We spoke to 42 DNI/42 Days director Nat Portnoy about her experimental-doc,
women's sexuality and identity and being more communicative around the
topic of sex and consent.
Watch the full q&a with Nat here.
What made you want to make 42 Days - such an incredibly honest and personal film?
When I made the film, I really needed it for myself. There were lots of emotions
going on and I needed a way to recycle them and art was helpful with that in the
past, so that was just a necessary therapeutic process.
There were not many other things to do because of Covid. Unlike many other
people, Covid wasn’t the biggest problem but it was this additional difficulty to get
out and distract myself because there were no events, no socialising, the travel was
not really possible. And for me before I found out about my father's diagnosis
(with Huntington’s disease), my way of recycling the stress, frustrations and PTSD was to work all the time. I was travelling 2 or 3 times a month, performing in a lot of films, making money, feeling safe - it was my routine. Once it stopped and then I faced this enormous tragedy, it became really difficult and I was lacking the tools to vent this. So yeah, I had to do this film!
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
I want it to have an impact and to take people out of their comfort zone. It would of course be great if people started donating to Huntington institutions as there is very little money there and they suffer a lot. I guess I wanted people to know how hard it is with this disease. I also wanted people to know how difficult it is to be a queer person and a woman and being immersed in this heteronormative reality and have an anxiety disorder.
What are you working on now? What comes next?
I’m actually working on a book which is a sex guide book for adults, it’s basically a guide to a one-night stand without traumatising each other. It’s dedicated to cis-men, because I think they need it. Without trying to be mean, I just think they need it! I think sex workers have a really good background to help people in a way that it’s not patronising.
I’m gathering a lot of data from dating apps. I’m only there for that - not all of them realise this! I think it’s a good indication of what people are looking for and what their struggles are within exploring their sexuality and sexual habits. I think there's a lot of work to do in this regard, because despite having the internet and phones and everything, it’s still really difficult for people to communicate their needs and desires and boundaries, especially to strangers.
I feel that sex - and maybe this will sound weird from someone who does it for money - I think it’s a very huge deal. It’s something that is not easy, and very intense and important. It can be either a beautiful experience and very pleasant but it can also scare people and traumatise them. Not sex itself but the communication surrounding it - or lack of communication.
Has our perception of women’s sexuality changed on screen?
In my home country the perception of women’s sexuality and their desire is still quite medieval and in a lot of catholic countries, or countries with oppressive religions, people don’t want to even think about women’s sexuality.
I was always quite sexually active and taking initiative and I was calling myself hypersexual. Which now I don’t love this word anymore because what is hypersexual? It’s so subjective. I was shamed for that and I was called a whore and perceived as someone not normal. My sexuality defines some part of my personality but it’s not what makes me. I feel for many years that I struggled with the shame surrounding my need for sexual activity; my need for having sex with women. Sex work really helped me in this de-stigmatising my ‘hypersexuality’ but also my gender identity and my orientation. Before that I was really repressed and I was doing what people expected me to do. I was acting like a high-femme, cis straight woman that I didn’t feel like. Once I broke out, it was a lot. I had a nervous breakdown when I moved out of Poland, I started doing sex work and I changed my life a lot. This film is also like a fruit of all of the changes since I moved.
Is there a queer film or character you feel particularly identified with?
High Art by Lisa Cholodenko - there’s a character inspired by Nan Goldin who was also my idol as a photographer and as a person because of what she did for the LGBTQ community and how she portrayed the epidemic of AIDS and people affected by this. It’s a very sad film but with such beautiful images. I keep coming back to it and maybe there are some inspirations from this film in my film.
Another queer idol is John Waters and all his films! He really affected the way I perceive art and queerness and Divine who is not with us anymore is a character that really influenced me and there’s a fragment in my film when I’m contemplating the idea of my own death and I’m styled as Divine in Pink Flamingos. I really find this film to be another multilayered piece.