Category: From The Director


Her autobiographically tinged drama is a world apart from E.L. James’s conservative hokum. -Filmgazette

Link to the original review here!

Or read the English translation, generously provided by filmmaker Nina Gielen.

A top, close to hitting bottom

 To not immediately think of the “biggest international best-seller in recent years” at the mere mention of “BDSM” might be rendered even more difficult in light of the upcoming aggressively marketed release of the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. But even the title of Cheyenne Picardo’s low-budget film debut “Remedy” is like an antidote administered just in time to that slick, glossy fantasy. Picardo too tells of a young woman who enters a dazzling gray area between leather bonds and whipped flesh, and has a close and personal encounter with dominance and submission – beyond that, her autobiographically tinged drama is a world apart from E.L. James’s conservative hokum.

 Along with its unnamed protagonist (Kira Davies) the movie stumbles somewhat innocuously into the life of a sex worker and seems to initially not know where it’s headed. The heroine, who decides on a whim to take a job as a dominatrix in a New York S&M club, henceforth calling herself “Mistress Remedy”, staggers doe-eyed on uncertain stilletto heels through the introductory scenes and not only gains insight (along with the audience) into the world of BDSM, but also exposes the structure of the film: With the aid of individual episodes that often share only the protagonist’s presence as a common denominator, writer-director Picardo gradually unfurls the multi-layered portrait of a workplace that’s unusual at first glance only.

 In spite of this, “Remedy”–with its cheap digital look and blatant tonal shifts–seems almost naïve and trashy at first. The dominatrix-colleagues’ rude reception of Mistress Remedy seems entirely cliched, and her very first client, known as “Marathon Man” because of his predilection for dental treatments, seems to set the tone for a voyeuristic freakshow to come. But Picardo skilfully circumvents the potentially sensationalistic nature of her story by opting to show faces rather than genitalia, and, along with her talented lead actress, exploring first and foremost the psychological ramifications of sex work on Mistress Remedy.

 In “Remedy” the BDSM storyline doesn’t serve as a template for shallow erotic entertainment, but neither is the film in any way sex negative or damning. Even if Mistress Remedy learns over time that her job comes with certain nuisances and unwanted humiliations (of which having to clean up her work space is the least), using the lows and traumas her character experiences as a vehicle for preaching about fallen women seems the last thing on Picardo’s agenda. The visceral discomfort that sets in more and more for the young dominatrix (and presumably the audience) doesn’t stem from rigid sexual morality, but comes across as a critique of capitalism that also affects work places far removed from the sex industry.

Mistress Remedy’s apparently emancipated role in acting as a top to male bottoms quickly loses all of its empowering qualities in a commercial context; in the end the strong woman merely serves to cater to male pleasure. But not only is Mistress Remedy’s own authentic desire negotiable, accessible and exploitable; even her refusal can be turned into capital: When the heroine turns down a Jewish client aroused by antisemitic slurs in a self-confident and well-spoken-manner, he still leaves a bundle of cash on the table as a fee , thereby perversely turning even the stubborn refusal to be bought into a desired commodity.

 Equally misleading and telling is a recurring scene that purports to show a private moment. Mistress Remedy and a colleague are casually chatting over a smoke, but as the camera pulls back, what looks like a cigarette break is in fact revealed to be part of their job routine: A mummified man kneels before the two women, and the chain-smoking dominatrixes put out one cigarette butt after the other on his naked back. Thus, a gesture of empowerment, pleasure and privacy are all subsumed into an assembly-line production.



REVIEW in Programmkino

REMEDY tells of the emotional journey of the leading woman in a seductive low-budget indie look, that reminds a bit of cinema verité and the style of Wong Kar-Wai … but is in any case a far cry from high-gloss productions like EYES WIDE SHUT. – Programmkino

REMEDY got reviewed by!

(Translation by Toby Tentakel.)

A club in New York. A young woman, her name shall remain unknown, watches a BDSM performance. “Do you know someone who does that?” She asks a friend. “That’s not for you,” he replies. This is the beginning: a challenge, a game. The woman contacts a professional BDSM studio and now calls herself Mistress Remedy. She meets her colleagues and learns the processes, equipment and No-Gos: The women don’t undress and have not – at least officially – sex with clients. Prostitution is illegal in the United States.

