Sex is a Good Thing: Ninja Thyberg on Pleasure | Interviews

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Kappel plays a 19-year-old Swedish woman who comes to Los Angeles to work in the porn industry under the stage name Bella Cherry. Thyberg’s film follows Bella from her arrival at LAX, through her first shoot, her life at a model house, and the lengths she must go to match the aspirations she has herself in the industry. This is not an easy watch. Thyberg’s clear-eyed, almost clinical depiction of the machinations of a shoot allows viewers to see the love these workers have for their jobs without judgment, but also unearths the uneven power structures at play within any capitalist industry, which sometimes affects the performer’s safety and mental well-being. Like any great piece of art, “Pleasure” doesn’t tell you what to think or how to feel, rather it poses questions about its subject while also inspiring viewers to question themselves. 

As its U.S. theatrical release approaches, RogerEbert.com spoke to Thyberg over Zoom about adapting her short film, creating new images she’d never seen before, and working towards a more sex-positive society. 

Before I saw the feature film at Sundance a year and a half ago, I watched your short film of the same name and read that it came from your research in a Gender Studies class. Could you talk about how that research informed both films?

Everything with the film came from the research. I had made the short film based on porn clips that I had studied when I wrote my thesis. I became so interested in who these people were, and what do they think about their job? How are the dynamics on set? Because I was already a filmmaker, so I knew how a film is made. It’s like they’re cutting here, they’re moving the camera there. But what is happening in between that? What do they say to each other before they start or at the end? So I did as much research as I could, to try to create this fictional behind the scenes story, like before they start to shoot. But it was all just based on assumptions. I read a lot of biographies and watched documentaries, but you still don’t really know. It’s still fiction in a way. 

Then the short film got a lot of attention. And I got to travel. And I said in interviews that I wanted to portray the real people behind the porn stereotypes, but I had actually never met anyone. I always had this feeling that someone from the industry would come out and call my bluff, or say that’s not accurate at all, you’re just making these things up. So I knew that I wanted to make a feature length film. The plan from the beginning was to use, or I had in the back of my head that I could maybe try to make a short film first and then maybe that would help me to make a feature version. 

https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/pleasure-neon-ninja-thyberg-interview-2022

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