It’s 2 am, and I am sitting on the bar counter at Kit Kat Club, almost naked while watching a couple of white straight people fuck and masturbate on stage. My underwear has been artfully cut into strips by a naked woman with blue hair; she said that for her work I owe her only my appreciation. It’s the premiere party for Michał Marczak’s film Fuck for Forest, and the activists of the Fuck for Forest-NGO, a creative and energetic group of what many have called “neo-hippies”, have put together a show of concerts, improvised dance performances and live sex.
The people of Fuck for Forest have named their party “The movie is a lie”, and it was feared that they would crash the screening of the film in protest of how they would be portrayed. Instead, they come in flocks to the Freiluftkino Kreuzberg, and one person even yells, “We love you!” at director Marczak while he, apparently nervous, is giving a speech before the screening. At the open-air cinema, the scene if filled with young, mostly white people in worn, torn and playful clothes. Their unusual outfits range from punk leggings to batik pants and carnival costumes. Many have dreadlocks, and once in a while, the smoke cloud of a joint wanders through the air. Right before the film begins, a big dog lays down at my feet.
Later at the party, the Fuck for Forest people ask Michał Marczak to come on stage to be a visible part of their show, as they have been a visible part of his film. They chant, “Michael, Michael” for a couple of minutes, but like the producers and the representatives of the distribution company—and unlike myself—, he decided not to get involved, not to take any clothes off and stay at a distance. It seems understandable and weird at the same time, taken that by now the Kit Kat Club is filled with naked, half-naked and creatively costumed visitors dancing, chatting and making out. The only outsiders here are the people who are fully dressed.
I met Michał Marczak a month ago at the Botanischer Volkspark Blankenfelde-Pankow after the first Berlin press screening of his film. The distribution company Neue Visionen had put up an interview day at the very north of Berlin to meet the director in an urban nature reserve, which many people, including me, didn’t even know existed. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and the variation of lush greens that surrounded us brought me back to the film, set in the urban spaces of Berlin and Bergen and later takes its audience into the rain forests of the Amazonas region.
Michał Marczak is a documentary filmmaker. He is not an activist who wants to save the earth with nudity and pornography. Although he had travelled with Fuck for Forest around the world and spent over a year with some of them, he never took part in their orgies and always left his clothes on, despite their objections. The young Polish director admits that he could never make a film about something he doesn’t like and his respect and affection for the group shows in the film. Nevertheless, he decided to stay at a distance throughout the entire shoot. In the end, it’s a question of how much you need to be and how much you want be involved. On the other hand, his film is everything but an uncritical homage to the group. As Michał Marczak puts it: “I agreed from the very beginning with them that I wouldn’t paint a postcard of them.”
“Sex sells” is not only the slogan on top of the film’s press booklet, but also the strongest idea behind the advertising mission of Fuck for Forest, the group. It’s just a small step to thinking that this is also the concept behind Fuck for Forest, the film. To my surprise, Marczak decided not to document the sex in great detail and was instead more interested in the phenomenon of a modern hippie movement, their group dynamics, conflicts and everyday lives. “The themes the group touches upon,” he says, “like sexuality in today’s world, and people realizing their sexual desires and fetishes and not being ashamed of it, were very interesting to me. These people are doing everything they can to live outside the norms of society while testing the boundaries of freedom and living in their own little wonderland.” Although the film contains some scenes that Marczak calls “pornographic”, he admits that everyone can easily log onto fuckforforest.com and get free access to their porn archives by either contributing some self-made porn or by making a financial contribution.
By now, the organisation has collected more than 430,000 Euros to be given to ecological projects that Fuck For Forest wants to support, the film tells us. I smile when Michał Marczak compares porn to musicals, whose singing and dance routines he finds as annoying as elaborate sex scenes in porn films.
Fuck for Forest is therefore not necessarily a film that makes you shift around your seat in discomfort at the sight of never-ending sex scenes. It can be seen as a very sensual and intimate look into a parallel world and their inhabitants who have different values and more idealism than most of us. There is an undeniable beauty in the moody cinematography that takes us from an upper-middle-class home in Norway in winter to the summer-soaked streets of Berlin and then into the mosquito-buzzing humidity of the South American rain forests. The images are put together as a series of moving snap-shots that capture the feeling of the moments and the spirit of the movement.
Despite the beauty, there are things to be critical about here, like the ironic male commentary that introduces the protagonists of the film and gives you background information, which you otherwise wouldn’t have. I personally perceived this commentary as an ironic fairy tale-like statement of the film on its own narrativity, a filmic means of informing the audience with a wink. But some friends disagreed passionately and found the commentary to be both authoritarian, unnecessary and patronizing.