Based on her own experience as a professional switch (someone who can assume both the dominant and submissive role), Cheyenne Picardo tells of Remedy’s encounters and the emotions involved with them. Some scenes are quite bizarre. The very first customer wants, for example, a dental treatment with anesthetics from Remedy, but she instead puts him to sleep with a foot massage. Another loves to be used as a piece of furniture while two women smoke and talk about their relationship life. Unlike countless pseudo-documentaries on TV, REMEDY is not about showing the most shocking fantasies imaginable, but rather the interpersonal life, what is happening invisibly between Remedy and her customers. With one client, for example, she starts a contest to see who can endure the most pain, a game that appeals to Remedy. Another one teaches her professional bondage and ties her into a stylish package after he notices her lousy technique.

On the way home (one of the very few moments that take place outside the studio) you can see Remedy in the subway, dreaming. She finally decides to work as a sub, to be dominated by customers. This will get her more money, but she does not yet expect how intense and disturbing this experience will get for her.

REMEDY tells of the emotional journey of the leading woman in a seductive low-budget indie look, that reminds a bit of cinema verité and the style of Wong Kar-Wai (Picardo cites Leigh, Cronenberg and Lizzie Borden as her role models), but is in any case a far cry from high-gloss productions like EYES WIDE SHUT. In the corner of one of the sordid playrooms are buckets and a broom, a throne with a wooden cross is poorly attached to the wall and might tip over any time. This depiction does not diminish the emotional intensity of the narrated scenes at all, which is especially due to Kira Davies credible depiction of Remedy as a curious, open-minded and intelligent character who is also inexperienced and prone to overconfidence. Finally, Remedy’s self-experience experiment demands too much of her. Cheyenne Picardo stages this neither as a complete disaster, nor does she hold the BDSM scene responsible for Remedy’s collapse. REMEDY tells of how valuable, entertaining, sometimes painful but definitely interesting it is to make experiences with other people.


“Domme Shorts”

So it seems appropriate to mention the other film about sex work I’m working on — it’s a cycle of twelve shorts (or more if I get to them) called, simply, WORK. Yes, I know I kind of overdo it with the all-caps thing. I probably don’t use em dashes appropriately either.

The first one called “Timewasters” appears below, and is a comedic short film featuring two dommes who are waiting for clients who will never show up, as emails they have written to the dommes are read in voiceover. (Yes, the emails are real client emails, only altered to make them keyword unsearchable at my consultant’s request.)

WORK Episode 1: Timewasters from The One That Got Away on Vimeo.

What I love about this is that every piece in the cycle will either be inspired by things I have gone through or things other sex workers have seen or done. I believe in the power of narrative to do the best job of capturing the truth of sex work, but that’s only possible with more than just one voice harmonizing in the work.

The top image is some of the ideas floated by one of the workers I’ve consulted (with a few of my own peppered in there)… I never have been great at preproduction.

When the director has doubts…

So I’ve been going through my Facebook messages since deciding that I no longer wanted to have a personal account on the networking site for a number of reasons. Advertisements, the cockamamie decency polcies, #namergate (or whatever the kids were calling it), and my natural distaste for things that people try to convince me are “indispensable.”

I came upon this conversation, with some edits for clarity.

HIM: My girl friend watched the movie for the first time yesterday, and unfortunately she was really upset and angry about it afterwards

ME: uhhhhhh okay
Did you assure her I’m very much alive and working again?

HIM: yeah, she did know that part before already
it was more like that she thought, the film itself without more explanations could give some problematic representation for people not associated with the BDSM scene
like when they watch it, they could think this all is “normal” (which in a sad way it often is) in a BDSM house and that those women working there could be nothing more than play toys

ME: Yeah, that’s something I struggle with.
Which is why I have to [publicly support sex worker activism] or I risk doing real damage.

HIM: My girlfriend is very sex-positive and into BDSM for a long time – and she also has a deep understanding for sex-workers and their struggles and problems, so the idea of [Safe Sane Consensual] is very important for her, especially in communicating this to beginners or people just [becoming] interested in BDSM

ME: [This is why I chose to] make it clear that this is me, and I made the film, and lived it.
And that I know it’s fucked up. But I want the audience to know it’s fucked up. I just have to follow it up with ways that audiences can know what needs to change to make it LESS fucked up.

HIM: Yeah, she has nothing against you, don’t worry, and the film was also impressive for her, she just missed some kind of message to the people telling them: hey, there are some things that went wrong here (not only from your own [personal] side), but rather from the bad working conditions and the general acceptance and reputation of sex workers in society.

ME: Yeah, it’s implicit — but so systemic that people might miss it.


