We Need to Talk About Tits

We spoke to the people behind 'Tits', a new documentary about its namesake.

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Oct 5 2017, 8:00am

L - R: Tristan; Amelia, one of the interviewees; and Lily

What if tits could talk? It's a question you might not have asked before, but one director Tristan Bell and producer Lily Levin are valiantly attempting to answer with Tits, a documentary project profiling women from the perspective of their bodies.

The subjects are all interviewed topless and from the knee up and the neck down, and reveal stories that go deeper than femininity, from sexual abuse to genetic diseases and, at one point, even Ace Ventura.

I met up with Tristan at the Barbican to call Lily and discuss their project.

VICE: Where did the idea for Tits come from?
Tristan: We started the project a year ago. I was just brainstorming and I just thought, 'Tits'. I'd noticed a lot of images of bodies, breasts, covered up and uncovered, just being very standardised, very one way. I thought it was time we talked about tits.
Lily: I've done a lot of theatre, been naked on stage quite a lot, and I just have no problem with nudity. I just thought, 'That's a really good idea.' Boobs, specifically, that's the thing you think of first as a woman when you're trying to sex yourself up or tone yourself down. If you've got big boobs, you've got big boobs, and there's nothing you can do about it, and you're going to be sexualised and it's not your fault.

One of the film's subjects, Emily, likens having boobs to having something written on your head and people feeling like they can stare. As a tit-less man, that changed my perspective. Were there moments where your own perspective changed?
Lily: The women we spoke to who had to have [their breasts removed] had come to this realisation that they are nothing; they have nothing to do with anything and they are just bits of flesh on the front of your body. At the same time, we found that throughout the interviews how much these women had been shaped by their breasts. Yes, they are nothing, but unfortunately we've made such a big thing out of them that they can't be nothing; they're not allowed to be nothing in this society.

What was the process for approaching women for the film?
Lily: Most of them we know. Emily, I know. Katie, who's got the one breast, that's my auntie . I just kind of come straight out with it. If you know me, I will just say, "Do you want to get your tits out on camera for a film I'm doing?"

The title and style of the project are direct in a way that seems designed to cause a reaction. Was this a deliberate attempt to recycle terms and perspectives that are normally prohibitive to women for the opposite effect?
Tristan: Tits as a word, I think, is something that's really interesting. My mum actually said the other day that she was telling a client about the film and he said, "Oh, that's a funny word to use – 'tits' – because that's a man's word," and she said, "I can see what you mean, but it's a woman's part."

So in a way it's about taking tits away from vocabulary and bringing it back to biology?
Lily: I love that we're using the word tits as the title. I've had it shouted at me, even though mine are practically non-existent. I think to use the word tits is not only reclaiming it, but the most relatable way to speak about breasts.

In one of the most powerful stories from the project, Katie, your auntie – an interviewee who's had a mastectomy – talks about the loss of her own mother to cancer, while visually we are confronted with hers. Was this the first scene you shot, and how did her interview in particular impact on the film and yourselves personally?
Tristan: It was actually the second one we shot, and it was probably one of the hardest interviews to shoot. Talking about breast cancer was really hard. It was really hard to hear because I hadn't talked about it before, but actually my nan had a double mastectomy and I'd never seen a mastectomy. It's one of those things you don't hear about. You don't see it, either.
Lily: A lot of what she was saying I was hearing for the first time, because my dad, her brother, doesn't talk about it. It was quite emotional for me.

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One of the interviewees, Jess, tells a story of being held down by boys on the school bus who dared each other to see girl's breasts. What was that like, hearing that from someone you know?
Lily: Jess is a very close friend of mine, and in fact I'm astonished that she agreed to do it, to be honest with you. When you watch the rest of her interview you'll see that it is only in recent years that she has got that confidence back and reclaimed her body.

Maxi, a drag queen, talks about breasts as a series of objects he upgrades, while Alexandra, a trans woman, talks about the negative impact of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Was comedy, being funny and being made fun of, something you were conscious of when presenting these women and their issues?
Tristan: I think it's good to use comedy as a way of inviting someone into the conversation. But Alexandra – that was really hard. It was something I never realised; I'd never seen it that way because I'd never been in that perspective.
Lily: I think, with Maxi, we asked him to give us a tour of his different breasts, and I think he embraced that and it ended up being quite comedic. Which is lovely, but then some parts of his interview that we haven't shown yet are very, very sad and very dark.
Tristan: I think drag, as well, is an interesting way of decoding femininity.
Lily: I think a lot of women find it empowering to watch drag. Seeing men be empowered by femininity and find it powerful and a release, where women can't access the same thing from their own real femininity... putting on heaps of makeup and wigs and dresses and things almost has the opposite effect for a woman. The more makeup you wear, the more you look as though you care about your appearance. Perhaps you'll be valued more in one sense, but you might not be taken seriously intellectually.

You've got some funding now – what's the next step for Tits?
Tristan: We're going to do a big launch gala so we can watch the film and celebrate breasts and empower the participants. We're trying to create a base for the film, something we can launch it from.
Lily: We need to finish it first!

Thanks, both.

Find out more about the film and donate to the fundraiser here.

@Bainosaurus

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