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“I'm not here to show people what they want to see”
Culture & Life

“I'm not here to show people what they want to see”

4 min. 08.03.2012 From our online archive
Director Michael Glawogger presented his latest documentary Whores' Glory, exploring prostitution in three countries across the globe, at the Discovery Zone film festival. Wort.lu/en sat down with the filmmaker to talk about the film and his craft.

Director Michael Glawogger presented his latest documentary Whores' Glory, exploring prostitution in three countries across the globe, at the Discovery Zone film festival. Wort.lu/en sat down with the filmmaker to talk about the film and his craft.

Making the documentaries Megacities and Workingman's Death, Glawogger says, started a series of questions. Especially a sequence featuring a stripper, which became a “key moment in interesting and controversial ways” got audiences talking about issues of “religion, mother figures, families, whores, victims, pride, many many things.”

With Whores' Glory considered the third part of a trilogy, Glawogger says the earlier films raised questions he explores in the latest piece. “I already thought about the concept ten years ago, and finally I thought I should do it.”

Making the film became a project spread out over some four years, with negotiations, permissions and planning making up a large portion of time in comparison to the 30-day shoot in brothels in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico.

“The most difficult for getting permissions was Thailand,” says Glawogger, “because the Kingdom of Thailand says there is no prostitution. So you don't know what to ask the authorities that you want to film. It got very absurd, and took a lot of time and the help of a lot of people.”

Exploring prostitution across the globe

The locations chosen by Glawogger offer an interesting set-up for his exploration of religion and prostitution, with Buddhist prostitutes in Bangkok, Muslims in Bangladesh and conservative Catholics in Mexico.

While audiences may ask why Glawogger travelled so far, rather than showing prostitution as it happens in Europe or the Western world, the filmmaker rejects these claims. “I cannot force myself to think in euro-centric ways,” he says. “I rather love to think of people who see the film in other parts of the world to have the notion that it's just around the corner.”

Glawogger seems to have a very practical attitude on the issue of where he chose to film and what he chose to focus on. “I'm not here to show people what they want to see. I'm here to show people what I want to show them. There's always a question of 'Why didn't you...', but it's a boring question.”

“I'm not a social worker, I cannot be”

Researching the film, but also gaining the trust of prostitutes, pimps and customers, turned into something of a waiting game. “The story of prostitution is a story of waiting and boredom, of watching television, letting the day pass. If I had a hard time during research then because I had to wait for such a long time.”

While especially the Bangladesh section throws audiences into the depths of human opppression and near slavery, Glawogger's role was that of a filmmaker and not an NGO worker. “Of course you go home and you think about these people, but I'm not a social worker, I cannot be. It's too big. I can show stuff and that's about the end of it.”

Some may criticise the lack of moral judgement in the film, but Glawogger quite deliberately leaves room for interpretation, “handing out pictures,” which in many ways speak for themselves.

Working in a disputed genre

“When I see something I have to think about how I transport this authentically with sound, with music, with language, imagery and faces, so that the viewer can comprehend the vision of that place I have seen and want to show them,” says Glawogger.

Whether the movie crosses some kind of borders of the documentary genre along the way, remains for audiences to decide. “That's not my problem. It's the problem of the people talking about it. I make films, and I think they are very authentic. If they cross borders then that's the way it is.”

Working in a genre that has seen the debate about how to depict reality onscreen ongoing since its beginnings, Glawogger's confident attitude also seems a liberating and healthy one.

“We had an agreement”

Nonetheless, there are things the filmmaker says he would never do to get a good image. “I think there's no reason on earth why you would use a candid camera and film people who don't want to be shown. It's a morally very unfair and unjust thing to do.”

His agreement and trust with the film's protagonists shows, as he is let behind closed doors and captures touching and sometimes surprising moments on screen.

“When I show my films to the people in it, they have never complained. They were there when I filmed it. That's what they offered me.”

This offer is often shocking, but Glawogger has issues with the term voyeurism. “What is voyeurism? I provocatively say I'm a voyeur because I like looking at things,” he says. “If I stumble through the world meek and shy about what I want to do, then I would never arrive anywhere.”