An Interview with Nancy Schwartzman, Director of “The Line”
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Schwartzman, creator of THE LINE, an amazing film about consent, sexual assault, and the challenges of finding where our lines are. It’s a powerful film and I’m glad to have had the chance to interview Nancy about her work.
Tell us a bit about the film. What inspired you to create it?
THE LINE is a 24 minute documentary that is both personal and political. It takes my experience with a sexual assault and creates a much broader conversation about boundaries, consent, power and being sex-positive in a “rape culture. It asks the question “ where is the line of consent?
I was inspired to create the film for a few reasons, primarily I needed a lens to process and understand the rape, its repercussions, and how it effected my perceptions of being a sexually liberated person. That’s the personal reason, politically, I realized my particular story was a litmus test for what our society understands is rape, who we think deserves our sympathy, and what kinds of violence we are willing to tolerate.
My assault occurred during sex, so asking people to understand a violation of boundaries during a sex act challenges the idea that saying yes once, or to one kind of sex, means you give up all control and autonomy from that point forward.
When you bring the film to film festivals, college campuses, and community groups, what sorts of responses have you had? Can you tell us about some of the most memorable ones? Are there trends or patterns in the reactions you’ve received?
The film always creates conversation, and depending on the type of screening, and the size of the room, the dialogue can go in any number of directions. There are questions that always come up like “why did you choose to interview sex workers at the Bunny Ranch to talk about consent? or “what did it feel like when you went back and confronted your attacker with a hidden camera? or statements thanking me for including the perspectives of male activists working to confront men’s violence against women. There’s also a lot of gratitude for sharing the story, which I always appreciate, since throughout the entire process of trying to get the film funded I was told repeatedly and in many different ways that my story wasn’t enough.
Two screenings that come to mind are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
I screened the film in Omaha, Nebraska to a packed room of 150 students. It was required viewing for some classes, which fills seats, but can also influence the tenor of the conversation and overall vibe of the very large, very athletic looking male students. At the end of the film where most audiences applaud there was complete silence. The lights came on, complete silence. You could not yank the questions out of them. Midwestern politeness mixed with “oh my god we do not talk about these things created a screening like none other. Eventually we got them going, but it took prodding and some brave souls from the East Coast to pipe up.
On the opposite end, I showed the film at the Flying Broom International Women’s Festival in Ankara,Turkey “ the room was packed with women and several men. My translator was nervous that because the topic was sensitive, folks would hesitate to speak up or ask questions. I was nervous because I’m basically a slutty Jew talking about my sex life in a Muslim country. Well, the questions and comments never stopped. It was a 90-minute q/a with people asking four part questions, standing up and arguing with each other, thanking me for the film, and being incredibly passionate and vocal about what I thought would be taboo subject matter. It was fantastic.
You also have a blog where people can write down where their lines are and take photos. Can you share some of the highlights? Do you post every photo people send? If not, why not?
We post everything on our tumblr and flickr feeds, and I show a huge slide show before every screening, to show the scope of audience reactions, and to invite them to express themselves in whatever way they choose. There are no judgments.
Here’s a new video we created:
When you started this project, what did you expect to have happen? How has that turned out?
I knew the film made people want to talk, so I’m thrilled that we figured out a way to create a space through THE LINE campaign for people to express themselves through stickers or in writing longer blog posts. Part of me expected to be snuggling up with Oprah on her couch, or hiding under the bed from mortification about being so public “ but I’m somewhere happily in the middle.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you since making the film?
I met my partner while filming THE LINE “ I hired him to be my cameraman and we fell in love. I’ve gone to Omaha, Toronto, Israel, Turkey, and more with the film this year, and talked about sex and boundaries and consent with a huge range of people. I’ve met great creative partners and have kick ass interns. The love.
Sexual assault prevention work is often missing from sex education. What can sex educators do to include it better?
The ethics for sexual behavior are fundamental to all interactions – respect, communication “ how to ask for what you want, how to respond to the desires and wishes of another if they are different from your own, how to navigate changing desires, moods, wants. How to say yes, how to say no, how to accept “maybe, I hope moving forward that educators incorporate emotional well being and self-esteem when discussing sexual behavior, and that sexual assault prevention folks make sure to include the opinions and rights of sex workers, and the pleasure component of sex.
What’s next for the film, the project, or for you?
We are finishing up our study guide to accompany THE LINE to facilitate classroom, community screenings and “house parties. We’re also shooting web videos highlighting how different groups “ Men Can Stop Rape, LGBTQ Center in New York “ are using the film in their communities, to provide some guidelines for those who want to host their own screenings, but not totally versed in the subject matter.
In addition, we’re planning a bunch of community screenings this summer, in DC, New York, Philly and L.A. as well as planning for my fall tour on college campuses for 2010 “ 2011.
I’ve met so many fabulous young people this year, frustrated by what passes in the media as the sexual lives of teens and young adults who are eager to challenge the sexual status quo on their campus or among their friends¦ I feel a new project bubbling up!
If you’d like to book a screening, have me come and facilitate a workshop visit: whereisyourline.org/about/bookings/ or email: email@example.com. You can also purchase the film here. And of course, you can follow us on twitter: @thelinecampaign