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Fantasia 2020: Morgana

 

Directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard deliver a harrowing tale brimming with humanity, with truth, and with inspiration.  Morgana is essentially a journey story; how does a model housewife transform into an award winning porn star and founder of the pioneering feminist porn brand Permission4Pleasure.  Hess and Peppard introduce us to a woman of remarkable creative power and presence, for whom an early life of oppression has led to an outpouring of creative inspiration like a cork blasting from a shaken champagne bottle. While learning her life story we are introduced to the burgeoning market of the ethical sex industry, centering the feminism, the feminine experience, and body positivity.  With themes and symbolism woven throughout her work Morgana’s craft is part erotica/part modern art.  But more importantly, through the lens expertly shaped by Hess and Peppard we see that all creative expression is a means to healing, to self discovery, and to truth telling.  The greatest art comes out of a need to work through our experiences and share them with and within the world.

If you are someone who feels stuck in life, if you have dreams or creative desires but feel like you’re too young, too old, too thin, too anything then I highly recommend this documentary to you.  Above all, Morgana’s journey from demure housewife to founder of Permission4Pleasure is about claiming permission to be fully alive.

I had the privilege of interviewing all three of these inspiring women.

Interview

Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions from CBNAH (Comic Book Nerds are Hot).   Your press packet is very thorough!

Rachel:  Morgana, your story of breaking free of the stifling expectations placed on women is inspiring.  If you could say one thing to someone who feels like they can’t be who they want to be what would you say to them? 

Morgana: I think it’s important to tell people that there is no expiration date in your ability to facilitate change and start to explore who you really are. It can be a very lonely existence, but remember you are not alone!

Rachel: I noticed that you had a concept notebook or storyboard with you during one of the photoshoots. What is your creative process and how has it evolved over time?  When does inspiration tend to strike you?

Morgana: Inspiration can strike me at any time and sometimes in my day to day routine like chatting to a friend or sitting at a cafe having a coffee. I have learned a lot about film making over the years, but my process is still basically the same. I jot my idea or scene inspiration down. Then I spitball with my friends about the ideas. Once it starts to feel like a concrete idea, I will write a splat draft, and then we workshop from there until it's a workable film script. 

To the Directors;

Rachel:  When you are developing a character study, how do you break down the elements of character, and what are they?

Josie: With documentary, since the character is a real person, you start by trying to get to know everything about them. You want to be careful to not dictate what is truth and let your subject naturally be who they are. From there you can start to utilize them a bit more like a narrative film, working out their motivation and central struggle. We used the good old hero’s journey to help us cement the story structure, so we were looking for aspects like the resurrection and what her call to adventure was.  

Isabel: I think for us this happened pretty organically as we got to know our character. In documentary, as opposed to narrative cinema, you build your character as you get to know them as a person rather than working them up from scratch. I’m not sure if we broke down the elements of our character as much as looking for things that resonated with us personally and the things about her that we found the most interesting. From a narrative perspective it was about what to reveal, when to reveal it and what to hold back. There was a lot of work done deciding how to unfurl the character in a way that would give the audience a sense of empathy and engagement as well as keeping the story rolling along. For us we wanted to make sure that the audience had a strong emotional connection with the character before they were introduced to the more risqué elements of the film so that all the sexual experiences were firmly grounded in our characters humanity.

Rachel:  I noted that Josie has previously produced an animation based on a poem of Neil Gaiman, who is also an accomplished comics author, and Isabel has mentored under Director Jennifer Lynch, of the Walking Dead series based on another acclaimed comic.  To what extent, if any, have you drawn inspiration from the imagery, themes, available in comic books of both the American/European and Manga markets?

Josie: I’ve consumed a shit-load of manga and comics in my life but I don’t think we consciously brought those inspirations to this particular project.  Of course, being composed of a pure pop culture upbringing would impact my perspective and understanding of story and reference. The storytelling in graphic novels pull from the same archetypes and narratives as we do, so there is certainly that aspect to it. 