HIM: She thought it could be [interpreted] as “the way it is supposed to be,” not “the way it sometimes is but that should not be.” Make sense?

ME: Yes, but hrmmmm unsure how anyone would get that it’s the “way it’s supposed to be”

HIM: Well, she thinks it could very likely be that someone sees such situations in a dungeon for the first time, and thinks, hey, since it is a legal grey area and a woman there has not much security, I can do pretty much whatever I want with her. we pretty much talked all night about this

ME: Yes, but that’s already the case. That’s not something promoted by my film. That’s ALREADY HAPPENING.
You don’t get change by telling people that everyone in the industry is doing peachy creamy. But you also don’t get change by making it seem like everyone is a trafficked slave.

HIM: That’s why Remedy worked (for me) both on the level of telling a (your) personal story, but also showing the situations that could (and do) happen to other sex-workers, in a very powerful way. And I agree with you that press and discussions and education around such a film is probably a step in the right direction to make people not only aware of the issues, but also that a change is necessary.

So here’s the thing. I’m TERRIFIED that people will misinterpret the film. It’s happened a few times, but I feel it is the risky part of making art. Once you’ve created something and released it into the world, really the interpretation is out of your hands. Sure, by attaching my legal name to the project, I’m standing behind my work in a way that perhaps I couldn’t do if I either used a pseudonym or talked about my story in the third person. But I created an immersive, subjective film. I deliberately invite viewers to put themselves wholly into my main character. If you come to the narrative with notions that sex work leads to victimhood, then I almost guarantee you will walk away from the film believing that REMEDY is the story of a victim. If you believe that sex work is like any other job where there are good days and bad days, where the risk is really due to an unsafe legal and political environment versus there being any thing “wrong” with the work itself, then you will see the film as supporting this perspective.

Here’s the thing — and this is a bit of a confession here — when I started making the film, I was convinced the reason I had a less than stellar experience working in a dungeon was that I was bad at it! (I never ever thought that the job or BDSM was the “problem,” by the way. I never judged the work or my coworkers. Only myself, and very harshly.) I would have agreed with the victim narrative because I was actively victim blaming myself. We were halfway through filming — specifically The Businessman scene — when I figured out what really made the job ultimately unsustainable for me, and that it wasn’t my stupidity or naivete.

Long story short, I started the process a victim and ended it an activist.

Nachtschatten BDSM/Fetish Film Festival

This nine day festival from 20-28 June 2014 “showcases international short and feature films that are speicifically related to BDSM and fetish topics.” REMEDY had four screenings – three of which were sold out – at the festival. Below are a few of the audience comments.

I can’t remember the last time a film had such an impact on me! A real personal and moving story, which I did not expect from the trailer (which gave the impression of a rather bland “documentary”).

(Director’s Note: I do need to do a post about why that trailer is (a) so long and (b) was the only trailer released until November 2014. I rather enjoy the criticism, however, that it made the movie seem like a bland documentary. It’s sort of the best compliment someone making a work of realistic fiction can get.)

For me, it was definitely not about “failure” in the end, but standing up for your own rights and feelings! Impressive!

I really enjoyed this independent film, not only concerning its fresh approach to content and storytelling, but also in its technical realization. This was a really “cinematic” experience and I had the feeling that each and every shot and scene was carefully planned by the director. This is truly a work of passion and art!

I would not have stayed there for long, I would have left after a week the latest. How did she find the endurance and strength and why?

(Director’s Note: Perhaps I should put something about this in the Q&A as I’m not totally sure the reasons I stayed are totally aligned with the reasons Remedy stayed. Also there is an epilogue to the real story about what I did after I stopped actively taking sessions which is not included in the film.)

You could feel her pain, and you could feel her joy. Especially the two scenes where she is treated as a sub in both, but can hardly endure the first session (dance) but really enjoys the other one. That really showed me how big the gap can be and how dangerous as well as fulfilling such job can be.

(Director’s Note: My brother thinks it’s too long too. The way I see it, this could be my only chance to make a film with total creative editorial control. I’ll let the next one be 100 minutes, promise.)

I though there were some scenes that were dragging a bit, especially towards the end, but overall a good film with really solid production values!

The most interesting part for me was how the story was told. You could tell that much thought went into the screenplay, and I particularly liked how the film did not rely on conventional storytelling approaches for either documentaries/interviews or the standard drama cruve we find in each and every blockbuster these days, but rather used these episodic sessions to gradually give us more insights.

