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The Celluloid Bordello
A documentary by Juliana Piccillo

86 minutes, color, 2021

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Since the dawn of cinema, sex workers have served as muses to movie-makers. From the early white slavery pictures like The Girl Who Went Astray from 1900 to countless dramas and rom-coms such as Midnight Cowboy, Risky Business and Pretty Woman, hookers, hustlers, call girls, street walkers and strippers have been staples of the silver screen. Cinematic sex workers are often fantasy figures, or cautionary tales, or just punchlines. They are brutalized, killed off, scorned, sometimes rescued and almost always represented as if no sex worker is in the audience. Even in well-meaning documentaries, reality is distorted by filmmakers who are determined to show trauma, violence and pathos rather than the resilient and thriving communities that are the norm for many sex workers.

Featuring Annie Sprinkle, Carol Leigh, David Henry Sterry, Gabe Vigil, Juba Kalamka, Nicholas de Villiers and more, The Celluloid Bordello brings sex workers to the cinema. With equal parts historical overview, critique, and homage, this eye-opening film lets real-life dommes, escorts, porn stars and hustlers tell you which films they love and which they hate, which get it right and which miss the mark, and, most importantly, how perpetuating stereotypes in media affects real peoples’ lives.

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"A deep, cerebral dive into the cinema of sex work. Having former and current sex workers and activists commenting on the portrayals of their community in the popular media is genius." - Front Page Confidential

"Wonderful...eye-opening! This timely film shows elegantly how sex workers are portrayed in film and, similarly, society."- Radical Art Review

"A provocative documentary essay about the many different ways that movies and television have depicted prostitutes and strippers across the decades, in ways sometimes bracingly honest but more often exaggerated and exploitative. Directed by Juliana Piccillo, the film is loaded with clips, strung together with interviews in which critics and sex workers offer insights into pop culture’s love-hate relationship with the people who sell their bodies for a living."- Los Angeles Times

"A fascinating insight into how cinema impacts real-world communities and a hopeful argument for the power of cinema to comfort and inspire." - Letterboxd


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