How I met Jill Soloway is Michelle Tea’s fault. We were both on the bill for Michelle Tea’s Radar Reading Series in San Francisco last year. Soloway stood in the back and I stood in the front because my job was to pick questions out of a basket and read the answers impromptu to the audience before the readings. Between us, a naked guy sat in a metal chair with a brown paper grocery bag next to him on the floor. Inside the grocery bag were some of his clothes plus other mysterious nudist nomenclature. To be a nudist takes some flamboyance, but this grisly dude was not someone who should have been flaunting his nudity. He was flabby with a round belly and silver chest hair and I wondered if his balls were cold pressed against the metal chair. The question picked from the basket:
“What do you do when you are trying to have a reading and there’s a naked man sitting in the audience?”
My answer: “In my experience, the best way to make a naked man go away is to jerk him off. Do I have any volunteers?” The largely lesbian audience looked disgusted. Rhodessa Jones grinned. My ex-girlfriend, Marya laughed hysterically.
Jill Soloway did not volunteer to jerk off the fellow, but she read something searing, bright and funny about same sex marriage by which she meant having the same exact sex for over ten years with her adorable composer hubby, Bruce who also stood in the back and also did not volunteer to jerk the nudist off. A couple weeks later, Jill invited me to walk the reservoir with her. I was nervous because I’m a huge fan of her work. I wore lipstick and an extra cute, pink “Love’s Baby Soft” t-shirt, but Jill’s easiness and grace mellowed my nerves. We talked about sex work and love, feminism and whether or not women had a responsibility to each other in the context of sex work. I think the consensus was that we all have a responsibility to each other. And that fact shines brightly in the way Jill wrote and directed her first feature film “Afternoon Delight.”
Morgan, A blue haired pixie with a sexy mole on her eyelid picked me up from the Salt Lake City airport last Monday. I couldn’t believe I was at Sundance. I wasn’t a director or producer or actor—just a technical consultant to Juno Temple for the sex worker scenes and in casting, where I was able to hire 15 dancers for the strip club scene in order to create the authentic strip club vibe Jill envisioned. But, Sundance? There was no way I could go. Then, Jill made me a seductive offer and a week later I was en route to Park City, being delivered to a cluster of condos packed into puffy white snow where the rest of the caste and crew stayed. It was magical, all that gorgeousness.
“Afternoon Delight” was scheduled to premiere Monday night and so I planned to steam my wrinkled dress and gussy up for the dinner party then shred the dance floor at the after party.
First, I had to find Stephen Elliott, who was somewhere writing about Sundance for The Rumpus. His condo was down some icy metal steps and was a toasty warm reprieve from the cold. He offered me pineapple chunks and bagels right away then showed me his latest film project in preparation to make his next movie based on his novel “Happy Baby.” He had just broken up with his GF, but after we talked a while, it sounded like it was anything but over and we commiserated about how relationships are about compromise and those compromises can be annoying. At one point he said “I’ve never been in an open relationship where it’s okay to have sex with other people.” His phone rang and he disappeared into his room while I got busy finagling tickets to movies and made plans to meet the crew and cast at the dinner later. I hopped on one of the free shuttles in search of a hot cup of coffee and soak in the crowd on the streets.
Before I tell you how amazing it was to see the final cut of the movie for the first time at the premiere, I have to tell you how amazing it was to work with Jill Soloway. If a woman sets the tone of the home, Jill Soloway is entirely responsible for the unusually intimate feeling on the set of “Afternoon Delight.” She maked clear that everyone was critical. Her organizing, helpful spirit was at once cohesive, patient, obsessive and joyful. I’d been on movie sets before and felt the sting of the imposed and normalized hierarchy that made me wince. Jill’s entire crew felt like an insta-family—not stuck together but absolutely crazy about each other. We all poured everything into creating Jill’s vision together. After our little reservoir walk, I read her script and was floored by her desire to create a relatable and complex sex worker who was naïve and streetwise, lost, found, independent, slightly unhinged and at home in the sex industry. The protagonist, Rachel, played by the hilarious and vulnerable Kathryn Hahn was a palette of gray areas touching on that responsibility women have to each other with her stew of mixed loyalties and motives, confusing desires and maternal impulses.
The premiere was a rush of tears and hugs. The movie was better than I remembered and more moving and edgy than I had expected. Stephen and I piled into a car full of party goers and cut up the dance floor well after they closed and continued the party after hours and buzzed until our happy, ecstatic brains could finally calm.
And that was only the first night of Sundance. To be continued..