gifts us.
How was the shooting process? What challenges did you face filming Oil? How open were they to being filmed?
The fact that I knew Aron certainly helped. It was only after they met me that the other members of the collective gave me their trust. I began by following them once to a few times per month for about a year. I would sometimes join them for meetings, shoots, debates, chats and raves, sometimes with a camera and sometimes without. I got to know and understand them and their processes, and little by little introduced the camera more and more. What was great was that they’re so uncompromising and honest with themselves that they didn’t feel embarrassed when I filmed them, it was all very spontaneous. That’s why I ended up able to film really powerful characters. They all had very powerful things to offer and to say.
Did you end up with a lot of material and rushes? How did you decide what to keep or leave in the editing process? How involved were Oil in that part of the post-production?
I held 3 shooting sessions and 4 editing sessions but we didn’t actually have that many rushes. It was about a hundred hours more or less, which is quite reasonable. We had five months and I asked a lot of my editor Ael Dallier Vega, who immediately got a feel for the film and with her experience and talent managed to bring it to life. It was a first feature so I had to manage a much longer process than I had to with shorts. At the end we asked the Oil team to watch the film, which is rare in documentary. But for us, it was essential, because of the subject matter, my own relationship with Oil and for what they wanted to say about it. I was happy to share this film with them at that moment, even if I was quite stressed. In the end, it was one of the most beautiful screenings of the film, with lots of laughs, jokes and some tears of joy and nostalgia.
What have been the highlights of the festival run been so far? Have you had any comments or feedback that particularly touched you or made you think of the film differently?
I was really fascinated by BFI Flare. I had never been and found the [BFI] wonderful. That this place could show under one roof so many important films that tell us so much about the times we live in, that was very moving. I also had some lovely reactions after the two screenings, people came to say that Oil’s struggle was very important and that the film meant a lot to them. I think people saw different things in the film and it’s always striking to see how it touched them. It’s a film that makes you consider your position as a viewer and I realise after speaking to the audience that everyone experienced very different reactions to different facets of it, be they intimacy, sex or other, which made for very rich discussions.
What’s the next step? Are you able to share with us what you’re working on?
I’m currently writing my next feature film. I like this development phase but, like everyone else, I want to speed things up a bit! I’d like to be able to shoot in 3 or 4 years but I’d need to find funding. Otherwise I’m also developing a VR project about raves. VR is something I’ve been interested in for a long time and I’m trying for the first time to make something out of that interest. It’s different to cinema and and exciting way to tell stories. I would also like to shoot another short or a mid-length, something lighter. I like the idea of making films that follow quite classical production processes alongside more "pirate" productions, which are made faster. Two processes that I think feed well into each other.