On January 19, starts the independent film festival - Sundance. In the competition section Midnight Shorts, there is the animated film "Pussy" by Renata Gąsiorowska. We talk to the director about her animated film just before her departure for the USA.

Dagmara Marcinek: Why "Pussy"? This film could have had a hundred different titles, but it got such a one that some people feel obliged to censor it.

Renata Gąsiorowska: I did not mean to cause a sensation or arouse any kind of controversy. This was the working title of the animation, and during the work on the film it simply turned out that it is the most fitting one and that there is no point in changing it to a more "polite" one. Also, Mariusz Wilczyński, who is the project's supervisor, together with Joanna Jasińska, insisted that I had to keep this title, because there is no better one. And I think so, too, all other Polish slang words sounded terribly childish, and on the other side there were vulgar words to choose from, and there were also medical terms among all these. There were no other words which would be pleasant and refer to the content of the film. The English equivalent "pussy" is ideal, one can say it in public and no one would even flinch. I kept this title, because I think that a lot depends on the language, which we use, and it would be good to finally "disenchant" this word, there is nothing horrible in it.

Did you also want to disenchant female sexuality? It is probably still a taboo subject.

Unfortunately, yes. I observed it as soon as at elementary and high school, the way in which boys talked among themselves about their sexuality was definitely different from the way girls talk about it. That means, we actually did not talk about it at all, we rather told stories about how one of us lost her virginity, but not about she touches herself. But the boys talked about it without any embarrassment.

From current perspective, it seems strange to me that women have problems with talking about their sexuality, but perhaps it starts to change. Besides, in the field of animated film alone, we can see an offensive of erotic films made by women, for example by Wiola Sowa or Iza Plucińska.  In Leipzig, I watched a wonderful animated documentary film "The Clitoris" by the Canadian author Lori Malépart-Traversy, where there is a protagonist - clitoris, similar to the pussy from "Pussy." We met at the festival and talked about how interesting it is that we both came up with a similar idea practically at the same time, in completely different places. Women finally show their point of view.

So, is "Pussy" an animation from a woman for women?

No, but as a matter of fact, after the screenings a lot of girls stay and it is them who ask the most questions. But there are also men who come up and tell me that the film had an educational value for them, it showed them the sexuality from a different perspective. Sometimes they also ask a question which bothers me terribly - will I make an animated film entitled "Penis" now? But it is not my job, let men show the male point of view.

What inspired you to show this story in the film?

When I was working on the animated film, I derived a lot of inspiration from various websites and blogs about female sexuality, showing sexually positive side of life. It was there where I came across guides which advised how to prepare for a "solo session," which should be treated primarily as "a date with yourself." So, it is worthwhile to light the candles, have a bath, play atmospheric music, take care about your own comfort. This is what the protagonist of my film tries to do. Certainly, I did not want to make fun of these guides, because I believe that these are valuable pieces of advice for people who, for example, are ashamed of their body or have some inhibitions caused by conservative upbringing, and these guides can help them to break free. I derived comic potential from them - all kinds of guides have this potential - all this, this whole arranged date may simply go wrong and fail.

In your animation, the eponymous "Pussy" came to life and became the film's protagonist. Where did you get the idea to breathe life into it?

At the very beginning, I decided to make an erotic film, but to be honest, I did not want to bother to animate two characters and that is why I started to make a film about masturbation. I also thought it was more interesting and less clichéd.  Later, during my work on the film, when I was making sketches, drawings, suddenly this Pussy appeared and became the protagonist of this animation. As a result, in the film there are actually three characters.

The third character is the Peeping Tom raccoon which appeared in your earlier film, "Unusual night."

"Unusual night" was made when I was on the third year, in a sort of emergency and very quickly, so I am not completely satisfied with that film. An erotic scene appeared in that film, as well as the character, who later stayed in my head and I wanted to use him again, in a film which will be better thought-out. This Peeping Tom raccoon is the embodiment of the concept of "male gaze," that is, of showing female sexuality from the male point of view, as it is usually presented in the media, in television series, music videos and advertisements.

Is the animation a feminist rebellion against it?

In many cultures, there is such a concept as "vagina dentata," which refers to the myth about the vagina with teeth, which bites the penis off. In this myth, the vagina is, among others, the symbol of men's fear of female sexuality. And in my animation, there is a scene in which the Pussy turns into a monster and scares the Peeping Tom raccoon away, that is, scares away the subordination of the sphere of sex only to the male point of view. The Pussy senses that it is him who lurks behind the door, because she knows more than her owner.      

The Pussy knows more. Did you want to show that it is sexuality that directs human life?

No, the Pussy is only a part of her owner. I only wanted to show the liberation, not restraining oneself, breaking the taboo. I wanted to show a girl who wants to have orgasm, but everything stands in her way. I did not want to specify how old the protagonist is, does she have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, whether she is in a relationship or not and whether she has ever had sex before or not. I do not think it would be of any importance in this film.

What else is important in it? Is it a political film?

At the time when the film was made, it certainly was not a political film, because the first ideas appeared during the holidays on the fourth year, and the animation was finished before the elections. It was supposed to be my personal vision, and not a problem picture. And now, at festivals abroad, I am often asked whether the film is political. It was not supposed to be, but if it turned out this way, I do not shy away from this. Suddenly it turned out that female sexuality is unfortunately still a political subject. But it also shows how much the reception of the film depends on the moment when it is watched.

The film is a story for adults, but you told it in an animation painted with felt-tip pens, looking a little bit like a cartoon for children.

The background of the animation, the apartment, everything is painted with felt-tip pens, because I wanted it to be as simple as possible, so that it would not divert attention. That is why the furniture looks like the one from Ikea. However, in the orgasm scene, abstractions and madness appear - this is the effect of being inspired by Norman McLaren's films. In this scene, we enter the protagonist's head. When it comes to funny characters, this is my style, it can be seen in all of my earlier animations. This is the result of my comic book inspirations, though when I was not a student of animation, I used to create more complicated drawings. Now what matters is also simplicity, so that I can animate the characters on my own and it does not take me ten years. The hairs on the Pussy caused me a lot of trouble, though…

Is it not the case that it is easier to talk about difficult matters using simple means?

Definitely. I cannot imagine making a film with this script, using, for example, a real actress. But it is so that the simplest the drawing and the character, the easier it is for the viewer to identify. And it is not only because the film is about sex, but also because the cartoon characters allow the audience to fill them in with their own experiences, memories and reflections.

It was a success, because the film won lots of awards, among others, at AFI Fest and DOK Leipzig. Did you expect such a success?

I had no idea, I only imagined it at feminist festivals, women's festivals, such as, for instance, Tricky Women. Perhaps I thought about pornographic film festivals, but the film may be too polite for them. After watching the film, my mum said that it was such a decent porn and that she liked it, but the title was ugly and because of it, the film would not go to any festivals. I talked to her about it and made a case for it and after some time, she changed her mind. Now when we talk on the phone, she asks how "Pussy" is doing at festivals and is comfortable with this word. So, the film achieved such a mini educational mission in my immediate family! I believe it is also a success!

Particularly because the film qualified for one of the most prestigious independent film festivals - Sundance. Are you nervous before your departure?

A bit, we will see what follows. But I am not nervous about Q&A meetings, I have already done many of them. Although sometimes I am surprised by the questions from the audience, as for instance, by the question why my protagonist has such a piggy nose. I really do not know, it is simply the way I draw noses :)