12 23 oct '21

Unflinching porn drama 'Pleasure' wins Explore Award 2021

Explore Award 2021 - winner and jury
News 21 Oct 2021

Pleasure, the bold feature debut by Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg, has won the Explore Award at the 48th Film Fest Ghent. The youth jury - consisting of five members between the ages of 18 and 26 - had the chance to present the award to Ninja Thyberg and lead actress Sofia Kappel in person. Thanks to the Explore Award, the film can count on a media campaign in De Morgen, Knack Focus and on StuBru, worth €27,000. A Special Mention went to the intense and impactful Animals by Nabil Ben Yadir.

Each year, a five-member jury of enthusiastic young cinephiles between 18 and 26 years old enjoys the festival and follows the films with the ‘Explore Zone’ tag. They get to decide the winner of the prestigious Explore Award. This year, the jury consisted of Atalya De Cock, Dieter Bochar, Marieke De Bruyn, Yousef Hanon and Cato Andriessen. In a strong competition with sixteen films - including Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, Jacques Audiard’s Les Olympiades, Jacqueline Lentzou’s feature debut Moon, 66 Questions and the LGBTQ+ documentary Colors of Tobi - Pleasure by Ninja Thyberg came out on top. The jury found it “an explicit and bold debut that breaks taboos and offers a nuanced view on the porn industry.”

In Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg gives us a clinical look at porn and the exploitative industry behind it. Nineteen-year-old Linnéa lands in Los Angeles where she wants to make it as a porn star. “Business or pleasure?” the customs agent asks her. “Pleasure,” the girl answers. She already has her first role confirmed and adopts the stage name Bella Cherry. What follows is a disturbingly authentic portrait of the paradoxical world of professional porn in which performers are simultaneously prized and reviled. By showing Cherry’s downhill road to the top with a voyeuristic, documentary point of view, Thyberg exemplifies in her film that, today in porn, there is no room for pleasure. Only business.

Both director Ninja Thyberg and actress Sofia Kappel - appearing in her debut role - attended Film Fest Ghent to present their film and were given the award after one of their Q&As, before travelling on to Amsterdam. Thyberg told the audience in Ghent: “I remember seeing a porn film my boyfriend showed me at the age of 16. I understood that all his friends shared porn films with each other. At the same time, they were talking shit about the actresses; how damaged they were. It’s fascinating, that double standard of consuming and stigmatising porn.” She continued: “Something about porn is incredibly interesting. It’s so honest. It’s not hiding what it is about. All the racism and sexism are just there.” Thyberg hit the audience with a striking conclusion: “I used the female gaze to expose the male gaze.”

Animals

The Explore Zone Jury was also very overwhelmed by Nabil Ben Yadir’s Animals and decided to grant the film a Special Mention, “for the debate it ignites and the intense cinematic experience it offers.” Animals tells the true story of the homophobic murder of Ihsane Jarfi in April 2012, in Liège. Director Nabil Ben Yadir wanted to remain as close as possible to the facts while raising questions about today’s society.

The Explore Award was presented right before the screening of The Worst Person in the World on Thursday 21 October in Kinepolis Ghent.

O’Brother Distribution releases Pleasure in Belgian theatres on 3 November.
Cinéart releases Animals in Belgian theatres on 16 February 2022.

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