Banned Short Film A Humorous Commentary On Taboo Surrounding Sexuality

If you’ve been following news out of Poland in recent months, you’ll be familiar with the many protestors taking to the streets to decry a draconian abortion ban that just took effect, underscoring the regressive culture surrounding reproductive healthcare. But it’s not just abortion that the right-wing government seems to hate. In fact, that issue is just one part of the greater focus on clamping down on women’s rights, female autonomy, sexuality and pleasure.

A short documentary film made by director/producer Weronika Jurkiewicz became the target of government officials because of its inclusion in a film showcase. ‘The Vibrant Village’ is a humorous commentary on the absurdity of rigid gender roles and the taboo surrounding female sexuality. It is a portrait of a quiet village where men gather to swill beer at the bar, while women are busy at work, contributing their time to the mass production of sexual satisfaction – namely, purple vibrators.

The film was supposed to be featured as part of a female directors’ showcase on a government-owned VOD platform. However, after just 24 hours the showcase was suspended and the director of the National Film Archive (which operates the portal) was fired. Investigation by a leading Polish daily newspaper revealed that the entire showcase was cancelled, because the Polish Minister of Culture did not like that my film included sex toys. 

In an effort to bypass censorship laws and get her film out to the masses, Weronika has now released the film in full online. Prior to this, ‘The Vibrant Village’ enjoyed a global film festival circuit, screening at 27 events including the upcoming Internationale Kurzfilmwoche Regensburg, Germany from May 23 – 30.

Given the furor surrounding “Vibratorgate”, as Weronika described to us in an email, we figured that this is exactly the kind of film we need to be promoting in order to dismantle regressive and harmful taboos surrounding female sexuality and pleasure. Watch ‘The Vibrant Village’ and check out our interview below.

How did the idea for your film “The Vibrant Village” initially come about? 

My short documentary The Vibrant Village is a humorous commentary on the taboo surrounding sexuality, especially female pleasure as well as the rigid, stereotypical gender roles. It is a portrait of a small village in Hungary with one church, one bar and one… vibrator factory. 

As part of DocNomads Erasmus Mundus MA in Documentary Filmmaking, I was studying at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest. When I landed in Hungary, I was looking for an idea for a film and stumbled upon an article about this factory. 

When I saw the women working there, I knew I had to make this film. There is something so visually interesting about this setting. The village itself is so beautifully “ordinary,” while the factory is sterile, yet so intimate, with each toy literally going through the hands of all the women, and the atmosphere between them is so wonderfully convivial. 

The film premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, but since then has hit some roadblocks in your home country Poland. Can you explain what has been happening?

The film was part of a showcase celebrating Women’s Day, organized by HER Docs, the first Polish festival featuring female documentary filmmakers. The event was supposed to be available on the National Film Archive’s VOD platform. After just one day, an announcement on the website appeared, stating that the showcase was “temporarily suspended.” This came as a big shock to both the organizers and the filmmakers.

Couple of days later, Gazeta Wyborcza, a major Polish daily, published an article claiming that the event was taken off the platform, because of the inclusion of two films, including mine, and that the director of the National Film Archive was fired by the Minister of Culture for defending the right of the films to be featured. Since then, both the Ministry and the National Film Archive issued statements claiming that the cancellation was not an act of censorship. Yet, freedom of expression NGOs such as PEN America made statements to the contrary. 

With the Polish Minister of Culture censoring your freedom of creative expression and your film, can you tell us how you have been turning to online opportunities to get the word out? 

After I read the article in Gazeta Wyborcza, it was incredibly important for me to make the film available online for people to see and judge for themselves the whole situation. I knew that the topic itself could be problematic for some, but I believe that my approach and the film is everything but scandalous or shocking. In the end, it is a 6-minute student film with absolutely zero sexaully explicit conent. 

In that sense, the censoring of the film is a poignant response, highlighting how much a mere mention of a vibrator still causes a major stir in some circles, while, at the same time, sexually explicit films or ads perpetuating the male gaze, omnipresent in public spaces, go unnoticed. 

The cancellation of the festival created a lot of media buzz around the film, with almost all major media outlets in Poland covering this event. It definitely helped to get the word out and with 125,000+ views (as of March 24), I think I can say that the film had a bit of a viral moment.

Why is there such a fear and taboo around female sexuality and pleasure in Poland right now? 

I think this is such a broad and complex question that I won’t be able to give it justice in such a short time, but what I can say is that the censoring of the film and the subsequent suspension of the festival perfectly illustrates the government’s approach towards the wider issues surrounding women’s rights, with the major premise of their strategy being silencing, instead of fostering a dialogue. 

The government has been ignoring the nation-wide protests and an overwhelming opposition towards the near-total abortion ban, while actively widening the societal divide using the state media to paint the feminist and LGBTQ+ activists as threats to the Polish identity, as defined by the state propaganda. 

The cancellation of the festival not only undermines the artistic freedom in Poland, but also exemplifies the lack of the government’s willingness to engage with women’s rights issues in an open and constructive manner. 

At the same time, I believe it is important to acknowledge the hard work of many civic society organizations which are doing a wonderful job raising awareness, educating and destigmatizing the taboo surrounding sexuality in particular and women’s rights in general. 

Many of us are seeing the protests condemning the draconian abortion ban in Poland, which is all part of the larger picture around female autonomy. How is ‘The Vibrant Village’ part of this ongoing conversation to break down stigma?

To be honest, when I was making this film, I never imagined that it would cause such a stir. As a filmmaker, I was drawn to this story, because it resonated with me and my particular sensitivity and sense of humor. Though clearly, topics related to female sexuality become political by nature and by association. 

I think the strength of the film is its subtlety, allowing for the viewers to come out from it with their own thoughts and observations and as a filmmaker I find it incredibly enriching to learn about responses which were different from what I had in mind while making the film. 

This subtlety was equally very important precisely because religion, sexuality and feminism are all incredibly divisive issues in Poland (where I’m from), in Hungary (where the film was shot) as well as in Eastern Europe, and beyond. I wanted to make a film that anyone can “enter,” leaving enough room for the viewers’ own thoughts, while also hoping to make a comment about the absurdity of rigid, stereotypical gender roles and the taboo surrounding sex and sexuality. 


What kind of messages were you trying to raise about gender roles by showing the men of the village in the bar, and the women working in the factory making vibrators? 

The film is definitely supposed to be taken with a huge grain of salt. It is a  tongue-in-cheek reversal of the traditional, stereotypical gender roles where typically it is the men who are working and who are in pursuit of their own sexaul satisfaction. Here, I gave women all the agency. 

What feedback have you received from people in Poland who have seen the film? 

The film has received an incredibly warm reception both in Poland and internationally. It has been screened at more than 25 film festivals and now has 125,000+ views on YouTube and the comments are overwhelmingly positive. I am thoroughly grateful for all the positive feedback. The Internet can be a brutal place sometimes, but so far I feel the film resonated well with the audience. 

What call-to-action would you inspire viewers to take, or think about, after watching ‘The Vibrant Village’? 

First and foremost, I’d love for the viewers to simply enjoy the film and its sense of humor. I think that’s much needed, especially given the rather grim context surrounding it at the moment. 

The conversations around female pleasure take different shapes depending on the particular communities one is part of. For those immersed in spaces where such conversations cause less tension, I hope they don’t take it for granted and cherish it. For those situated in other contexts: keep pushing for creating communities where you feel heard and understood! 

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