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“My work has the potential to confront the audience with the power of femininity”

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Samira Elagoz • Director

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- Cineuropa talked to up-and-coming artist Samira Elagoz about her feature debut Craigslist Allstars, docu-fiction and the male and female gaze

Samira Elagoz • Director

Samira Elagoz is an emerging Finnish-Egyptian artist, performer and filmmaker based in Amsterdam. Despite graduating in choreography, her work leans towards the theatrical and cinematic, offering a unique brand of docu-fiction that explores topics of gender and sexuality. Her first feature-length project, the candid docu-pic Craigslist Allstars [+see also:
trailer
interview: Samira Elagoz
film profile
]
, was screened at IDFA and CPH:DOX, where it was nominated for a DOX:AWARD. Cineuropa talked to the artist as she prepared to embark on tour with her debut film, starting with Beldocs in Belgrade, Cinédoc in Tbilisi, Docs Against Gravity in Warsaw, the SPRING festival in Utrecht, Encounters in Capetown and the EYE film museum in Amsterdam. In this interview, Elagoz reveals more about her unique brand of docu-fiction, the differences between the male and female gaze and her thoughts on women portraying men.

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Cineuropa: Your background is in choreography, yet your work is a blend of cinema, cyberspace and theatre. Where does this combination come from?
Samira Elagoz: My taste has evolved somewhat counter-intuitively. Every time I saw a certain discipline or style I liked, I'd quickly find myself drawn to the opposite. I went from technical ballet to trashy performance art, from cinematic theatre to documenting real encounters. When I first entertained the idea of filming strangers, it was because I wanted to escape from working in a studio or collaborating with professionals, be they dancers, actors or artists. I wanted to make a work that was unscripted and unrehearsed, featuring people I had never met before.

How would you characterise your unique brand of docu-fiction?
I set out wanting to gather up real life events, perhaps even to create some in the process of searching for them. So, I think the most prominent aspect is my presence in the various scenes — a vérité-esque observer who is also being observed. This approach breaks down the boundaries between the artist and her subject, between director and performer and between objective observation and subjective interpretation. Craigslist Allstars, for example, is not a collection of portraits per se, but of interactions between me and my subjects. I have been a comrade, a lover, a confidant and a sidekick. I’m a conduit for the subjects to express themselves through. The fluidity and adaptability of my position is essential.

Craigslist Allstars is a sort of exploration of a modern man in virtual space. Why did you single out this gender angle — the male element?
Art, throughout history, has had no lack of men portraying women, so I’m really happy that currently there is a massive trend of women in virtual spaces, in charge of how they want to portray themselves. Instagram, for instance, is saturated with evidence of this. What was missing, to my mind, was women portraying men. However, I suppose it was also a matter of necessity when the project was still being developed, as those that responded to my ad were exclusively men. This was expected, but not planned. The project quickly evolved to incorporate that, resulting in the rather classical set-up of “girl meets boy”. So, it became about those gender roles, the almost involuntary ways we tend to behave in such situations.

The segments making up Craigslist Allstars seem as if they are part of a larger project. Is  that so, and what kind of project it is?
It is, I suppose as an umbrella term I could call it “Stranger Project”. I have a rather expansive collection of material, obtained through meetings via various online platforms like Tinder, Craigslist and Chatroulette. Each of my projects addresses subjects like the conventional perceptions of “man meets woman”, female sexualisation, loneliness in a digital age and the urge to connect with others. My work is inextricably tied to my life; as such, I also examine life as art, or as a source of art. The framing of each piece, however, is entirely different. My performance Cock, Cock, Who’s There?, a sister piece for Craigslist Allstars, is a more autobiographical story. And when people ask me about my motivations for either project, I speak about them very differently. I find it kind of intriguing to give the audience a somewhat malleable reinterpretation of my position after seeing more of my work, giving them a bigger picture as the projects inform each other.

Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze applies well to Craigslist Allstars, but you also document the gaze confronting it. Is this also something you set out to investigate in your docu-fiction or is it merely incidental? What about female empowerment?
Though my research was never an empowerment crusade, nor did I intend to comment on any obvious social context, it has become evident that my work has the potential to confront the audience with the power of femininity and the reactions it might elicit. But I’d say my own focus is not on the male or the female gaze, or on making disparaging statements about them. By allowing my subjects to take the camera and turn it around, to choose what to share, which contrasts starkly with the male gaze where women are assigned a specific role, I approach them with respect and empower them and the whole project by shifting the gaze both ways. I like to say I’m showing a female perspective on men with a documentarist gaze. And rather than making something that was about exposing men, and alienating them in the process, I wanted to make something that felt more inclusive.

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