Provincetown, Massachusetts is one of those rarified American towns. Families stroll down the street staking out a place for lunch while drag queens peddle their upcoming evening show. Lesbian couples dine with their straight friends and gay guys head to the daily Tea Dance while mothers and fathers lead their kids back to one of the numerous B&Bs from the beach. It is, as one person here observed, what other American small towns might look like in 50 years.
The Provincetown International Film Festival reflects its community’s progressive slant. While not a “gay” film festival, it certainly has a lot of gay work. The fest programs the latest big hits going down the film festival pipeline along with niche fair. This year’s lineup includes a hefty dose of documentary features spotlighting sex. Cameron Yates’ SXSW feature, “The Canal Street Madam,” which is having its New York debut at BAM tonight, looks at the issue of sex workers through the case of Jeanette Maier, a New Orleans madam who was busted by the FBI. Directors Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet’s “8: The Mormon Proposition” spotlights the central role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints played in passing California’s notorious Prop 8 which nullified gay marriage.
The topic is also raised in Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir’s “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.” The film follows two women who met in the ’60s and looks at their relationship amidst societal change, leading up to their betrothal in Canada. Malcolm Ingram’s “Bear Nation” turns the lens on a segment of the gay community known as “bears,” who are sometimes seen as a maligned community within a maligned community. They’re masculine full bodies – and hairy – attributes not always embraced by mainstream gay culture. And Stu Maddux’s “Gen Silent” looks at the problem of LGBT seniors who must return to the closet when they must go to long-term healthcare facilities.
Sex, venereal disease, teen pregnancy, American culture and sex education is the spotlight of director James Houston’s world premiere feature aptly titled, “Let’s Talk About Sex.” The film reveals America’s contradictory relationship with sex. On the one hand, the popular culture is very sexualized and youth today are exposed to an avalanche of imagery that glorifies sex. Still, America’s Puritanism nevertheless reigns supreme when it comes to educating the country’s youth about sex. The film sites a statistic that says that while 85% of Americans want comprehensive sex education, a vocal minority are adamantly opposed. The result, Houston says are some other startling statistics. Of the 18.9 million new STD cases in the U.S. each year, 50% occur among 15 – 24 year olds. The teen gonorrhea rate is over 74 times higher than in The Netherlands and France where sex education is de rigeur. Half of all new HIV infections occur in people under 25 and $35 billion is spent annually by taxpayers on treatment of STDs, new HIV cases and teen childbearing.
“The film’s goal is to bring the facts to life and do it in an entertaining style,” Houston told indieWIRE in Provincetown today. “In America we can’t accept that youth are having sex and w think that if we do talk about it then somehow it’s going to make them do it.”
Houston, who grew up in Sydney, Australia, became interested in the topic after doing a photo book called “MOVE” (PowerHouse Books), which raised a half million dollars for AIDS charities. Now based in New York, Houston is one of the world’s most successful body and beauty photographers, having worked with celebs including Hugh Jackman, Jessica Alba, Kirsten Dunst and Cate Blanchett. He has also done commercial directing, working with Clinique and Hugo Boss.
The film tackles the statistics by profiling individuals around the country. He also goes to The Netherland where sex education is the norm and contrasts that country’s statistics with America’s.
“In Europe, the community accepts the reality that young people are having sex. So for them, it’s a health issue… Teens are going to find the information somewhere. They can go to the Internet.”
Houston went on to say that his biggest concern is with teenage women because many turn to the web and view pornography for information, which doesn’t provide much in the way of help on issues specific to females. “[Porn] is made by, for and funded by men,” he added. And indeed the numbers are startling. If the U.S. were to achieve te sexual helth outcomes of The Netherlands, each year there would be 617,000 fewer pregnancies, 379,000 fewer births and 75,000 fewer abortions. The one year savings to taxpayers would be almost $550 million.
“It’s crazy. As complicated as the issue is, it’s also an easy solution,” said Houston. “Look at the facts. See what’s working in other countries and give teens information…Ask parents, ‘do you want your kids to be one of those statistics?'”
“The solution needs to come from where the problem started,” added producer Neal Weisman (“Red, Hot + Blue”). “Religion, politics – the solution comes from the same place.”