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This Video Shows The Sex Industry In A Whole New Light

Photo: Press
Warning: The video below contains sensitive content.

Alice Russell is a filmmaker from London. In 2013, she started looking into people who buy and sell sex, curious – from a journalistic perspective – about what it is that drives the industry. She began by interviewing British men who have paid for sex, but quickly came up with a more compelling way of relaying their stories, and one that sharply highlights gender inequality more generally.

With the help of professional actors, and production company Fat Rat Films, Alice has made a shocking and emotional short film entitled Men Buy Sex, which has been doing the rounds at short film festivals worldwide. Here, she talks to Refinery29 about her impetus, and shares her film with us.

You can watch it below.
Refinery29: When did you have the idea for Men Buy Sex and where did it come from?
Alice Russell: The idea for the project arose a couple of years ago with a friend in a café in Soho; at the time she was volunteering for an on-street prostitution charity. We had a rough idea about the realities of selling sex, but neither of us had heard anything from those who bought sex, and we wanted to find out who were these people and why they do it.
The language the men use is quite shocking – what do you think it tells us?
The language, though very explicit, is not that shocking when you think about it in the context of the environment we are socialised in; one that is structurally biased to favour men. Their words reveal a sense of entitlement that is surprising to hear when it's expressed by women, they are words that belong to the world of men. Imagine a women saying what the second man says, but about an experience with a man:

I mean, it’s strange because... I wasn’t seeing her face while I was f*cking her. She had her back to me but still there’s something about her manner. The way that she welcomed me into her body… as if she understood my needs, understood what my body needed, what my cock needed and was able to offer herself to engage with me.
What were you trying to highlight about the sex industry?
If you were at a dinner party, and the man sitting next to you mentioned that he had paid for sex, you probably wouldn't be that shocked – some people might not like it, and might find it morally objectionable, but it's generally accepted that this is something that happens in society, some men buy sex. If however, a woman told you this, it would be infinitely more shocking; our default stereotype for a buyer is male. The term "sex industry" is gender neutral, yet overwhelmingly it is men who are the buyers and women who are the sellers. When you understand this component it’s impossible to ignore how it's connected to a wider gender inequality.
How long did it take to shoot and did you hit any difficulties?
We shot the film over the course of one long day. We had planned to shoot three hours with each actress but ran into problems with the first section of the day, which was with Denise, who played the second man. Denise had pockets of time over the course of the week to learn the story (the other actresses had about a month), so I was feeling anxious about whether or not it was going to work. We settled in, pressed play on the audio and every time we recorded a section it was out of sync on the monitor. I couldn’t quite believe it. Denise patiently performed the lines over and over again and I think we ended up filming with her for about four hours. By the end of it we were all exhausted, but still had another two actresses to film.

When Isolde, who plays the first man arrived, I was so stressed, thinking that the footage would be unusable that I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. If the morning hadn’t played out the way it did, Isolde’s scene would have looked quite different from the scene you’ve seen.

I went home at the end of the day feeling exhausted, deflated, elated and relieved that it was over. However, the next morning, as I fearfully opened the rushes, there was Denise, not only perfectly in sync, but performing powerfully. It was incredible to watch and I couldn’t quite believe how brilliantly she fitted with the man she was playing. I have no idea what happened in the room that morning – I think the monitor must have been out of sync – but I’m forever grateful for Denise’s patience. She said it was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do; probably both emotionally and technically.

What do you think we can take away from the film?
I think everyone will take away something different but for me the film is a comment on gender inequality within a capitalist society – buying sex being just one of the symptoms. I think the first man in the film articulates the reality quite brilliantly:

The fantasy I guess… if I’m blatantly honest, was just to go in and have sex with a smoking hot woman and really enjoy it, feel the connection and to almost feel a bit of love but, how was I ever going to get that from paying for it?
Thanks Alice.