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May 9, 2002 Bad Girl earns praise at Toronto festival as a 'film of ideas'



Marielle Nitoslawska

Marielle Nitoslawska, associate professor of cinema

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by James Martin

Freshly returned from Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival, Marielle Nitoslawska is thrilled, not just because the associate professor of cinema’s latest documentary, Bad Girl, screened before a sold-out theatre (the film had already proved itself as a box-office draw when it ran at Ex-Centris and Cinema du Parc), and not just because Bad Girl was one of this year’s festival darlings (the film’s press-clipping package is already half an inch thick).

No, Nitoslawska is thrilled because her controversial film is finally being seen “as a film of ideas.” At long last, Bad Girl is out-distancing its reputation.

She created the film for broadcast on Télé-Québec, with all parties well aware that Bad Girl is about women who make pornography. All systems were go . . . until Télé-Québec made a last-minute decision to cancel the scheduled broadcast.

There were rumblings about softening the content, but Nitoslawska held her ground. After a six-month limbo, during which she subtitled the film in English in hope of taking it beyond the French public-television market, an unexpurgated Bad Girl made its Télé-Québec debut in October 2001.

To say that Bad Girl is simply about women making pornography is to undercut the film’s ambitious, thoughtful scope. Shot in a whirlwind 15 days (a “crazy schedule” which supplied Nitoslawska with rich material for in-class discussions on dealing with production constraints), the film is a taboo-busting world tour.

On screen, pundits and participants talk. Many of the women (like impish porn-star-turned-auteur Annie Sprinkles, or the members of Denmark’s Zentropa studio) freely use the term pornography to describe their work. Others, such as French director Catherine Breillat (whose controversial 1976 film, Une vrai jeune fille, was only recently released), do not.

Nitoslawska knew she “couldn’t really discuss the issue of explicit sexual representation without showing it. “A lot of people discuss it without having seen it, especially women, so I felt that it was very important to actually show some of this stuff.

“I get a lot of comments after screenings, especially from women, who say, ‘Wow. It’s like some veil has been lifted. I’m no longer afraid of this stuff, and can therefore discuss it more freely.’ Bad Girl is an attempt to reverse the taboo, and to have people develop a critical attitude towards this stuff. I think that’s what’s missing today.”

Nitoslawska next travels to Rotterdam, where Bad Girl will be shown as part of Input, a congress of international public broadcasters. She then returns to Montreal to begin her sabbatical, during which she’ll film a new documentary — this one about the traditional rural Quebec healers known as guérisseurs.

Although her new project may appear completely unrelated to Bad Girl (the same could be said of Bad Girl and its predecessor, a documentary about the artist Domingo Cisneros called Sky Bones), Nitoslawska locates all her films on the same thematic spectrum.

“The very last lines of Bad Girl could easily have been the opening lines of my next film, when [French philosopher] Luce Irigary says, ‘This is an era of technique. There’s an exploitation of sexuality as technique. It’s a way of avoiding the experiences of connecting with another. Relating to the Other is the most extraordinary human thing, and the hardest.’

“I see all my work as putting tentacles out into the underground rumblings of contemporary life, and I choose issues that are not only important to me, but also to a lot of the people that I encounter.”