Award-winning South African film producer and director Sara Blecher adds another string to her already accomplished bow with her appointment as an “Intimacy Coordinator” by South Africa's leading artist and management agency Talent-ETC™
Says agency owner and CEO Jennis Williamson: “We are very excited to have Sara on board as this country's first and only Intimacy Coordinator which, in this age of the Me-Too movement, is not only timely but essential. She brings her unique abilities and experience as an award-winning director to this new branch of her career.”
“Sara will be included in our Crew-ETC™ arm of the business, where technical crew and other creatives have the opportunity to be represented by the ETC brand.” adds Williamson.
An honours graduate of New York University, Blecher is an award winning feature and documentary filmmaker. Documentaries include Surfing Soweto and Kobus And Dumile, for which she won CNN’s African Journalist of the Year award. Her first feature film Otelo Burning won over 17 international awards and was named by CNN as one of the top 10 African Films of the Decade. In 2016, Blecher won the SAFTA Best Director Award for her film Dis Ek Anna.
We sat down with Blecher to find out more about her role as Intimacy Coordinator and what it all means.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Johannesburg and then emigrated with my family to New York where I attended Stuyvesant High School (a special Math and Science High School). After this I took a long and convoluted route through university. I started out in the School of Foreign Services at Georgetown University with the intention of becoming a foreign correspondent; meandered through the back alleys of Paris trying to find the meaning of life in the 'real world’; crossed the minefields of South Africa in the death throes of apartheid as a journalist: and ended up right where I should have started - studying film at NYU in New York.
I returned to South Africa on a freelance job, met and married my husband, had three children, set up a film and television production company, Cinga Productions - later Real Eyes Films - and have been making documentaries, feature films and television drama series ever since. Two of my children now live on different continents - my eldest daughter works for London city as a town planner, my son is an engineer at SpaceX in Los Angeles and my laat lammetjie is still at home in Johannesburg with my husband and myself.
And what are you doing now?
About three years ago I founded SWIFT (Sisters Working in Film and Television), which is an NGO that was set up to address issues of concern for women in film and television in South Africa. It had become apparent to me that safety was a priority for women working in the industry as women were experiencing huge amounts of harassment with no means of recourse. Then in February this year I was introduced to the concept of Intimacy Coordinators when I attended a talk and demonstration at the Berlin Film Festival. This was a real game changer. I realized for the first time that intimacy scenes should be dealt with as simulated action similar to the way stunt scenes were staged.
I organised for Kate Lush, who had been working with Ita O’Brien, the Intimacy Co-ordination guru in the UK, to come to South Africa to give a presentation and a masterclass at the Durban Film Festival. Two weeks after that I flew to London and enrolled in Ita’s course.
How did working with Talent-ETC come about?
I saw they were ahead of the curve on Intimacy Coordinating and reached out to them.
What is your definition of an intimacy coordinator and what does the job entail?
Wikipedia defines an intimacy coordinator as someone who, in theatre, film and television productions, ensures the well-being of actors who participate in sex scenes or other intimate scenes. I think this is a good definition, but would add that it is also someone who works closely with the director and the actors to help choreograph the scene to best serve the characters and the story. Intimacy coordinators are quite similar to stunt coordinators in that they work with the directors on scenes to ensure the scenes are safe for all the participants and that the simulated action is made to look as convincing and real as possible.
Is this a fairly new profession or has it been around for a while?
This really is an incredibly new profession which was started simultaneously in the UK, US and Australia by different women, all of whom were working towards improving the way intimacy scenes were handled in theatre productions and on screen.
Is it true that you are the only Intimacy Coordinator in SA?
I am the only trained Intimacy Coordinator I know, although Kate Lush will be joining me when she moves to Cape Town in January 2020.
What training/qualifications do you need and what attributes do you think make a good intimacy coordinator?
This is something that is still to be worked out across the globe because Intimacy Coordination is such a new profession. Like stunt coordinating, bad intimacy coordinating can be incredibly damaging so it is critical that training is carefully regulated. To date there are only two companies that I know of that offer training anywhere in the world - Intimacy on Set, which is run by Ita O’Brien in the UK and who is credited with originating the concept and a company called Intimacy Directors International which is based in the US.
Having had a look at intimacy coordinators in the UK and US industry, most of them are women. Why do you think this is the case?
I don’t think it's critical that intimacy directors are women; I think men can as easily be intimacy coordinators. In fact, I think it’s often underestimated how damaging sex scenes, particularly violent abusive sex scenes, can be for male actors as well as female. More critical than gender is the personality and abilities of the coordinator.
What would be a typical day on a film or TV set for you?
No day is typical. Every job is determined by the script and every job entails prep work prior to being on set. Ideally most of the work of intimacy coordination will have been done prior to showing up on set. This includes scouting locations to understand shots and camera angles, confirming contractual agreements around each intimate scene, ensuring adequate wardrobe, working with the actors to ensure consent for all touch, working together with the director to choreograph and rehearse all intimate scenes so that actions are agreed and practiced, which then enables the actor to be free to act without fear of unwanted touch.
Do you think South African audiences have become more accepting of on-screen nudity and sex scenes or is it still a bit taboo?
I think its certainly becoming less and less taboo when compared with India or other African countries like Nigeria where one almost never even sees on-screen kissing. Having said that we are still a deeply conservative country where the boundaries don’t centre around nudity or sex as much as they do around religion and culture. South African audiences tend to be far more tolerant of sex than they are, for example of intimate scenes associated with cultural rituals; or religious iconography.
A recent outcry at a school in Richards Bay over a matric student's art which depicted Christ as the McDonald’s clown is a good example of this. From my side I find it perplexing how concerned we are, as a country, about sex and yet how ignorant we are around the damaging effect of witnessing violence on our movie screens and TV sets. For me personally I have a high threshold for on on-screen nudity and sex if it serves the story or the characters, when it doesn’t I find it often difficult to distinguish from porn.