One torso at a time

TORSO Reykjavik explores the humanity behind the online gay community in Reykjavik and uncovers the vast and varied stories existing within it. Director Tim Marshall confesses that he was surprised by the honesty of the Icelandic participants and their willingness to open up.

Director Tim Marshall.
Director Tim Marshall.

“The project begun as an experiment after I found myself becoming disillusioned with apps like Grindr. Being faced with many profiles of ‘perfect torsos’, I began to feel inadequate. I knew from experiences of my friends that they felt the same way using Grindr, so I wondered how other gay men felt and set about to begin this project to discover the humanity behind these apps,” says award-winning Australian filmmaker Tim Marshall, about his project TORSO, premiering at RIFF (The Reykjavík International Film Festival) this year.

Marshall eexplainsthat he likes making work he can relate to. Work that seeks answers to questions in his own life or themes he’s interested in exploring. He’s fascinated by the flawed nature of humanity and loves to explore people’s constant search for symmetry in their lives, never quite finding it. And hence in TORSO he explores the world behind the online gay community, one torso at a time, through interviews with men using online dating app – including stories from Los Angeles and Sydney and now Reykjavik.

“Actually, Iceland became involved out of sheer coincidence. I was based here for three months over winter in 2013 for a film making program I curate, and upon meeting people through Grindr and Gay Romeo, felt that I needed to find stories here and explore the stories from the online gay dating world in Reykjavik,” he tells us.

Have there been any surprises a long the way since you started out?
“Yes, often and usually in a good way. Of course, every city I’ve filmed in I was met with a lot of rejection. Whether it’s because guys are too shy or they ignore me because they look only at my picture and don’t read my profile. In Iceland, a lot of guys were very hesitant to be involved because they knew even if they only showed their torso they would still be recognised, as the Iceland gay community is very small. All stories shared similarities in every place I went. Everyone had their story of meeting someone from Grindr who looked nothing like their profile picture, most guys had also been pleasantly surprised by someone being better than their profile picture. Here in Iceland, the honesty of my participants was a nice surprise. Once I was able to find guys willing to be involved, I was really impressed with their openness in telling their stories.”

“In Reykjavik a lot of guys don’t have a photo (of their face). It is a way of keeping their sex life discreet in a small city.”

After your research, would you say that people can be quick to judge a book by its cover?
“We can decide so much about a person, based on one photo and a few words. And I am not excluded from this. It is impossible not to make assumptions. But the beauty of this project has been being reminded of how complex each individual person is. No one is a stereotype. We are all complex human beings. The overweight guy who sends people pictures of his dick on Grindr, is also capable of love. The twenty year old with HIV  didn’t contract it by being a huge slut. All the stereotypes this project breaks are common in the gay online community and it’s been wonderful creating a dialogue around that.”

Is Grindr about more than hook-ups?

What about apps like Grindr or Scruff or websites like Gaydar, do you think they differ from each other in any way?
“Grindr isn’t all that different from the other apps, as the other apps all have built-in features similar to Grindr now. Although Grindr isn’t as dirty as I think it once was. So many guys are using it to find dates or friends now that it’s almost – almost – balances out the guys just looking for sex. TORSO has helped me to realise what a powerful tool for accessing the gay community apps like Grindr can be. People that hate going to gay bars now have a way to enjoy access to their community as much as everyone else.”

Are the online dating apps still mostly used for hook-ups?
“Hook-ups are definitely the main use for these apps. Let’s be honest, it’s a quick and easy way to find sex and that’s what most guys use it for. But I have been enjoying learning about life-long friendships and solid relationships being formed through meetings on these apps.”

A lot of the profiles don’t include face pics. Do you have any clue to as why that might be? 
“In Reykjavik a lot of guys don’t have a photo, and I found that a number of times this is because they don’t want to be recognised by someone they know. It is a way of keeping their sex life discreet in a small city.”

Talking about Reykjavík, you must have heard some interesting stories here.
“One guy I interviewed is a firefighter here in Reykjavik, whose husband of ten years died tragically of brain cancer a couple of years ago. He begun seeking support from his community through Grindr, finding that it was easier to talk to guys on there that shared similar experiences of grief to him. His story is really powerful and touching.”

What’s the overall goal with a project like Torso?

TORSO takes a closer look at stereotypes online.

“I want TORSO to start conversations. I have already had some great conversations with people whose perspectives have changed after watching some of the TORSO interviews and I hope for this to continue. I would like to expand TORSO to include cities where gay culture is not as widely accepted and apps like Grindr play a more important role in connecting a community that has less public means of connection. I am interested to hear stories from places such as this and see how they compare to the three cities I have already filmed in, where being gay is widely accepted.”

Finally, what about yourself, do you use these kind of apps?
“As I said, I have indeed been on them, and I am still on them! Right now, I am using Grindr to market the TORSO Reykjavik event!”

Tim Marshall is an award-winning filmmaker from Australia, based in Los Angeles but travelling the globe for several film projects and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life. At the moment he is in post-production for a short film, shot in Wales through the Iris Prize funding and developing a feature film. He’s inspired by Lars Von Trier, Miranda July, Jonathan Glazer, Todd Solondz, Ulrich Seidl and Andrew Haigh to name a few and loves brave and different films which show people a new way of looking at the world and at themselves.

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