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Maja Classen on ‘A Body Like Mine’ and exploring queer sex positive spaces

Maja Classen (°1974) is a Berlin-based filmmaker who graduated from the established Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf as a director of fiction and documentary in 2006. She is known for her documentary ‘Feiern’ that was screened at numerous festivals and remains a significant depiction of the electronic Berlin music scene. Maja has taught documentary filmmaking at several film and art schools and continues to explore queer sex positive spaces to break taboo and destigmatize those subjects. Her latest work ‘A Body Like Mine’ shows a poetic portrait of Puck, a non-binary Black performer artist and sex worker. The documentary is screened at several festivals like Viewpoint Documentary Film Festival and QueerCine International Film Festival in Ghent, Doc.Berlin Documentary Film Festival and many more where it received several awards.

In the interview, we dive deeper into Maja’s most important film so far, her background, what inspires her, her view on the future of film and some advice she wants to give young filmmakers.

© Celine Yasemin

Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.

"I care deeply about all my films and consider each one significant. However, I would like to highlight 'A Body Like Mine', which is currently touring festivals and available for streaming in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This film is particularly important because it challenges the typical stereotypes surrounding sex work often depicted on television. Puck, the protagonist, defies the usual red-light clichés. They are a graceful, highly intellectual artist and activist whose vulnerability makes them relatable while resisting any attempts at categorization.”

What were the key challenges making it?

"Collaborating with Puck to portray someone with such fluidity in their identity was both challenging and rewarding. Our artistic vision demanded extensive technical preparations and a larger team than usual. Balancing the freedom for the unexpected moments inherent in documentary filmmaking while ensuring the intimacy unfolded within these artistically built sets, was a delicate balance.”

What is one aspect that you are particularly proud of?

"For the very first time, I created such an artificial world within a documentary, essentially inventing a new genre: the documentary fairy tale. Inspired by Puck's aesthetics, our team –including DoP Alina Albrecht, set designer Miren Oller, editor Thomas Krause, composer Vanessa Chartrand-Rodriguez, sound designer Uwe Bossenz, colorist Anna Hitova and myself—collaborated to craft this mystical world. While there was a bold risk of losing authenticity, the audience feedback, reviews and awards indicate that we successfully left enough space for reality to permeate the fairy tale. The metaphors have effectively allowed audiences to connect, identify and be deeply moved by Puck. This achievement fills me with great pride and satisfaction."

How did you get involved in filmmaking?

"I began my journey with an internship under independent filmmaker William Farley in San Francisco, who initially worked on experimental documentaries before transitioning to fiction and more conventional documentaries. In the first interview I read, Farley mentioned that while he had not built a career, he had succeeded in creating a life, which struck a chord with me. This made me realize how complex directing was, which prompted me to learn the craft from scratch. I enrolled at Berlin’s Film University Babelsberg in 2000, where I graduated as a director of fiction and documentary in 2006. Twenty-five years later, Farley and I still create films and live fulfilling lives.”

What new projects are you working on or hoping to work on in the future?

"We just completed a film project close to my heart called 'Truth or Dare', a sister film to 'A Body Like Mine', featuring Puck and other people from Berlin's queer post-porn scene. Contrary to expectations of being sensational or rough, it is tender, vulnerable and radical, exploring shyness, intimacy, the boundaries faced in intimate encounters and the human desire for real love and connection. It challenges conventions with its explicit, authentic, sex scenes. We are excited to see which festivals will dare to screen it. Other projects in development include a documentary on a Ukrainian pleasure activist, a fictional punk road movie, a music documentary and a very personal documentary, all still under wraps."

What role do film festivals play?

"Festivals are crucial spaces to showcase work to larger audiences on the big screen. They offer instant feedback and create opportunities for filmmakers to engage directly with the audience, offering a unique and invaluable experience. Professionally, festivals elevate visibility, allowing filmmakers to present their work to broadcasters, funders and distributors. They are also ideal for networking, pitching new projects and gaining recognition. And let’s not forget the sheer joy of connecting with fellow film enthusiasts. These festivals create an alternate reality where you can immerse yourself, share and learn from others, which can make the return to everyday routine after such an immersive experience quite challenging.”

What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?

"Dive right in. Watch as many films as you can, attend events, parties, meet-ups and pitch forums. Be ready to pitch new projects but most importantly, enjoy the experience."

How do you see the future of film?

"Given the increasing exposure of abusive power structures within the industry on psychological, physical and sexual level, it is essential to adopt production practices that prioritize consensus and inclusivity. Considering the needs of all team members, protagonists and cast is crucial. I believe human-centric film production is the future."

Which filmmaker do you admire and why?

"I admire many filmmakers for their diverse qualities, it is impossible to pick just one. Early surrealists like Juan Luis Buñuel, Maya Deren, and Hans Richter for their eerie surreal images, technical inventiveness and musical editing. David Lynch for his iconic dream-like films, frequently referenced in other films, that represent the subconscious which he combines with an impeccable choice of music in collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti. Laura Poitras for her political courage and clear message. The Maysles Brothers for their humor and empathy and their legacies as documentary pioneers. ‘Grey Gardens’ is one of my all-time favorites. Larry Clark for his portrayal of coming-of-age and sexuality, his aesthetics, the way he works with non-actors and how he makes fiction feel like documentary. Richard Linklater for his sensitivity, especially in 'Boyhood.' Agnès Varda for her smart, humorous film poems or essays. Luca Guadagnino for making actors appear visceral to make you fall in love with them. Miranda July, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry for their playfulness and great ideas. Andrea Arnold for her authentic, close-to-documentary style and for her courage to portray pain, poverty and abuse without being voyeuristic. Nan Goldin for her ability to see beauty, grace and pride in people fighting pain and (self-)destruction. One of my biggest influences is her documentary ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, which shows her own life and the passing of many of her closest friends through the early days of the AIDS crisis.”

What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?

"At Hot Docs in Toronto, I saw a deep and touching account of motherhood in 'A Mother Apart' by Laurie Townshed, which I could relate to, about the queer activist poet Staceyann Chin. The German TV-show 'The Zweiflers' that won Cannes Series impressed me with its poignant writing, bold and vanguardist directing (Anja Marquardt), editing (Vincent Assmann), camera work (Phillip Kaminiak), and acting. My favorite film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was ‘When the Light Breaks’ (Ljósbrot) by Rúnar Rúnarsson. This Icelandic film follows a group of young adults on the day they learn that their friend, lover or boyfriend has been tragically killed in an accident. The director meticulously captures the group’s journey through the Icelandic town as they navigate their grief with tears, fights, vodka, dance and tenderness. The film also features surreal encounters with trespassers dressed as Teletubbies or dinosaurs, adding a unique layer to the narrative. The film moved me deeply.”


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