The Purity Movement is using sex to shame and control young people
7th December 2019 by Will Stewart
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker, and how you got into making movies. Is this a typical example of your work?
Matt Barber – It took many years for me to discover my talent as a filmmaker. A child of parents who never made it past high-school, lived on government assistance, and buried their emotions deep after the devastating loss of multiple children—they spent more time coping with their own lives than teaching me how to prepare for mine. While they never pushed me to do anything particular with my life, I always had an intuitive drive to connect with people, tell stories, and surround myself with music. Realising early on that I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation to my own father, I pushed myself to find a passion eventually landing at the film program at my local college.
I made my first short film using a hand-cranked 16mm camera, one light that was too powerful and five of my closest friends. I had no idea what I was doing: the lighting was terrible, the continuity atrocious, the acting mediocre at best—but I knew what I wanted to say. The Rule, a cheeky deconstruction of the unspoken rules of men at the urinal, gained me the directing award at my alma mater, the respect of the local film festival and solidified my desire to tell unique stories.
Upon graduation, I moved to LA and dove into the world of television editing, quickly being sought out for my skills of marrying music to picture. Through tenacity and good fortune, I was able to parlay my experience to direct a handful of episodes of network television (Chuck, The 100, Lethal Weapon.) Meanwhile, I continued to develop and direct my own projects: Music Videos (Mackintosh Braun, Kyle Andrews), Short Films (Weathered starring Tony Hale), and a feature screenplay based on my religious upbringing.
MadeGood – What made you want to make a film about the purity movement?
Matt Barber – I grew up in a strict evangelical church at the height of the purity movement. I married my first girlfriend at an early age, having bought into the preaching that this was the purist path to minimise emotional baggage and maximise sexual pleasure. While my marriage was mostly a good one, I had this gnawing feeling that this purity model wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Over the next 13 years, I struggled to reconcile my faith with the life experiences of myself and those around me. As my faith waned—I eventually left the church and my marriage—I began to explore ways of deconstructing my upbringing through various mediums, wanting to understand how I got where I was. I started filming my friends telling the stories of their religio-sexual upbringing, hoping to generate some ideas for my screenplay; however, I quickly realised that there was a need for a documentary revealing the roots of the purity movement and thus the documentary was born.
MadeGood – You have a good mix of points of view in your film, which is great. How did you make sure the ‘pro-purity’ camp comfortable being interviewed? This film is clearly very critical of their point of view. How do they feel about the film now it has been finished?
Matt Barber – It was always my intention to not make a propaganda film, promoting a certain way of life. My main criticism of the purity movement is that it tries to jam sexuality into a one-size-fits-all package. Sexuality is a complex thing and each individual needs to figure out how to navigate it for themselves. Abstinence before marriage does work for some people, for others it brings pain and confusion.
Most of the personal stories in the film came through referrals, which helped establish a base of trust. I shared with them my own story, with all it’s faults and complications, which helped everyone feel more comfortable. With the experts, it was a little more delicate. We did get a lot of skepticism about our intentions, but ultimately the fact that our entire team had grown up in the church and still had a lot of connections helped open the doors.
Once we released the film, we heard from a few of the subjects and made a couple adjustments to the film to clarify their opinions. A few were thankful that we had generated a great resource for discussion and growth. The rest completely ignored us.
MadeGood – What sort of reaction have you had to this film, now it’s been out there for a few years? My guess is that opinion will have been strongly divided!
Matt Barber – The reaction to the film was divided upon idealogical lines, but not in the way you might think. If I may generalize a bit, those of a progressive bent loved the film and it’s inclusion of all types of diversity. The conservatives slammed the film for not being a straight biblical propaganda film promotion. What surprised me the most was how the moderate camp embraced the film. Many liturgical churches and Christian campus organisations set up viewings and held post-screening discussions. From what I was told (having only attended a handful of those events personally) the film opened some great dialogues on the intersection of religion and sexuality. Even though the film wasn’t technically a commercial success (we released the film for free after having funded most of the project through kickstarter) it achieved everything I wanted: a catharsis for my life and a tool to help Christians, both former and active, navigate their lives a bit better.
MadeGood – As a film maker, what do you think you learned from making this film? Have you been able to take your experiences into later projects?
Matt Barber – It made me a better interviewer, definitely. Getting natural, honest moments of subjects talking about their sex lives is not easy. I kept tweaking my approach until I figured out the right alchemy. This experience of GIVE ME SEX JESUS led directly to working on another documentary for MTV (NO CAMERAS ALLOWED which unfortunately is currently unavailable online, but you can see the trailer on my website.)