When I embarked on the adventure of Red Cunt, Reconsidering Periods, a documentary about the taboos surrounding menstruation, I didn’t realize I was about to ride the world’s biggest and longest roller coaster. Never did I imagine that breaking the taboos linked to menstruation, and analyzing why they exist – via a mix of interviews and animation – would run up against so many obstacles. “I don’t have any problems with menstruation,” and “It seems perfectly natural to me; you’re seeing problems where there aren’t any.” Obviously reactions such as these were mostly from people who have never had a period, never pretended to have a headache at work when actually cramp was killing them, and never had to choose between buying tampons or dinner. Talking about the realities of menstruation and taking a positive approach to it, without romanticizing it, and doing it all with a good dose of humor has been quite the odyssey.
In Menstrulaxia, the floating island where Mensi trained as a ‘menstrual companion’, it’s undisputed that Europe, home to Isabel, the 12-year-old girl Mensi has been assigned to, still has a long way to go. Another odyssey has been the five years of highs and lows that were largely due to the shoestring on which I had to make the film, as from the very first requests for financing it was crystal clear that I would be totally on my own. People said it would be impossible to bring a minority issue to the big screen. A minority issue? If menstruation, which affects more than half of the world’s population, isn’t interesting, then what hope is there? I’m sure the white, gray-haired, cis-hetero-patriarchal ‘gentlemen’ who made these absurd comments now somewhat regret not having understood what really does interest us women. But then you have to wonder, how are they going to understand unless they listen? Whatever.
I was also wrong. I saw myself as alone in dealing with a major obsession, with my own obstinance, and a need to finish the project no matter what. But I wasn’t alone, awaiting me were my beloved subjects, all of them very gutsy, believing in what they were doing, with their vulva costumes, their period panties, their vulva-watching workshops, their plays about premenstrual syndrome and their free bleeding. And then there was the production and post-production team. I’ve been on the receiving end of so much generosity and developed sorority friendships that will endure over time, well after the film’s release. The distribution team here in Catalonia is another example of that solidarity between people who share the experience of having achieved the (almost) impossible. The whole team, absolutely everyone, both in Hamburg and Barcelona, waived all or a large part of their fees. They provided locations for shoots, bought us sandwiches and water on days when we were filming, provided lighting equipment, fog machines, a van so we could get from one location to another, and of course my whole family pitched in, etc., etc. Countless gestures of support and enthusiasm from the many who believed in the project, sometimes even more so than me. Tuki Jencquel, for example, who after the unsuccessful financing stage, when I told him that I had given up trying, said the magical words: “I’ll do it for you, Toti, I’ll do the photography for you.” I couldn’t believe it.
“Red Cunt, Reconsidering Periods breaks the taboos around menstruation and is an example of overcoming obstacles.”
And so we got down to work and just when it seemed that everything was going well, the illustrator who was going to do the animations got cold feet. It was too ambitious a project for just one person, they said. They were certainly right, but at that stage I couldn’t give up on Mensi or Isabel, or their various nightlife and workplace adventures, let alone Menstrulaxia with its floating tables, the menstruating Venus of Botticelli or the pussy pasteurizer. Luckily it occurred to me to offer the project to a lot of art and design schools. A few, well exactly two, answered and there I was with my script and my ‘fantastic’ storyboards (pretty slipshod, to be honest), first persuading the top students of the art and design school (EAD) in Sant Cugat and later the Semper School in Dresden to draw a kind of giant ship made of tampons with the blue strings used as fins, and with pads for the sails. But hey, with that intrepidness and spontaneity so typical of the young, they told me, of course we can do that!
In the end I have come to the conclusion that making films is an act of love. There are many, many people devoted to projects that seem unviable and then you see them and wonder why they hadn’t appeared sooner in the cinema, that place that promotes dialogue, where social change is possible, where political policies are formed, and where sparks are ignited that can transform lives.
Red Cunt, Reconsidering Periods breaks the taboos around menstruation and is an example of overcoming obstacles. Eight wonderful participants, such as actress Clara Moraleda, writer and activist Ian Bermúdez, and businesswoman and architect Laida Memba. Eighty-six minutes, of which almost thirty are animated. These five years represent a third of the life of my daughter, my greatest source of inspiration, who has had to constantly put up with hearing the latest developments: “We’re going to do a vulva watching workshop”, “Now a clitoris will come flying out of here”. And all this during that tricky phase of puberty and adolescence. In these five years I have had three romantic relationships (poor guys) and a brush with cancer, from which I am recovering well, fortunately. Our composer, Andrew Krell, who has composed the music for all our films, was not so lucky, leaving us unexpectedly due to another horrible illness. That’s what life is like, a roller coaster, with its high points but also those times when you hit rock bottom.
Now, watching the documentary in numerous Spanish and German cinemas, it is all very rewarding but I hope never to repeat the circumstances in which we managed to get here. That said, I’m an optimist, I’m convinced that for my next project – Hot Cunt, Reconsidering Pleasure; a documentary about the stigma attached to masturbation – things will be different and I’ll find producers who are empathetic and also have lots of dough, patrons, cinephile angels (please!) who will get involved and see all this as a precious opportunity invested with a lot of love.
Making films gives meaning to my life, it is a precious constant in it that I don’t want to give up and never could, no matter how rough the road. Because it’s up to us to share ideas, to present and interpret the realities of life in order to offer other points of view, ones that promote tolerance and dialogue and will lead to all of us living in a better society. This is also cinema. I’m talking to you, Andrew!