Gender and sexuality put into perspective in experimental film

By Kalyn Dunkins

Arts & Life Editor

Masculinity, femininity and… film? It seems unheard of to have both social constructs conjoined and experimented within a single motion picture, but that’s exactly what Russell Sheaffer did in a recent film of his entitled Masculinity/Femininity (part of the Gender Film Series sponsored by the Center for Women and Gender Action).

Last week, Sheaffer sat down for dinner in the Curtis Veggie Room with faculty and students to chat about his film. The conversation also stimulated intellectual ideas by the students in attendance.

Sheaffer, who is just 27 years old, is originally from San Diego, Calif. He attended the University of California at Irvine to attain his B.A. and he earned his M.A. through a New York University Cinema Studies program. He is currently working on his PhD at Indiana University.

He is an experimental film and documentary maker, who produces fiction and documentary works for others as well.

“Masculinity/Femininity stems from a short film that I made back in 2010 called Masculinity & Me,” Sheaffer said. “In that film, James Franco and I took up some questions that he was sent from a men’s magazine in an attempt to think through the assumptions about what constitutes ‘manhood’ and the male body that we all encounter in our everyday lives.

For Masculinity/Femininity, I wanted to expand the scope and think about how I might visualize what queer theory does in writing.

There are a lot of great films out in the world that are really accessible and totally different from Masculinity/Femininity in style — and that’s wonderful.

I do think, however, that if we are going to approach a big, complicated subject like gender in any real way, we need to have films that deal with the subject in big, complicated ways — and that’s where I see a film like Masculinity/Femininity fitting in.”

Sheaffer was more than happy to express his ideas with students. He was interested in the daily lives of the students and their thoughts on his film.

He was welcoming and open, making the atmosphere at the dinner light and friendly. It was a pleasure to have sat and talked with him.

“Films like Masculinity/Femininity simply make people think,” said Gina Ezzone ’15, a cinema major from Concord, Ohio. “It was experimental and risky to make, but I think films like this are important for filmmakers, theorists, artists and all audiences as inspiration to challenge gender norms.”

“Sheaffer’s use of multiple cameras and Super 8mm film creates interruptions, disruptions and distortions that both enhance our awareness and challenge our conceptions of gender,” said Marci McCaulay, director of the Center of Women and Gender Action.

“These characteristics of the film mirror the complexity and lack of clarity associated with gender as we experience it in our everyday lives.

“I am looking forward to the other films in the Gender Film Series. While they focus on a common theme, gender, they each approach this topic in a different way.”

“The way [the film] was set up was really different for me, it was unique” said Mills Duodu ’15, a sociology/anthropology major from Queens, N.Y. “I think it should help people see perspective and realize that people vary. It’s always good to have something to challenge our minds.”

Although the film does a great demonstration of good points pertaining to sexuality, because it is experimental, it may not be a suitable first choice for those unfamiliar with the topic.

“I think the film is good for people who already have a base understanding of the concepts surrounding gender and sexuality,” noted Maya Washington-Zeigler ‘15, a Sociology-Anthropology major from Philadelphia, Pa., “however I would not recommend it for beginners.”

Sheaffer, still, has high hopes for the impact of the film. “I hope that the film inspires folks to consider how a critique of gender may impact their thinking and work,” he said.

“Masculinity/Femininity presents a huge range of approaches to thinking about what constitutes gender and, ultimately, I hope that the film inspires conversation.”

The Gender Film Series continues this semester with The Mark You Live In (March 9) and My Masculinity Helps (April 6). Both films will be screened in the Slayer Auditorium  at 7:30 p.m., followed immediately by conversation and dialogue from attendees.