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‘Until Porn Do Us Part’ Director: ‘I Knew It Would Not Be Easy’

How the director documented an ordinary mother’s struggle to accept her gay son’s new life in Europe – as a hardcore porn star

‘Until Porn Do Us Part’ Director:

When it comes to documentary, there are few subjects as thorny as pornography, and for his latest film, Portuguese director Jorge Pelicano has chosen something even thornier – the sometimes fraught relationship between a gay male porn actor and his mother. Titled “Until Porn Do Us Part,” the film tells the story of Eulália, a conservative 65-year-old Portuguese mother, who is shocked to find that her son Sydney, having emigrated to Berlin, is now famous worldwide as a performer in hardcore gay sex films, using the name Fostter Riviera.

Pelicano charts some raw and emotional moments in Eulália’s life as she tries to move beyond her initial shock and horror to a place of understanding, using the tools of modern cyberculture – Google and Facebook – to better understand Sydney’s life choices. As the film prepared to screen in Ji.hlava Film Festival’s international competition, Opus Bonum, Variety talked to Pelicano about his provocative and thoughtful film, the story of a very special woman.

How did you come across the story of Eulália and her son?

From the beginning, I knew I did not want to do a documentary about the backstage of pornography in Portugal. My focus was not the actors, but the parents of the actors. I remember perfectly my first inner question: how do parents live with their children’s pornography? During the research process I met some porn actresses, but it was with Sydney that I got more acceptance. At the time he was already known for being the first Portuguese pornographic gay actor and already with some prizes won in Europe. I asked him for permission from his mother, Eulália, and he said, “You will like my mother.” He was right. Eulália was a conservative and religious woman, the opposite of what her son was. I realized that in this relationship between mother and child, there were conflicts and barriers that were difficult to overcome. Narratively, this conflict was my starting point.

When did you realize that here was a feature-length film in it?

I met the protagonists in May 2016. Eulália lived – and still lives – in Porto and Sydney worked in Berlin. At that time, the relationship between the two was already much more peaceful. The worst moments happened years before. In 2011, a friend of Eulália invited her to come to her house. He sat her in front of the computer and searched the Internet for the name “Fostter Riviera”. On that day, Eulália discovered that her son was gay and a porn actor. Eulália was shocked and had to go to the hospital. Only two weeks later did she dare to speak to her son about what she had seen. I realized at that moment that the past of Eulália and Sydney was as important as the present to tell the story. At that moment I decided that the film would be a feature film told from the mother’s point of view.

How willing were Eulália and Sydney to take part, and what did you do to make them comfortable?

I knew it would not be easy to persuade people to take part in the film. It is a very intimate film that exposes delicate themes in the family universe. I also knew that in addition to convincing the actors, I would have to win the trust of the parents. Perhaps because he lived in Germany – a country with a different mindset regarding homosexuality and pornography – Sydney was readily available, not only to tell his story but to introduce his mother. When I first met Eulália I told her I understood that it was not easy for her to expose her private life in a documentary. But she replied that telling her story was a way to free herself of some fears and prejudices she still had about her son. She also wanted her testimony to be important to other parents who might be in the same situation.

How did you approach the shoot, both technically and artistically?

First of all, I’m not interested in reality. The reality is the starting point to make a documentary, to make cinema. Second, a huge part of the film was shot inside the mother’s house. I researched her daily routines and found out they were mostly the same every day. So I decided to prepare the set and put the camera in those places and wait for the mother. Also, I decided not to move the camera, because she stayed static for many hours in front of the computer trying to search for her son on Facebook. 

Were there any surprises or setbacks along the way?

As a documentary filmmaker, I am always prepared for reality to speak for itself. What we idealize and imagine does not always correspond to what happens. This uncertainty, this unpredictability, this adaptation of what the present gives, are reasons why I like to make documentaries. During the filming process – it was made over a year – in the relationship between mother and child there were many advances and setbacks. We never knew how the movie would end, but that did not bother us either. The important thing was to be truthful and able to show what this mother had to do to accept her son as a gay porn star.

Did you always know the structure of the film, and did anything change in the edit?

In previous documentaries, the method was to film hours and hours. Sooner or later, the movie had to emerge from the editing room. In this documentary, and for the first time in my career, I decided to build the narrative structure before filming. As I said earlier, the past about the relationship was important to the story. I had access to this past through the thousands of Facebook messages exchanged between mother and son during the years from 2011 to 2016. And since the film is told from the mother’s point of view, I decided to ask her to reread the ones she sent to her son. These messages show the advances and setbacks this mother made to be able to accept her son as a gay porn actor. And to show this, it would have to be accurate in the choice of messages. Having a structure allowed me a greater control of the story and gave me a greater precision in the choice of the moments that had to be in the film.

How much of a taboo is this subject in Portugal?

Honestly, we have to separate things. Homosexuality in Portugal – fortunately – is no longer seen as a taboo, slowly the prejudices are disappearing. Portuguese pornography begins to have some visibility, with actresses and actors giving interviews in television programs. But I think it is still not so well accepted by Portuguese society. I think Spain, our neighbor, is very advanced in terms of the thinking with respect to pornography. But there is one piece that I found very interesting within the family universe of porno actors: mothers accept their children’s choices better than fathers. For a man, having a daughter or son porn actor is something very difficult to accept.

How did Eulália and Sydney feel about the finished film?

Eulália saw the film in the final assembly stage, as I promised. I remember being very nervous next to her in the movie theater. At the end of the screening, she did not tell me whether he liked it or not. She looked at me and said that what she had just seen was the truth of a relationship between mother and child.

Have Portuguese audiences had a chance to see it yet, and, if so, how have they reacted? 

The film’s debut in Portugal will be at the end of November in Coimbra at a film festival dedicated to Portuguese cinema.

What would you like audiences – all over the world – to take away from this story? Is it universal?

I would like the audience to feel that a mother’s love knows no bounds. This mother’s love is universal. This is also a movie about the consequences of the choices of the children that in many situations, the parents cannot accept.