Isabel: I come from a background of stopmotion animation and am definitely influenced by other animated work particularly in the horror genre. For me there isn’t any particular comic books that have influenced me (although I was a big fan of The Sandman and Arkham Asylum). I think a lot of my interest in imagery and symbolism comes from an obsession with Fairy Tales as a young girl! I was obsessed with all sorts of mythology and mythical ‘hero's journey’ types of narratives and that became a way to understand and interpret different experiences of life. 

 To all;

Rachel:  In your work with ethical porn what are some of the damaging ideas about female sexuality that you seek to confront and dismantle?

Morgana: I started off partially because I couldn’t find the porn I wanted to watch. Often older people are shown in fairly over the top and fetishized ways, my production company Permission4pleasure is all about making age-positive porn. We know people don’t hit a certain age and then are no longer sexual, many people live (or want to live) fulfilling sex lives well into their later years. 

Josie: I mean there are so many things, I want to be part of the movement of people making porn that explores the whole spectrum of sexuality. I guess with female sexuality in particular of course there is the agism aspect, but also to start to break down the idea of woman as a passive subject just to be looked at and fapped over - I mean some people still don’t think women masturbate for pleasure or watch porn. It’s ridiculous.

Rachel:    What’s the most important benefit you hope people will gain from viewing the works?

Morgana:  From viewing my erotic/ pornographic films I hope people gain a sense of possibility, there is so much life to live - you can explore all the facets of your sexuality in a healthy and safe way and hopefully learn a lot about yourself along the way.

Josie:  Ultimately I hope people enjoy the experience of watching the film, but in terms of a takeaway message it’s probably that the shame and stigma around sex is still a very real thing for a lot of people. We can all take steps to help, be it judging yourself or others less harshly when it comes to sexual desires of consenting adults. 

Isabel: For me I hope it helps people look towards self acceptance, of their body, of their desire, of their mind. I think by showing a character that is railing against a world that wants her to be invisible as well as a lot of internal torment, we are probably mirroring the journey of many people out there. It is my hope that by representing a character like Morgana as the ‘hero’ of our story that people will feel less alone in their own struggles.  

Rachel: What is your favorite comic book and/or who is your favorite super hero?

Morgana: Batman - but I’m more of a horror film watcher than superhero film watcher. I’ll take Freddy Krueger thanks.

Josie: I’ve got a soft spot for Clowes so maybe Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron for favorite comic. Then favorite superhero has gotta be Martian Man Hunter, but specifically in his real form at Clark Kent’s parent’s house on Christmas playing with the Kent’s cat streaky. 

Isabel: Call me an old goth but it’s probably the The Sandman for me! I like the intricate and sprawling mythology and the characters who personify these different human traits and states of being! All of this stuff is very much in my wheelhouse. 

Rachel: How do/did you overcome imposter syndrome, and find the courage to share your work? What would you say to new creators as they’re finding their footing?

Morgana: It’s a struggle, it takes courage to put your work in front of people and I still get nervous and anxious about what people might think. Thankfully it’s been positive so far but that won’t stop me being nervous the next time we release something.
I think new creators should be really proud of themselves for creating art, it isn’t easy so be kind to yourself.

Josie: I don’t know that you can overcome imposter syndrome permanently? You have to work on that all the time. It just ebbs and flows like the tide, some days you hate yourself, and some days you don’t. New creators I’d say just start, it’s the actual doing of the thing that will get it done. It won’t be perfect, but nothing ever is. 

Isabel:  Ha ha, oh imposter syndrome my old friend! For me it is a constant battle but I think I just fall so in love with ideas and projects that I am able to fight through it and keep creating even though I do so with a great deal of self doubt and personal pain. As I get older it has gotten a little easier, but I would say to new creators to find good collaborators and always surround yourself with people who believe in you and your power. Trust your gut! Whether that be around creative decisions or when you are looking for people to work with. Cherish all your relationships and always be kind and ethical to those around you.

This is Rachel Jones at Fantasia 2020, signing off for CBNAH.

 

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