"We wanted to make people feel the humanity and the community of those involved. We wanted them to be able to relate to the men and women of the leather community. We did not focus on the sex but on the culture of this unique community," said the mind and the eye behind the documentary Kink Crusaders, Mike Skiff. "I did not want this film to be an 'American Idol' for leather. I wanted the viewer to the omnipresent third-party."
Kink Crusaders is Skiff's first directorial endeavor in the genre of documentaries. The film has won accolades from the international community with "best documentary" at Cinekink and the U.K. Film Festival as well as the Bronze Palm Award in the Mexico International Film Festival. "Our film is now opening and closing film festivals worldwide," said Skiff. "I'm not sure I could have done this without my amazing crew. It's wonderful to be able to see everyone else's work in the film itself."
The film takes the viewer behind the scenes of the 30th Annual International Mr. Leather competition (IML), which took place in 2008. For those not "in the know," IML allows men from the around the world to compete for the title of Mr. International Mr. Leather. Kink Crusaders seeks to delve "into the lives and aspirations of its contestants and spectators with humor, tasteful eroticism and pathos. ... This sexy, smart documentary dares to ask, 'Is there a Kink Crusader in us all?,'" said Justin Cook, the press and social media representative for the producers of the film.
Gary Iriza, the winner of the competition as a participant and subsequent judge, had a slightly different view on IML, its role in the cultural context of gay men and the film itself. "You don't even notice the cameras are there since you are so focused on the competition," said Iriza. The Mr. Palm Springs-Leather 2008, who originally hailed from Venezuela, looked the part, and he made sure he did. "I spent over six months watching all of the old IML competitions. I listened to the competitors and studied them. Whatever your view is, Mr. IML needs to look good. He needs to look like the logo," said Iriza. He attributed his victory to studying leather and the leather culture from its Neolithic roots through the present day. "IML is 30 years of changing. The looks. The atmosphere. I'm not sure I like the changing face of leather," said Iriza. "I like the exclusivity of the leather community. We had to follow a protocol. It was what attracted me to leather in the first place."
Iriza also had some thoughts on his experience as a judge. "This was much harder than competing. You are under tremendous pressure to agree that one person who is supposed to represent your community. Imagine having to ask 55 guys questions, read their applications all the while maintaining yourself as the reigning Mr. Leather and being expected to perform those duties as well." Iriza, like predecessor Mike Gerle, Mr. IML 2007, believed that the "hot man that everyone looks at regardless of race, creed or color is what IML should be about. IML is about the kink and the fun," said Iriza.
Iriza seemed pleased overall with the film, but his criticism came from his deep-seated belief about what leather is all about. "We now have this 'well-behaved church lady' representation of the leather community. What happened to that party boythe pretty boy that everyone's eyes are on? The film gave you some sense of the leather community but I still like the more traditional image of the leather community," said Iriza.
Skiff admitted that he believed that 15 percent of the people actually attend for the competition while the others are there for something else entirely.
"People want to see IML as a sexual event," he said. "If you were to just walk into IML, you are not seeing what goes on in private. The film showed the perspective of someone who does not go to IML for the sex alone. Sure, we showed some risqué shots from the market [an IML event], but they were porn stars trying to hock their films.
"I did not want this to be a 'gay documentary' and I wanted to show the cross-culturalism that is now a part of IML. This is a place for all men and women. That's why we added the perspectives of the two young Asian women, Vicky and Christine. Sure, they were shocked at what they saw but not disgusted."
Skiff credited the making of Kink Crusaders with not only saving his life but also with the creation of his second documentary, The Bruno Project. "Shortly after we filmed Kink I was physically assaulted by a crew working on Sasha Baron Cohen's film, Bruno," said Skiff. "I was working as a news cameraman for Real Gay, filming a tense protest just prior to the Prop 8 vote, when Cohen, dressed as Bruno, was supposed to be doing something. I was in the way and these men let me know it." The Bruno Project will focus on not only Skiff's personal physical assault but, as he put it, "the assault on the people of California and the assault on the gay community."
Kink Crusaders is scheduled to be in wide release Feb. 28. For more information on the film, visit www.breakingglasspictures.com .