Catching the Shortbus: Director John Cameron Mitchell and his cast discuss controversial film

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It has almost become a tradition, the fact that one or two movies at the Cannes Film Festival create scandals or get to be the most talked about because of their content. They may be marvellously awful movies that shouldn’t have been in competion, but more often, these movies upset audiences and critics with graphic sex and violence.
In the late 1990s, the porn industry was thrown out from the market at Cannes. These days, you’ll find the sex in the official sections, and in 2006, there were two movies that reared their naughty heads. One of them was the Hungarian TAXIDERMIA, shown in the section Un Certain Regard – and this is a movie that doesn’t look like anything else, a film that’s extremely hard to describe, and that probably had a hard time finding distribution outside of film festivals. TAXIDERMIA seems to be all about making the audience disgusted and confused, but at the same time, it has arty intentions. It’s a bizarre mix of violence, self mutilation, eating contests, vomiting, surreal humor and hardcore sex – yes, the actors have sex for real.
But in 2006, the talk of the town was John Cameron Mitchell’s SHORTBUS, shown out of competition in the official section. Everywhere you went, you heard people saying “Did you see SHORTBUS? What did you think?”.
Never before – or after – has there been so much explicit sex on the silver screen in Cannes. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s an intelligent and often funny film with good characters and story, plus the fact that it mixes straight and gay sex, it could have been the most well-made porno flick ever made. But SHORTBUS isn’t supposed to arouse its audience and the result has therefore become a movie most critics seem to appreciate.
“I was inspired by all the European directors who have worked with sex,” says the sympathetic John Cameron Mitchell. “And sure, I aim to provoke, after all, I live in a country with a conservative government.”
But is SHORTBUS porn or not?
“In my film, sex is a metaphor for our universe. It’s all about joy. The film is a couple of brush strokes on the painting of life. I like porn, but this isn’t porn. I don’t think anyone will get an erection watching it. You have to remember that explicit sex isn’t the same thing as pornography. But I won’t let my parents watch my movie…”
“A lot of people are afraid of sex,” Mitchell continues. “They try to pretend it doesn’t exist. But in several of the countries where sex is considered sinful and shameful, there’s a lot more violence.”
SHORTBUS is mainly about a married couple, where she’s a sex advisor who can’t have an orgasm, and about a homosexual couple that consults the advisor. They all end up at the private club Shortbus, where people meet to talk, have fun and realize their sexual desires. John Cameron Mitchell and the actors created the story and the characters during workshops, and everything in the movie is improvised.
But is it really possible to show a film like this anywhere in the world? Is it possible to release it theatrically? Won’t most countries protest?
“I’d love to be there when the MPAA screens it for a rating,” Mitchell laughs. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall there.”

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