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Hot Docs 2009 Interview: Orgasm, Inc. Director Liz Canner Talks Sex, Drugs, And The Cure For What Ails You

Liz Canner’s latest documentary, Orgasm, Inc., made it to the 2009 line-up of the Hot Docs festival.

Barely.

“We just finished on Friday at 6am!” she laughs over the phone.

With nearly a decade of work to sort through, Canner can be forgiven for her attention to detail, not deadlines. The film examines how drug companies cater to women’s sexual health problems – but Big Pharma, Canner posits, might have had a hand in creating the illness in the first place.

“It took me nine years to make the documentary, partly because I kept waiting for them to come out with a drug that would work,” Canner explains.

“As I was waiting, all these other things started happening. Vaginal rejuvenation surgery started taking off and that kind of thing. It ends up being a look at the search for a cure for female sexual dysfunction and how the disease itself was also developed.”

But with all that footage, it was hard to decide what to keep, and what to leave on the (virtual) cutting room floor. So Canner thought of a better way.

“I ended up getting two documentaries out of this project. Initially, I was looking at the history of the science of the female orgasm, and what has been said about women and pleasure over the past few thousand years.

“This is the first part, the search for drugs.”

It began when Canner took a job with a company that ended up figuring prominently in the documentary. Vivus, a relatively small drug company, was testing a cream that they hoped would help women achieve orgasm by increasing blood flow. Canner was hired to edit erotic films for both the test subjects and a control group.

The end result? “Porn works,” one executive laughs. But the cream didn’t and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t approve it.

“I liked everyone at Vivus and I don’t think the film is an indictment of Vivus itself,” outlined Canner.

“I think the film is more of an expose on how the pharmaceutical industry works. It’s more how it’s become normal for drug companies to be involved with developing diseases.

“It’s legal and we need to look at that and how it’s changing people’s ideas of health and illness.”

That includes examining why dangerous reconstructive operations are recommended to fix cosmetic problems, not medical ones.

“Vaginal surgeries, which are basically a form of genital mutilation, have taken off around the world in the past nine years as a result of this disease, female sexual dysfunction,” the director says.

One woman she interviews had the procedure and barely survived. She lost nearly a third of her blood in an effort to have a more uniform labia.

The goal of her work, Canner explains, is to expose the industry to higher scrutiny.

“I feel like this film gives you tools for analyzing the media better and for analyzing medicine better. Unfortunately, I only had an hour and a half,” she cracks.

 

Hot Docs 2009 runs from April 30 – May 10. For more information or to purchase tickets visit hotdocs.ca.

Read our review of Orgasm, Inc.