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Director of “Dick: The Documentary” Interviewed About His Provocative, Needed Film

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 by

Ready or not it’s here: Dick: The Documentary. Brian Fender, a fine art photographer, writer and filmmaker, is the man behind the film – a collection of interviews with men who share stories about their first orgasms, talk about circumcision, size, masturbation, molestation and religion among other things. The idea for the doc came to Fender while attending a independent film conference in New York City. A craigslist posting was all it took to launch the project. He was shooting naked men, from the shoulders down, on camera the next day. IndiePix Films recently got a chance to ask Fender some questions about the film.

IndiePix Films: You are a photographer and filmmaker. What attracts you to film and video and makes you want to work with it?

Brian Fender: And a writer as well. I am fascinated with personal narratives, and I’m very visual. I have a screenplay that was informed by my first really DIY documentary, xyQ. I am working on getting the screenplay produced. It was supposed to be my directorial debut in narrative film. I have started another screenplay informed by some men I interviewed in Dick, but I got side tracked with my new, non-profit website Artists Lend Support, which launches Sept. 14th.

IndiePix Films: How did you come to work with Chiemi Karasawa? She directed the fantastic “Elaine Strich: Shoot Me” (2013). She has also worked on a number of Hollywood films as script supervisor. She is listed as a producer for “Dick: The Documentary.”

Brian Fender: Chiemi and I have a mutual friend that she went to Boston University with. I was trying to get xyQ distributed and approached her and she believed in the project. She sent me to an Independent Filmmaker Project conference and during one of the symposiums about financing a film I came up with the Dick idea and I immediately launched out of my seat and went home put the ad on craigslist and began filming the next morning. I still have 950 double DVD sets of xyQ in our Upper West Side apartment closet.

Brian Fender

IndiePix Films: In your documentary the faces of men interviewed are not shown. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Brian Fender: I knew I would never get subjects otherwise, and the more I thought about the visual the more I liked the implications of the audience being confronted with this appendage that has so much anxiety around it with no visual escape. As it turns out many people start making faces out of the bodies.

IndiePix Films: Was “Dick: The Documentary” inspired by “The Vagina Monologues”? Have you seen that play? If yes, how is your film different than it?

Brian Fender: No it wasn’t. I did see The Vagina Monologues performed at Washington University where my partner was getting his doctorate. Well there were no vaginas to look at. If I remember correctly The Vagina Monologues felt very political. You can’t talk about vaginas and it not be political, because women have been sexually abused and objectified throughout history. But there are similarities in some of themes of sexual abuse, body image etc. But it’s been too long since I saw it to make educated comparisons.

IndiePix Films: You interviewed 63 men (between the age of 22 and 83) who responded to your craigslist posting. You must have left a lot of material out of the final cut. Do you have another film there? How did you decide what to include or leave out? How long did each interview last?

Brian Fender: Yes we did leave a lot of footage out, but I think we included the most compelling narratives that represented all 63 men. However, I did interview Rosewood, a self-professed gender terrorist who has lovely boobs and a penis. She was fascinating and so intelligent. The visual was so compelling, but in the end I decided that topic should be a separate documentary entirely. Trans people are already over sexualized and abused sexually and mentally by the general population. I think a straightforward interview would be more informative and moving.

IndiePix Films: You’ve called this film a social experiment in a way. What did you learn about humanity through your experiment?

Brian Fender: I learned that the men that most would call perverts for participating, where actually incredibly thoughtful and thought the the subject of men’s penises and men’s sexuality needed to be discussed. There was no bravado with the majority of these men, which was a little disappointing, because I wanted to cover the sexual abuse of women and try to understand the cause of it, but all I got was conjecture. This sample of men was very specific. If I had taken ten years to get a cross section of men that really represented all men. But mostly when I said it was a social experiment I think I was mostly thinking of the audience reaction being confronted with these penises on the screen sitting next to somebody. But the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival was the only film festival to premiere DICK. That’s why we are so thankful that IndiePix has the balls to distribute it.

Indiepix Films: The impact of religion-fueled guilt and sexual molestation come up in the film. I know one of your goals for the film was to tackle the issue of sexual violence. Were there questions you asked that participants took a pass on? Why do you think this issue is so important?

Brian Fender: No they all were extremely candid. Well I have nieces, a sister, a mom and many female friends and they are all at risk for sexual violence from men. I had one of my participants tell me that boys are often sexually abused by women and it is under reported. So sexual abuse it’s an epidemic and I think it comes from the very strict confines of religious guilt and shame that can distort a kid’s view about himself and make his parents very uncomfortable to talk about sexuality and have a distorted views on sexuality. Contrary to popular belief, I think kids should taught about sexuality young, and be told that sexuality can be a very self-empowering thing that it belongs to him or her to protect and be sexually responsible when the time comes. Instead of waiting until they are mortified teenagers.

IndiePix Films: In general who watches “Dick: The Documentary” more, men or women?

Brian Fender: Both. But Chiemi and I have been surprised to find out that heterosexual women are more excited by gaining this perspective.

IndiePix Films: What are you most proud of, or like the most, about your film?

Brian Fender: That it is provocative and a needed topic of discussion.

IndiePix Films: What was the most difficult aspect of making the film?

Brian Fender: Post-production. With Chiemi’s hard work we were able to secure services that we couldn’t afford, because no one wanted to invest in DICK! I think we are better off in the end.

IndiePix Films: What are some of your favorite documentaries and narrative films?

Brian Fender: My favorite documentary is The Cruise about Timothy “Speed” Levitch by Bennett Miller. I have watched it a hundred times with other people and enjoy it every time. Grey Gardens by the Maysles brothers. And several years ago one of the brothers released the out-takes that is focused more on little Edie. It’s absolutely brilliant footage. Just when you think she’s slipped off into la la land she says something very lucid and on point. And to be completely honest Chiemi’s Elaine Strich: Shoot Me, it is one of the most poignant, honest portraits of an incredible woman. I am very proud of Chiemi. And The Crash Reel directed by Lucy Walker, which is a powerful family love story that everybody should see. What Remains about Sally Mann, mostly because she lives the life I was working towards, then I was diagnosed with ALS. I will stop I could go on and on about documentaries.

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