There is a lot to criticise about Fuck for Forest, the group, as well. I can’t go into the debates that followed the Berlin Slut Walk, the Sex and Anarchy Congress or the sexist, post-colonial or ‘uncritical whiteness’ critique that the group is confronted with in general. But judging from the film, there is a lot of that critique to share. It is easy to make fun of a post-hippie community and their sometimes naive ideals of saving the world, so let me make it clear that I personally don’t have the feeling that the film is unjust or unfair, unbalanced or arrogant. But when I first read about the “The movie is a lie” party and its implied protest against the film, I decided to get in touch with someone from the Fuck for Forest group. I chose Danny DeVero, because the film begins and ends with him and Michał Marczak made him his main protagonist.
Introduced as the outsider of his family with parents who deny him any contact, Danny says about his way of life: “It hasn’t chosen me, it just happened!” At the end of the film, we see him in the streets of Bergen talking to a group of Palestinian refugees who tell him that some problems just can’t be solved by public nudity.
I met Danny on Facebook and then agreed to meet him after his arrival in Berlin. One afternoon I ran into him by accident on Oranienstraße in front of Kreuzberg’s most famous flower shop—of all places. Between cut roses, tulips and narcissus, we are having a wild argument about the death of plants, street music and sex. We didn’t really have the discussion I had hoped for, so we planned to meet again. This time, at midnight, we sit over a glass of wine in the balmy breeze of an early Berlin summer night in front of a bar where he just had a gig. It made him seven euros, he tells me, which would be enough for some food later.
Danny is technically homeless, but philosophically and for him, there is no home—or rather, his home is everywhere. Unlike my first impression, Danny is a clever and articulate young man, a wild child, an activist, and a romantic. I ask him whether he is happy, and he gives me a speech about the hypocrisy of the world and how impossible it is to be happy in the face of war and terror. He says: “I am responsible to make myself happy”. Danny is portrayed in the film as a nudist, but he hasn’t really been one in real life. He claims that being naked is a birthright for everyone, and I can’t help but smile in agreement. “I am not a nudist, but I think we should have the right to choose”, Danny states and goes on saying that “sexuality has always been one of the easiest ways to suppress people”. He talks about the power of oppression when it comes to sex and gay rights, and when I look at him wearing an indefinable combination of drag and fantasy, I believe that he lives for his convictions, however idealistic, simplistic or naive they might be in the eyes of others.
We don’t see Danny have sex in the film, but he tells me that, for him, public sex is both beauty and liberation. He also tells me, choosing his words carefully, that he is not from Bergen, but from a national park in Norway called Hardanger – hard anger. He continues that at the age of twelve he was taken to an institution for problem children and hasn’t had “any deep contact” with his parents since then. They know what Danny is doing and they carry a lot of shame, which is very hurtful for him, he tells me as he tries to find the words. Danny goes on about his life as a street musician and tells me about how he joined Fuck for Forest. I ask him about the “The movie is a lie” party and ask him, “What is a lie?” “Everything”, he says. “Everything in the film or everything in general?”, I ask. He responds: “Everything in the film and everything in general.” Danny calls the film a movie and not a documentary. In his opinion, the material that was chosen for the final film is clearly a safe option for commercial cinema use and doesn’t show the everyday experience. But at the same time he is using the film and its party to advertise the project and spread the word about Fuck for Forest, the group.
At the end of the film we see the protagonists Leona, Natty, Tommy, Kajaal and Danny fail to bring their mission across to the South American people whose rain forests they want to save. Their Western ideals collide with the post-colonial experience of exploitation and mistrust of the indigenous people there. These scenes sum up bitterly the flaws in the global self-conception of the NGO, but still don’t denounce the group as a bunch of unworldly clowns.
As I walk around Kit Kat Club in torn briefs, I watch a young man getting blown in a gynecologist’s chair, and a couple of happy women plunge into the pool while a naked drummer sits in a group nearby. By now, the fully clothed people have left the building and so has the director. The next day, Danny posts something publicly on Michał Marczak’s Facebook timeline. He is asking him why he left the party so early and why he didn’t perform with the group. Instead of putting his name under the message, Danny signs with a word: love.
Fuck for Forest, Poland/ Germany 2012, director/ cinematography: Michał Marczak, with: Leona Johansson, Tommy Hol Ellingsen, Natty Mandeau, Dan DeVero, Kaajal Shetty, languages: English, Norwegian, German, Spanish, distribution: Neue Visionen
Berlin screenings: Eiszeit, Central, Kino Zukunft
We give away 2×2 free tickets for the screening at Eiszeit on Saturday, June 15th at 9 pm. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org telling me what you think about public nudity. Deadline: Friday 14th, 6 pm.