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Hot Docs 2013: Buying Sex

Doc subject Valerie Scott in Buying Sex / Photo by Laura A. Bombier

Married filmmaking team Teresa MacInnes (writer, co-director, editor) and Kent Nason (cinematographer, co-director) are hoping to “advance the conversation about Canadian prostitution laws that divide people on both sides of decriminalization.” MacInnes admits, “It’s a huge agenda. It has taken us more than three years [to make this film]. I’m feeling good it’s done. I just hope we don’t polarize anyone.”

The ambitious documentary introduces a current Canadian legal case being tried to remove prohibitions on communicating for the purposes of prostitution in public, keeping a common bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution. Toronto lawyer Alan Young insists that “these three areas of law interfere with a sex worker’s constitutional right to exercise safety of the person at work.”

Young explains in the film that it was his idea to challenge the law. He describes hand-selecting Terry Jean Bedford (dominatrix), Valerie Scott (sex worker and advocate) and Amy Lebovitch (sex worker) to help him advance his case. It is fascinating to learn that Bedford, Scott and Lebovitch did not hire Young for the case, but rather Young chose them, and they donated their time to Young for no pay. Scott is in the film but Bedford and Lebovitch are not. ”We wanted to film them but couldn’t,” MacInnes says. “They were tied up with other commitments.” As a result the filmmakers broaden their scope, add participants and visit additional continents.

For more documentaries focusing on sex work, read POV’s round-up from Hot Docs 2012.

Trisha Baptie was a sex worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the late ’90s when many of her street worker friends were disappearing. She had left the sex trade by the time Robert Picton was convicted of murdering six Eastside sex trade workers. Now she’s an abolitionist in favour of ending prostitution. Baptie and her supporters oppose the legal challenge Young is arguing. She believes that Sweden has the world’s best prostitution laws: “They decriminalized the sex workers [in 1999] and criminalized those paying for sex, pimping, procuring and trafficking.” The filmmakers follow Baptie to a workshop in Stockholm and profile the changing attitude of men under the progressive law. MacInnes also tried to include sex trade workers while there, but “our trip happened quickly, and there just wasn’t time.”

Scott prefers the decriminalized model introduced in New Zealand in 2003. The filmmakers take their camera inside a regulated New Zealand bawdy house and film a session being arranged between a newly inaugurated sex worker and a VIP client waiting for his free session, akin to the ‘buy 10, get 1 free’ coffee card concept. It’s a great perk for the client but the sex worker appears to donate the session. If so, even in a decriminalized system, equity for prostitutes remains complex instead of being ‘fixed’. MacInnes and Nason are poised to open the debate on prostitution laws to a wider sphere. If they can draw upon more voices of sex workers, and especially Canadians and street workers, the discussions will gain in urgency and power.

Click here for POV’s full list of Hot Docs previews.

Screenings:
Wed, May 1 6:00 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Fri, May 3 1:30 PM
Scotiabank 3

Sun, May 5 1:30 PM
Scotiabank 4

Janis Cole holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University. She is a professor at OCAD University, and her award-winning documentaries include Calling the Shots, about the working lives of women filmmakers.

View all articles by Janis Cole »