Documentary Gives Pornography a Human Face

Film to Show at World Youth Day

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By Andrea Kirk Assaf

ROME, JULY 29, 2011 ( The «digital age» generation flocking to Madrid for World Youth Day in a couple week’s time will be made aware of one of the darker sides of digital culture: the flourishing business of Internet pornography. 

Thanks to an award-winning documentary created by Anteroom Pictures in New York City, the pornography industry will be exposed and analyzed before the young audience.

«Out of the Darkness» features the story of Shelley Lubben, a former sex worker and porn star who left that life behind and converted to Christianity. 

The film, winner of the Mystery of Love award at the 2011 John Paul II International Film Festival in Miami, will have an online screening with Morality in Media next Thursday. After that, it’s on to World Youth Day in Spain for a screening on Aug. 17.

ZENIT caught up with filmmaker Sean Finnegan, the director and producer of «Out of the Darkness» to talk about the film’s message.

ZENIT: What was the inspiration for creating this documentary?

Finnegan: I had been working for another film company involved in producing Christian and Catholic films. Someone mentioned the growing significance of pornography and I began to investigate the topic. I discovered that a great deal of work had been done on the issue, and several films dealt with the topic. However, the majority of those films focused on either addiction or the First Amendment, while none of them looked at the primary victim of pornography — the woman. I felt that this was a unique way to approach the pornography debate.

Of course the films that explore the issues of addiction and free speech are important, but I wanted my film to remind people that underneath it all, what we are really talking about are human beings, created in the image and likeness of God. I wanted to use film, primarily a storytelling vehicle, to put that human element at the heart of the story.

I began researching the topic, looking for someone who had been involved in pornography but escaped. Pretty quickly I discovered Shelley Lubben and her incredible story. I realized that not only was her story worthy of being told, but it highlighted many other problems in our society that I know are closely linked to pornography — the sexualization of children, loneliness, loss of faith, etc.

I wanted «Out of the Darkness» to include people who could talk about these issues and highlight some of the historical and psychological conditions that exist or have existed, which have allowed pornography to prosper in this country. The project grew to include Dr. Judith Reisman, a well known expert on Alfred Kinsey, Hugh Hefner and the history, growth and dangers of pornography, and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a Catholic marriage counselor working in the field for decades. I had also long been aware of Mark Houck’s addiction story and his ongoing work fighting against the evils of pornography, and I thought his presence would enhance the overall story as well.

One of my fears was that the film would get bogged down by facts and statistics, so I worked hard to keep my storytelling focus primarily on the individuals involved. I simply allowed each of them to tell their story, which allows the audience to engage and become emotionally invested, and also to see more clearly how each story is intertwined and interconnected with the other.

One of the most eye-opening elements of the story, as it developed, was the information presented by Dr. Reisman. She has spent decades trying to expose the story of the real Alfred Kinsey, but hers has been a lone voice in our academic culture. Kinsey’s work has influenced so many different aspects of our society, and yet so few people have really looked at his work. Rather than focus on the disturbing way he came to, or perhaps even invented, his conclusions, the social sciences and academics instead focused on his conclusions and the sexual revolution they spawned.

ZENIT: Can you tell us some details about the making of the documentary?

Finnegan: The documentary was made with very few people on a very low budget. We didn’t want that to keep us from producing a high quality film, so we decided more or less to take our time and make sure the film looked good, sounded good, and flowed properly. We knew that just because we had an important story there was no excuse for producing a low quality product. In fact, the significance of the topic demanded that all the external elements be above par so as not to take away from the story.

We did hours and hours of interviews with each participant, and there was enough material for multiple documentaries, but we committed to focusing on the human element within each story. I cannot say how the making of the film impacted the others, but for me it showed how pervasive the sexual utilitarian philosophy has become. Pornography has affected everyone, in one fashion or another, in every demographic and station of life. G.K. Chesterton wrote that sometimes something is so big that we can’t see it. That’s how I feel about the sexual utilitarian philosophy. It is everywhere. And the damage it has done is so extensive that we have simply accepted it a priori, assuming that it’s just the way our culture is and has to be. But that’s not true, and we wanted our film to put a spotlight on the personal stories of those whose lives have been damaged by this misguided assumption.

