'Cam Girlz' Is A Dreamy, NSFW Look Into The Lives Of Online Sex Workers
Cam Girlz is a dreamy, blunt and NSFW look into the lives of a group of women who make a living performing for strangers using a web cam. As the documentary unfolds, the women each take on their own colorful personalities connected only by their vocation.Brooklyn-based filmmaker Sean Dunne is no stranger to entering a world foreign to him and offering a new perspective by artfully presenting what he observes. It's something he's done with Florida Man and American Juggalo. Cam Girlz is a beautifully shot piece of voyeurism that, without narration, moves like a ghost through the lives of numerous women. The viewer immediately gets the gist of camming: the women perform for paying viewers, and it's definitely sexual, but it doesn't feel vulgar. The cinematography is intentional—Dunne said he wanted it to feel like a makeup commercial, not something garish. The women's personalities are as on display as much their figures. It's not all tease and body parts. Sometimes, it's dressing up like a mime and playing the Game of Thrones theme on an accordion, too. Other times, it's hanging out with a puppet that ejaculates blood. Camming is just as weird and varied as, well, real life.
Dunne told LAist that his last film, a documentary about drug addicts in West Virginia called Oxyana had left him in a dark place so he was looking for something more light-hearted. The idea for Cam Girlz occurred to him when he was watching porn with his girlfriend. A pop-up window advertising a cam site appeared, and he and his girlfriend found themselves with a lot of questions. Who was this woman? Where'd she come from? When he decided to make a film to explore those questions, he said he didn't know he'd find a "vibrant and amazing and empowering community" in the world of camming.
Dunne cast the film mostly through Twitter. One cam girl in particular, Sophia Locke, runs an event in Vegas called Cam Girl Mansion, which is essentially a number of women who perform on cam while all hanging out in a mansion. So, pretty self-explanatory. Dunne was able to cut a trailer after his invitation to Cam Girl Mansion, then used Kickstarter to fund the rest of the film.
Who a cam girl is and why she does what she does might be a foreign concept to someone who hasn't ever done it, or who's never met anyone who does. Dunne admits even he went into the whole thing with "some pre-conditioning."
"I was looking at these girls as people that needed to be saved," he said. "'Oh, are they okay? What do their parents think? Could they ever have a boyfriend?' These antiquated type of values that I didn't even notice or think about. What surprised me going into this was how empowering it was for the women involved."
Dunne's pre-conceived notions faded as the film progressed. As the viewer meets the women, they learn that some of them use camming to make more money than they had in other jobs, while others get a genuine connection from it. The women are happier. They have more time. They feel freer. At one point, the film visits an older woman who says she began camming after her husband died. She says the job's allowed her to form connections and intimacy with others. Another woman says that her husband left her because he no longer found her attractive, but that she's found comfort and self-confidence in the positive reaction she gets from her camming audience. Aella, the first girl you see in the film who dances in a mime outfit, had previously been sheltered from sexuality.
Dunne said his favorite reaction to his film is the same one he had: a changing perspective as the audience hears the women speaking for themselves. "When someone goes in with their pre-conceived notions and comes out thinking with more of their love-brain than their fear-brain."
One of the biggest surprises Dunne had beyond his own changing perspective was that he found not only loquacious performers, but audience members willing to talk about why they visited cam sites.
"We never expected in a million years that some guy who [watches cam sites] would agree to talk to us about his porn watching habits," Dunne said. "But it really speaks to the community. It wasn't as seedy an interaction as I thought it would be. [These men] are really seeking connection more than anything."
Dunne said the most accurate analogy is going to a bar. While some think camming operates as a virtual strip club—and some women do dance on cam—Dunne thinks it's more like a number of men showing up at their local pub to interact with one another and flirt with the attractive bartender.
"What they want is attention and connection," he said. "All that stuff really fascinates me. We made a whole film about people that are staring at a two-dimensional image and connecting [with her]."
Though there are certainly cam sites that feature male and trans performers, Cam Girlz sticks to its namesake and only features female performers. I asked Dunne how he felt about being a man exploring a world dominated by women. Sex workers, in particular, haven't always had the best time getting their own narratives across in a sea of close-minded people who make bad assumptions about their reasons for choosing their careers. The idea that a male filmmaker would be the one creating a documentary about this female community was controversial. Dunne says that while the film is ultimately his own interpretation of camming, he's doesn't believe in putting up barriers as to what he can explore. Dunne isn't a cam girl, but he's also not a Juggalo, nor a drug addict, nor a Florida Man, for instance. (And next up, Dunne is working on a 10-episode series called Rabbit Holes, which, again, will explore the lives of unconventional people.)
"You watch any film with an understanding that it came from an author," he said. "The author had things in their head and was conditioned. And yeah, the author here is a man, but I don't think that takes away from the women and their words. That was a big focus of the film: pulling ourselves out of it as much as possible. You don't feel my presence as much and that was because the women had such strong voices."
He also noted that he tried to approach the film without fear or negativity. The negative things about camming—and frankly, sex work—are obvious. We can find numerous news stories about young women who get into camming or other sex work, only to be outed and shamed. "The downfalls are staring you in the face if you look at society," Dunne said. "This film starts in a different place. We're just trying to normalize this."
Cam Girlz is certainly full of boobs, butts, vaginas, fondling, masturbating, spanking, orgasms and moaning, but by the end you've seen a lot more than that from the women. The cam girls become people with pets, hobbies, puppet fetishes, musical talent, costumes, significant others and children. They're women. They're people.
Editor's Note: The spelling of Aella's cam name was corrected.