Lara Roxx gained notoriety in 2004 when the Montrealer, then 21, contacted HIV at the onset of her porn career in L.A. Her life since then has been a roller coaster—from massive media exposure to a nervous breakdown, from raising awareness about HIV with the Lara Roxx Foundation to hitting rock bottom with substance abuse. Her journey was documented by Montreal filmmaker Mia Donovan, who (with the help of local production company EyeSteelFilm) has created Inside Lara Roxx, a riveting and moving portrait that shows Roxx at some of her very lowest points while still capturing her humour and humanity.
Speaking to the Mirror in EyeSteel’s new office in Parc Ex, Donovan and Roxx talked about the film, its ideas and its challenges. Both giggly from a sleep-deprived marathon of travel, screenings and interviews, the pair have clearly developed a close relationship—teasing, arguing and finishing each other’s thoughts like sisters.
Donovan, who was working as a photographer during the HIV scandal, recalls being captivated when she saw Roxx on TV during her initial wave of mainstream media interviews.
Mia Donovan: I thought she looked really impressionable and vulnerable and slightly naïve, but at the same time she was making all these jokes. The newscaster asked her “How’s your sex life?” and she said “Honestly, I haven’t even masturbated.” I thought, “This girl’s so crazy and candid.” At the time I was doing a photo project on sex workers, called Stripped, so I wrote her a letter and asked if I could photograph her for that series.
Lara Roxx: She said “I would love to do a project on you,” and we talked about it for two hours—like, a photo doc. I hung up, and two seconds later my phone rings. “Hey, how about a movie instead?”
MD: I remember it a bit differently, because you wanted to do a reality show on yourself. You wanted to be like Kim Kardashian.
LR: I still do.
Donovan borrowed a camera from EyeSteel, and proceeded to follow Roxx on and off for five and a half years. “There were so many periods when I didn’t shoot, because I didn’t want to be too voyeuristic,” says Donovan—or as Roxx puts it, “I guess most of the time, I was too busy fucking my life up.”
All the same, the film has its share of extremely raw moments, candidly depicting Roxx’s struggles with drugs and mental health. Though she admits these scenes are hard to watch, the now clean and sober Roxx says, “It’s a good reminder that I don’t wanna end up there ever again in my life.”
CAUTIONARY TALE: Roxx
Aside from its personal portrait, the film also offers a cautionary tale of sorts, one that takes a contrary stance to the sex-positive movement. Roxx speaks about her desire to use the film as an educational tool for young women. “She was worried that the people who should see it wouldn’t see it, because documentary circles are a bit more intellectual or elitist,” says Donovan. “That’s why it’s really important for her to show it at high schools or juvenile detention centres, where the girls who really should see it will watch it.”
Mirror: Is the film making an argument?
MD: I didn’t go in with a strong political statement that I wanted to make.
LR: Well, I did!
MD: Well, yes and no, but you answer first, then.
LR: I don’t really mention it in the movie, but it really made me think of how the first times I had sex, there was a porn movie in the background, for me to know what I was doing type of thing. Most kids do that at least once—maybe not everybody, but most people have played the game of copying whatever’s going on in a porn movie. And porn movies are getting sicker and sicker. I’m hearing these crazy stories from social workers about gang bangs, and [boys who] don’t think they’re doing anything wrong even if the girl didn’t want it. That’s why it’s really important for me to go speak in schools, because that’s not what sex is all about.
M: So what was the statement you wanted to make?
LR: Just that porn is not reality, but the people who are making porn are actually doing those things, and it shouldn’t be that way.
MD: I knew a lot about the sex industry in Montreal, and I’d met lots of young girls in the business. I noticed there were a lot of young girls who just didn’t understand how to really say no to situations, and I saw how agents and managers in strip clubs or whatever can spot the girls who are easily manipulable. And that’s how I saw Lara.
LR: I’m insulted every time she says that.
MD: Not in a bad way, I just felt like my heart broke when I saw her. I was just mad at the guys…If you’re 19 and you don’t have a lot of experience or self-esteem, it’s hard to say no. And I hoped that if we got together to share her experience, that it would help young women understand how to create really strong boundaries, in their personal sex life or in the industry, so they could understand that you can always say no to something.
M: You don’t pass judgement on people in the industry, but you don’t shy away from showing the dark side, either. Was that a hard balance to strike?
MD: There’s sort of this sex-positive, sex worker empowerment movement going on, and I think that kind of casts a shadow over the bad experiences. I think most people that have really bad experiences—whether it’s in the porn industry or in their personal lives—those are the things that people are most ashamed about talking about. So it takes a lot more courage for people to come forward and be like, “This happened to me.” That’s why I find Lara so courageous. It’s a lot easier for a girl to come out and be like, “I love having sex! I love my job!”
There’s 3,000 girls who get tested a month in L.A. in the porn industry, and most of them are between 18 and 23. And most of them probably, like Lara, go into the business not wanting to do anal sex and wanting to use condoms. And then within a few days, they’re doing gang bangs without condoms and double anals.
LR: When I walked into that agent’s office, I was like “Hey buddy, I’m doing condoms only and no anal.” By the time he was done with his pep talk, two hours later, I came out of that office heading to a sex shop to buy a butt plug. They play the nice uncle or the father you never had, and it’s easy, because most of those girls don’t have a father figure to look up to.
MD: Most of the sex that women do in porn, they would never do in their personal life. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t like that. There was one anal sex scene for 20, and it was so hard to find a girl to do it. The girls who would do anal sex back then were kind of the wild ones. And now it’s so demanding.
LR: Now they not only want you to do anal sex, they want you to have four dicks up your ass at once.
Candid yet enigmatic, Roxx is a great film subject, and Donovan documents her ups and downs with sensitivity, but without sugarcoating. “She totally took advantage of me—such a bitch,” says Roxx as they both laugh. “No, but we kind of used each other,” Roxx continues. “She’s now famous”—Donovan rolls her eyes—“and I had the opportunity to bring closure to that part of my life.” ?
INSIDE LARA ROXX SCREENS AT RIDM TONIGHT, THURSDAY NOV. 17, AT THE NFB CINEMA (1564 ST. DENIS), 6 P.M., WITH LARA ROXX AND MIA DONOVAN IN ATTENDANCE. IT OPENS THEATRICALLY ON NOV. 25.
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