The rules of engagement were quite simple. Place an ad on Craigslist requesting a meeting with people in their homes, then turn up with a camera and see what happens.
When recently graduated performance artist director Samira Elagoz did this, the sexually deviant-cum-curious replied in their hundreds, although (just as curiously) not one of the respondents was female.
Her resulting film is both fascinating and bizarre in equal measure, not least because of her active participation as protagonist. "It was a quest for insight into the collision and interaction between masculinity and femininity," says Elagoz. "The fact that it is usually a man depicting a woman, that's what I wanted to flip around."
Another key stipulation was that Elagoz's camera would only be turned on during the initial visit to the subject. No further shooting would take place after she left the house or apartment. Some of her encounters are therefore short, such as with the recently divorced English plumber, while others last for days.
The Magician segment is pure cinematic joy, their five days of eating, dancing, fucking, crossdressing, bathing and leg-shaving compressed into a blitz of montage. Conversely, she is very much left to her own devices as an online exhibitionist masturbates to his computer screen in his study. "I tried to make the clips resemble as closely as possible the experience I had," Elagoz underlines.
Some audience members were shocked by the film during IDFA, seeing little more than a procession of lowlifes and perverts, but Elagoz allies herself with her cast, stressing that the process was very much two-way. She also admits to a previous relationship (although she does not elaborate upon it), the 'weirdness' of which puts the excesses of her Craigslisters into the shade.
"In that sense I am not very shocked by any of it. When I step into someone's house I am like 'ok this is how you live, it is fine'. And I think they realise that," she comments. "I guess I am fascinated with weirdness, or I have a neutrality to it so I don't find it bizarre, or I am adapting to it. There are a lot of versions of me in the film but I feel this kind of empathy. If the person I am with is reserved then I become reserved. If they are wild then I become wilder. I always seem to mirror the person."
"But I think they are all very sure of themselves," she continues. "Although sometimes I wonder if the whole starting point for them is that it started on the internet, because there is an inclination to be more open with online strangers. There is a strange intimacy created by anonymity. I think this still continued [face to face], but no matter how much we shared, we would remain strangers."
And do these characters retain an interest in Elagoz after her camera is switched off and their exhibitionist tendencies are no longer given full reign? "No, I think it is me who more loses interest in them without the camera. A camera changes things. It heightens a lot of interaction.
Romance is definitely more romantic. Excitement is more exciting and embarrassment can become tension or degradation, and the will to present yourself in an adequate way can lead you to perform a worse or better version of yourself."