LAS VEGAS - Thursday evening at AEE, an eager crowd packed into Vinyl for a premiere screening of Cam Girlz, which describes itself as a documentary but which seems more like a paean to a new breed of sex worker that in so many ways defies easy definition. Indeed, while Cam Girlz achieves many admirable things in its hour-plus running time, what it really delivers in spades is a sense of the incredible diversity among the ranks of cam models, not just in their body types, which run the gamut, but in the individuality of their characters. Not porn stars, and certainly not prostitutes, cam models nonetheless provide both entertainment and sexual satisfaction to their members while simultaneously demolishing the monolithic stereotype that so many people still have of sex work.
In that sense, Cam Girlz mines terrific new ground, and does so with impressive technical finesse and subtlety. Beautifully shot and edited, with an original and hypnotic soundtrack, the movie is helmed by a young man named Sean Dunne, who, along with his unobtrusive crew, somehow manages to put the viewer practically inside the monitor as one original character after another strips herself of any pretense and seems to invite us into her very soul. We get the full range of confessional emotions from these women, whose job, we soon learn, may start out as being all about sex but which soon becomes more about making intimate and authentic connections with men who could be half a world away, and who are never in the same room with them.
It's that incongruity that serves as one of the movie's main themes. On its face, camming sounds like the definition of impersonal: easy work and easy money from a distance at the expense of lonely and vulnerable men. But the truth of camming is far more complicated, and often far more genuine. We do hear stories from the women about the extent to which some men will misinterpret the level of intimacy being created - one man even said he was leaving his wife and child to move closer to the cam model so he could be with her - but the cam models are all quite clear about the boundaries necessary for them to be able to responsibly engage in the sort of intimacy and authenticity that camming requires.
To its estimable credit, Cam Girlz does not skirt the male point-of-view, a necessary component in this increasingly popular form of online interaction. About halfway through the film, after having gotten to know several of the cam girls, we suddently shift perspective to that of a handful of men who use their services, and who explain their motivations with similar honesty. Admitting that shyness or lack of confidence may have driven them to reach out via a technological interface, they also insist that the experience has not only boosted their self-confidence, but helped them understand themselves better.
"They've given me a confidence I've never had," said one guy, who added of the cam girls, "They're happy that they're making someone else happy. They're genuine."
That sense that the one understands the other is shared by the models, who expressed insights into the male psyche that are both brutally honest and movingly tender.
"What they have in common is that they're all really lonely," said one model, adding, "There's a lot of grey area, because this is all about ones and zeroes." In other words, while it is her task to conquer his loneliness by establishing what both parties agree is an authentic connection, she is fully cognizant that it is a connection that would likely not be happening if money was not a part of the equation.
Still, the movie posits that in this strange new form of intimacy being created in the world of camming, everyone seems to be getting something of value out of it, and often it's more than money. Cam models also find new confidence through camming, or use it to explore new forms of creative expression, or as a means of avoiding a 9-5 job. One of the cam models featured in the movie is about 40 years older than any of the other models, and started doing it after her husband died suddenly of a heart attack as a way of relieving her own loneliness and also staying in touch with her sexuality. Rather than merely filling a void, it developed into something that has profoundly enhanced the quality of her life.
Cam Girlz is not comprehensive, by any means. All of the models are English-speaking and we hear nothing from any of the people who run the networks on which the models work. As well, the amount of money that can be made is touched upon only briefly. But the movie is about more than money. Filled with honesty and humor, and suffused with a palpable sense of affection for the women and men featured in it, and also for the field in which they engage one another, Cam Girlz takes a wonderous look at a growing phenomenon that exists outside the norms of sex work, or any work, and which itself is evolving in an utterly organic manner.
It's that idea of revolutionary independence and a future with unknown potential that one is left with after Cam Girlz concludes, along with the sense that these women are not just cam models but pioneers leading us into the unknown. Those may be a few of the reasons the audience was so effusive in its applause as the credits rolled.
More information about Cam Girlz, the models featured in it and the production staff can be found on the movie's website.
Image: Screen shot from Cam Girlz.