Russell Sheaffer / photo by Grayson Harbour
NOFS recently caught up with filmmaker and New Orleans Film Festival alum Russell Sheaffer about the upcoming online release of his feature documentary Masculinity/Femininity.
We screened Masculinity/Femininity as part of our new media arm Cinema Reset in 2014. For those who didn’t get a chance to see it, could you explain a bit about what Masculinity/Femininity is.
Masculinity/Femininity is a film that exists somewhere between documentary film, experimental film, and performance art. It’s structured around performances with artists and scholars whose work interrogates gender – folks including Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneemann, John Greyson, B. Ruby Rich, Eileen Myles, Sophia Wallace, and Jack Halberstam – and the film explicitly asks them to “perform” in a way that they often aren’t asked to. Each artist had total freedom to do whatever they wanted for our cameras and the result was really an incredible, strange, wonderful piece that deals with gender and embodiment in complex ways that I think have really been lacking from the larger conversations that we’ve been recently having as a society.
We understand this project came about as an extension of a project you worked on with James Franco. Could you elaborate on that?
James and I were working on our Master’s degrees at NYU at the same time and were taking a film theory class together called “The Body” with film scholar Chris Straayer. We were thinking a lot about gender and masculinity and decided to co-write and direct a short called Masculinity & Me. James had just been sent a series of pretty normative questions about “American Manhood” for a men’s magazine – in response to those, we decided to write separate monologues for ourselves that dealt with the assumptions about masculinity and male embodiment that were a part of those questions. After we’d written on our own and then come back together, we realized that we had both woven together a sort of conflict between hyper- and hypo-masculinity. James scripted these really aggressive, hyper masculine characters for himself and I had written a semi-academic monologue about my uncomfortability with urinals and masculinist bathroom culture. We ended up interweaving our two monologues together in a way that really accentuated that conflict. It was an incredible experience and the response to the film was great, but I felt like we had just begun to touch on something that I wanted to delve into much more thoroughly and in a much more complex way. That’s when I started to reach out to folks about Masculinity/Femininity.
Could you tell us more about your production company Artless Media?
I wanted to create a company that would support the work of people making art outside the bounds of normative media making – not just “indie” artists, but people making work that was so far outside of a commercial drive that it pushed audiences in altogether different ways. It’s a challenge to balance the company aspect with the drive to create work that isn’t invested in being commercial (it takes a lot of support from like-minded people), but so far that’s meant being as supportive to individual artists as possible in whatever ways they need. We tend to focus on work that is micro-budgeted and we try to be there to help in whatever ways (both monetary and not) that we can. We’re really interested in work that explores gender, subjectivity, and embodiment in ways we haven’t seen before. Using experimental methods as a way to push audiences to see movies in a different light has always been important for me – and we’re really interested in folks who are actually working on film stock to do that (Masculinity/Femininity was shot on Super 8mm film, we held a workshop at NOFF 2015 that got folks working hands-on with 16mm film etching, and we’re working on a ton of projects on 16mm film).
What projects are you currently working on?
We’re right at the beginning of our first big year. We just premiered a new interactive installation work called it’s so easy, the mechanism of power at the Atlanta Film Festival and we have two features that we’re producing (an experimental doc and a fiction film), two shorts (a doc directed by a NOLA filmmaker and a short fiction film for children), and an experimental web series that asks composers and visual artists to experiment together. I’m really excited about the direction Artless is taking and I can’t wait to see what kinds of social and political conversations we can provoke, nuance, and encourage. If anyone wants to chat about Artless, any of our projects, wants to support our work or get involved, they can email
The film was just released on DVD and Blu-ray and comes with a 190-page booklet of the complete, unabridged performances for the film as well as the monologues that James Franco and Russell wrote for Masculinity & Me, the short film that inspired Masculinity/Femininity. The film is available now on DVD and Blu-ray as well as to stream or download on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play!