TOUCHED: Intimacy and Connection in the Midst of a Pandemic
TOUCHED is a selection of shorts celebrating female and non-binary sex and intimacy co-curated by T A P E & Invisible Women. The programme tours the UK in Feb/March 2022.
What happens when we ration our touch? When we begin to see human contact through the lens of contagion? When you are told that your safety, that all our safety, depends on isolation, how does that change the way you relate to the world?
Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different, but for many a key aspect of the past two years has been a kind of sealing off. We woke up one day and found ourselves alienated from one another. We were told to keep our distance, so we did, covering our faces with masks and avoiding each other on the streets. For those living alone, separated from loved ones, or otherwise cut off from their support networks, human contact has been hard to find. Without the touch of others, we have turned our gazes inwards, asking what it means to be intimate with one another and ourselves.
TOUCHED is very much a pandemic programme. The inspiration for the project came from the sense of disconnection and alienation that has been so central to our experience of COVID-19. However, that’s not to say that these shorts should be viewed only through Corona-tinted glasses. None of these films are a direct response to the pandemic. Several are archive shorts that were made within a completely different context, separated from these “unprecedented times” by decades.
TOUCHED is a celebration of intimacy and desire, as seen through the lenses of female and non-binary filmmakers. It brings together shorts from different countries, genres and contexts and asks what it means to form an intimate connection, whether that’s with another person or with yourself. These films are about sex, but they are also about the liberating possibilities of sexual connection when it comes from outside the bounds of heteronormative monogamy.
Several of these films explore finding liberation within yourself. Pent-up desires find release in Lois Stevenson’s What About Me (2021), a hypnotic vignette about heartbreak, self-destruction and regret. In Ruth Lingford’s trailblazing computer animation What She Wants (1994), a woman projects her fantasies onto the grey backdrop of her commute, transforming a banal journey on the London underground into a parade of phallic symbols and capacious vaginas. The subversive power of female lust is also a key theme in Sarah Clift’s Valerie Venus (2020) a black comedy about a vicar’s wife whose discovery of masturbation provides a mean to rebel against suffocating expectations. Valerie meets her Gen Z parallel in Annette Sidor’s unflinching F*** YOU (2018), in which a stolen strap-on provides a teenage girl with a new sense of power and possibility.
Elsewhere, liberation comes from unexpected places. In Pratibha Parmar’s delightfully kitschy Wavelengths (1997) a young woman disillusioned with the slick nineties gay scene finds ecstatic release through cybersex. For the interviewees in Clio Barnard’s gloriously candid Random Acts of Intimacy (1999) sexual encounters with strangers provide ecstatic punctuation to the mundane every day.
One of the key themes of TOUCHED is the intimacy of communal connection. Solidarity lies in the background of Katayoun Jalilipour’s thoughtful #Familiar #Touch #Lost #Figures, a moving exploration of queer ancestry and diaspora. Jalilipour’s reflections on the pleasure and pain of communication across cultural boundaries are juxtaposed with the vision of togetherness presented by the dancing lesbians in Sarah Turner’s She Wanted Green Lawns (1989), who perform a spontaneous synchronised routine to The Carpenter’s aptly named Close To You.
That final image of out and proud unity becomes all the more meaningful when you realise Green Lawns was made within the context of Section 28 and the HIV/AIDS crisis, a period of tremendous grief for the UK’s queer community. To draw direct comparisons would be glib, but there are undeniably parallels to be found here as we re-watch the film amidst a global pandemic and raging culture war. Fundamentally though, what Turner’s film, and the whole TOUCHED programme offers us is a message of hope. Re-connection is always possible, even in times of alienation and uncertainty. Films can’t save the world, but they can help us to look at it differently.
Recent events have made us to confront our physical and emotional vulnerabilities, while official safety advice has forced us to view other people’s bodies as potentially dangerous. With TOUCHED we hope to offer a temporary escape from that trauma, a kind of collective exhale. As the dust settles, perhaps once again we can start to see our bodies as sites of joy and open ourselves up to new connections. Perhaps we can start to do that together, in the cinema, engaged in the glorious intimacy of communal watching.
You can book tickets to see TOUCHED on tour here.