“People and system restrictions,” says film director Monika Konarzewska about her main sources of inspiration. Straddling the line between documentary and performance, her debut film ‘No Makeup’ takes a close look at queer life in Iceland through the eyes of expat drag queens and kings. The film was named ‘Best LGBT Documentary’ at the Berlin Documentary Film Festival, and Monika has received the ‘Best Director, Documentary’ award at Berlin Indie Film Festival for her work.
Freedom of expression
“I was so moved by how easily drag artists can talk about private traumas and then completely turn the topic into something funny,” Monika explains. “Drag gives a space to express all secrets with no shame, through different mediums and in an exaggerated way.”
‘No Makeup’ guides viewers through intimate stories of local drag performers—Faye Knus, Morning Starr, Hans and Gala Noir. Each of them has different reasons for why they ended up in drag, and different meanings for the performance itself. Monika agrees that it was key to show diversity. “It’s a documentary about foreign people living in Iceland and finding their place to express themselves in the way they want to,” she shares. “The way they felt like they should act but couldn’t do so in their homeland.”
Every drag is different
An immigrant herself, Monika believes that Iceland is a country that welcomes people from all places and backgrounds, allowing them to be themselves. “Including me,” she says. “Since childhood, I was taught that God loves everyone unconditionally. But then you hear that some people are more equal and some less deserving to be loved.” Monika shares her story of growing up in Poland, a country where religion still plays an important role in people’s mentality.
“I think most of the hatred comes from the lack of knowledge,” she says. “That’s why in this documentary I wanted to share people’s stories to ‘un-taboo’ harmful stereotypes about them.” One of ‘No Makeup’s’ goals is to give people who don’t know anything about drag culture a chance to see it through the characters behind the stage makeup.
“That’s why ‘No Makeup’ was made—to show that we all have similar struggles and at the same time we are very different and that’s okay,” says Monika. “We know drag mostly as entertainment, but there is no single definition of what drag is, it’s above any rules.”
Shooting the documentary was quite a process, Monika says. In total, it took two years with breaks, followed by an extra year of post-production. “It wasn’t easy because at the same time I was working three jobs in Reykjavík and the project was made without any financial support,” she says, adding that because of Covid-19, getting funding in Iceland became impossible.
When asked what was the most challenging part of making ‘No Makeup’, Monika is confident it was post-production. “In documentaries, you don’t write a script,” she says. “It’s not the same as plot-based films because you have to deal with the footage you have; you can’t plan it. It was hard but at the same time one of the best moments in my life.”
Without disclosing many details, Monika says her next movie will talk about someone who is on the autism spectrum. “I strongly believe that when you are doing something from the position of your heart, you will be heard,” she says. “It’s just the beginning of my directing path and I hope it will be easier after ‘No Makeup’.”
‘No Makeup’ is screening at Gaukurinn on August 7.
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