Another interesting thing we experienced while making the documentary was the revelation that we do not have to accept our culture as it is handed to us. We can actually help make culture, and improve it, and create art that appeals to the higher things and greater good. Telling a story with all the elements of degradation, loss, sin, grace, conversion, and deliverance is a genuinely eye-opening, and heart-changing experience. I hope «Out of the Darkness» conveys that to audience members, and leaves them as moved and motivated as it does those of us involved in its production.

ZENIT: How has it influenced audiences? What kind of feedback have you received?

Finnegan: Since we are self-distributing the film we have taken a non-traditional approach to the challenge of getting the film seen. To that end we have entered «Out of the Darkness» in a number of film festivals, Christian and secular, and aggressively reached out to Catholic and Christian churches, men’s groups, civic groups, Catholic/Christian TV networks, and college campuses to secure screening licenses. This is a slow and time consuming process, but it allows us to build relationships with each organization that has shown the film, and it creates a strong word-of-mouth campaign that results in growing enthusiasm for the film.

The audience response to «Out of the Darkness» has been very strong and very positive. Young adults in particular have been moved by the films message of love and hope. «Out of the Darkness» confirms what most young people already intuit: that they have been lied to about the promises and freedoms of sexual liberation, and that using others — in relationships or pornography — is a damaging process to everyone involved.

Most audience members are also grateful for the fact that we produced a documentary on pornography that is not voyeuristic, sensational or risqué in any way. By focusing on the personal stories of those involved in or affected by pornography, we avoided the need for objectionable material. Instead, we introduced a human element to pornography that gets audience members to emotionally engage and respond to the film.

All films generate negative feedback, and though we have received nearly universal praise from most of our audiences, there are those who find Shelley’s story hard to believe — or at least hard to believe it isn’t elaborated for effect! But as Austin Ruse wrote in his review of «Out of the Darkness»: «She [Shelley] is not without her enemies: all the right ones.»

Shelley and her story is a real threat to our currently sex-saturated culture, and we take critics of our film seriously and in good cheer. Others object to the under-emphasis we put on Mark Houck’s story of addiction and recovery. Surely more people relate to his story than Shelley’s journey into the sex industry. Even so, we wanted to introduce people who may find themselves in Mark’s shoes to the idea that the images they are looking at damage them on some level, and on another level damage the person in the image!   

ZENIT: Tell us about the JPII Film Fest award it received.

Finnegan: «Out of the Darkness» was the opening night film at the John Paul II International Film Festival in Miami this past February. The audience loved the film’s powerful message, and it was awarded «The Mystery of Love Award» as the film that best represented the festival’s theme. 

«Out of the Darkness» is also going to be screened as part of the cultural program at World Youth Day in Madrid this August. It’s a great opportunity to introduce our film to a young and excited audience interested in living a life of the gospel.

Also, we are working with Morality in Media to do an online screening Aug. 4. People are invited to participate in their «Be Aware» campaign on their Web site.

ZENIT: What do you hope this documentary will achieve?

Finnegan: I hope «Out of the Darkness» helps expose the lie that pornography is a «victimless hobby» and a «harmless pastime.» I hope audience members remember that human beings — both users and producers — are really hurt by pornography and the sexual utilitarian philosophy. Of course no single film is going to turn things around on its own, but I hope that some people, who after seeing this film, will think twice about clicking the mouse, purchasing a magazine, or using another fellow human being sexually, and with complete disregard for their well being. I hope «Out of the Darkness» will help them realize that a real person had to undergo incredible suffering to produce the material they are about to watch.

I also hope that viewers become more aware of the important work of Dr. Reisman. Alfred Kinsey is a hugely important 20th-century figure, yet very few people even know who he is. There has been an upsurge in awareness of Kinsey and Dr. Reisman’s work in recent years, but only unmasking this man and his research can we really begin to reclaim our culture. I am very heartened that young people in particular have responded very strongly to the film and to Dr. Reisman, and I hope «Out of the Darkness» helps to further that trend.

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On the Net:

Anteroom Pictures:

Morality in Media:

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