Anti Sex Work Propaganda

The screening at SWOP-NYC last night went well, and I’m eager to do more like this across the country. The post-film discussion also confirmed a fear of mine, that some workers may find the film to be a piece of anti-sex work propaganda.

I can see how that read is possible, and it’s part of the reason that I chose to release the film under my real name and also make it clear in post-film discussions that I am in no way opposed to sex work, even if I’m slow to get involved in any political movement.

Because I created the film as a sort of exorcism of self-degradation. Before I wrote the script, I had assumed that the reason my trajectory as a pro-switch had gone so poorly was because something was wrong with ME. “Research” through memoirs of independent Dommes confirmed that I must have been terrible at it because I didn’t have a closet full of Prada bags. It was only after the film was completed that I realized that the problem was not me, not kinky sex, and not the work. And, despite what some people might think, I never thought the sex or the work was the problem. I was *never* ashamed of having done sex work.

The problem was, in this political and social climate, with sex work being stigmatized and under the best of circumstances inhabiting a grey area that is subject to legal whim half the time, the deck was and is stacked against workers. I have personal pride and competitive issues, that tendency so common (especially in subs) to never actually admit that something is too much for me until I, sometimes literally, break in two.

Working in a house tickled these drives something ferocious. I believe that if everything had gone well, if most clients were good people, if everyone in a house had the workers’ health and well-being in mind, and (most importantly) if everyone involved from owner to worker to client was aware that the law had workers’ backs, I would *never* have left. The work is fucking interesting, and anyone who knows me is aware of how much I value a personal arsenal of good stories.

I started making this film so that I could work through my past in a way far slower and more expensive than therapy, but also so that other people who had similar experiences wouldn’t feel alone or marginalized or defective. If my story *doesn’t* reflect other workers’ experiences, I urge anyone — and I mean anyone — with a story to find some way to put it out there. I never wanted REMEDY to be the last word, but rather to be the start of a long conversation.

La Fête du Slip

REMEDY screened three times in Lausanne, Switzerland as part of gender and sexuality film festival La Fete du Slip on March 7, 8, and 9..

I was lucky enough to be able to attend this festival, and I want to commend everyone involved for their support and kindness… and for putting me up and taking me cheese shopping. I hope to be a part of it next year! (Hopefully my French will improve by then as well.)

REMEDY’s Rotterdam Success!

A newly subtitled edition of REMEDY screened on January 29 in Rotterdam to a sold out house. Here was what some of them had to say:

“REMEDY is a good example of the quality you can find in the indy scene. Often kinky movies are mainly about images and lack a good storyline. This wasn’t the case with REMEDY, it was intriguing till the end.”

“I thought REMEDY was brilliant… I love the change between funny, awkward and horny. The opening scene which left you disgusted right away, the scene with the actor which took my breath away. Good music, beautiful images. Yes, I loved it!”

So pleased that it went over so well, and looking forward to more European success stories!

Private Screening at Videology on 2/2

They came again, my friends, and this time they brought their friends. And this time, thanks to this review, a few of the “industry people” came. As a result of reactions from that screening and from the review itself, I am DETERMINED to schedule a “Pros Only” screening for women who worked in houses, particularly, plus any other sex worker who may want to join.

Videology, which was a fantastic screening location, may very well host a public screening of the film for free — meaning I don’t have to rent space. More details on that as they come.

Additionally, I hope that the Videology screening can help me kick off a series of private events, which the only way people in the United States can see the film until I get the music licensing straightened out. (Actually, I’m still holding out that some domestic festival takes a shine to the film. I can still hope, eh?)

NewFilmmakers Winterfest at Anthology

They come to see my film. My closest friends. They come from everywhere: high school, nerd camp, goth clubs, fetish clubs, Columbia’s co-ed literary society, a favorite karaoke bar, roller derby, burlesque… the perverted version of the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.

And I was terrified, punctuated by my unsubtle sneaking of sips of The Kraken spiced rum from the bottle. I had stood in front of strangers in Seattle, Portland, Berlin, and barely broke a sweat. But in front of my own friends, I was a complete wreck. Staring at the floor, afraid to see that “you made me sit through your shitty band” look — which is only familiar because of the number of times I’ve tried to hide it.

But it went well. My friends and I closed the KGB Bar. They bought me spiced rum. Some were seeing the film for the second time.

The hard part is clearly over. I am loved, the movie is loved, and I can’t wait to put this baby out to pasture and start the next one.