Monday, 24 June 2013

Introducing "Menstrual Man"

Here's the trailer for my latest documentary, Menstrual Man. The film tells the inspiring story of A. Muruganantham, the unlikely visionary whose low-cost sanitary pad machines are empowering rural women across India.

We're kinda-sorta still doing the festival thing. Premiered the film at Full Frame Documentary Festival (Durham, NC) in April. Then in May, we screened it at Hot Docs, where it was voted a Top Ten Audience Favourite.

More info and updates at

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Screening at Duke University

The ISIS and AMES departments at Duke are generously hosting a screening of "Cowboys" on April 4th. (Gratitude in heaps to @adelinekoh who helped organise the event.)

I'll be there to do a short Q&A after. Since I'll be in town anyway for the "Menstrual Man" world premiere the following day, I might as well grab some free coffee and donuts.

I'm excited, of course, but also a tad nervous. Note to any potential attendees reading this: If you stump me with academic theory, I'll turn on an Indian accent so thick, you'll have no way of knowing whether I answered your question.

Screening details:
Franklin Humanities Institute
FHI Garage - C105, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse
April 4, 3PM - 6PM

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Cuddler for hire

Grabbed this off Tapiture, so it's veracity is up for debate. According to the caption, Ms. Samuel makes up to $260 a day offering warm cuddles to vets and pensioners in Rochester, NY.

Good. Everybody needs someone to hold from time to time.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

#cowboysinparadise #femtheory #wheresmyextracredit

@adelinekoh's been up to all kinds of good lately, employing Twitter as an engagement tool in her Cultural Studies and Feminist Theory courses. (I introduced Adeline in the previous post. She's an Asst. Professor of Literature up at Richard Stockton College, NJ.)

A recent assignment in her Seminar in Feminist Theory course required students to live-tweet while watching Eat, Pray, Love and Cowboys in Paradise. Translation? Use your phone during the movie, kids! All cool, long as you talk about second-wave US feminism and minority/international feminism. (More on her assignment here. Meanwhile, Cowboys in Paradise academic DVDs are still available.)

I joined the conversation too, hoping my involvement would earn me the minimum wage-equivalent of 10 cents for every #femtheory- and/or #cowboysinparadise-laden tweet. No dice. But I had a blast. And for all the #femtheory students thanking me profusely since, a 'lil secret: creators like speaking to an engaged audience about their work. So thank you.

A highlight for Adeline: when student @taraeckel commented "I love that even though Virmani says he doesn't think Cowboys in Paradise is an academic film, [sic] the issues are there. Shows how important these issues are in the world, and not just in textbooks."

Highlight for me? This warning from @AvaSTK523: "May or may not throw up. Most likely WILL. Finishing touches on @AmitVirmani essay..." (She has since said it had nothing to do with me, but with her deadline-related nervousness, thus taking away everything that was cool about her tweet.)

Special thanks to @JamesPomar for archiving the highlights from one of the live-tweet sessions.

'Borrowed' top pic from and this interesting post on Twitter and the College Classroom.

Friday, 6 April 2012

We have a trilogy

A new film competing at Cannes this year explores the phenomenon of European female sex tourists in Kenya. It's supposedly the first in a planned trilogy, but I'm going ahead and claiming it as Cowboys in Paradise, Part III.

Sure, it's not a documentary. And it's set in Kenya, which is not, like, a part of Indonesia or anything. But the film's called Paradise: Love. Close enough.

Then there's this still from the film. Different, but familiar enough to evoke memories of the original (see masthead above), damn thing screams sequel art-by-numbers. .

Mostly, I'm claiming the film as part of our franchise because it features graphic scenes and lots of nudity. That's what some said about Cowboys (before actually watching the film), and now they can have their closure.

Others had dismissed it as outright pornography, which brings us to the second installment in our franchise. You might know it as Koreana, the video of a white dude having sex with an Indonesian woman in a hotel room in Bali. The clip surfaced on the net around the same time as our trailer went viral, leading some in Indonesian media to call it Cowboys in Paradise, Part II. Naturally.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

"Cowboys" in feminist classrooms

Just read Adeline Koh's review of "Cowboys in Paradise" in Films for the Feminist Classroom. An assistant professor of literature at Richard Stockton College, Adeline had screened the film for a capstone class in the Women, Gender and Sexuality studies program. (You can order your academic screening copy here.)

Her much-too-generous review praises the film for:

(Calling to) attention the critique of second-wave feminism by minority and international feminists such as bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, and Trinh T. Minh-ha: despite the common condition of being women, the same battles are not fought by women of privilege and their poorer counterparts.

I confess to smiling upon seeing bell hooks mentioned. It took me back to 1994 when I interviewed her for a student paper, and when she introduced me to the concept of 'white-lily feminism'. She wasn't discounting anyone's contribution to the cause, but merely highlighting the fact that all activists - feminists included - are driven by their own background and circumstance. Shortly after, I began to regard my own women studies courses with suspicion. Thankfully, my professors and mentors encouraged this rebellion.

Back to Adeline. I don't know if she considers herself a 'minority' or 'international feminist'. What I do know is that we share a disdain for the over-romanticization of Asia by Westerners. It's unfair, stifling, and counter-productive at best. At its worst, it's just fucking self-centered. Which naturally brings us to...

Eat, Pray, Love. Writes Adeline:

Students watched both Eat, Pray, Love and Cowboys in Paradise after reading second-wave feminist theory alongside its critique by minority and postcolonial feminists. Because they viewed Cowboys after reading theory, students were able to accurately identify the urgency of the inequality raised by minority and postcolonial feminists in their critique of feminisms of privilege.

My film serving as an indirect critique of feminisms of privilege? Somewhere up there, Dr. Ellis is shaking her head and smiling.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

You knew it was brewing: Starbucks in Ubud

Caught up with Ryan Ver Berkmoes last Sunday. He's the co-author of Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok, and we'd first exchanged emails last year when he wanted to review "Cowboys in Paradise" for the guide's 2011 edition. On route from Bali to Portland, Journeyman Berkmoes had a few hours to kill in Singapore, so a round of drinks were in order.

After knocking my beloved Austin ("I don't care! It's still in Texas!"), he updated me on the goings-on in Ubud. X wrote another book, Y launched a donation drive for a new children's charity, there's now a Starbucks in Ubud, and there's an expat who -- Wait, what?! Starbucks?

Turns out it was only news to me. The Mother of Third Spaces set shop in Ubud a while back. Come to think of it, is it even news if you, me and everyone we know saw it coming? Where did we think those "retrace Elizabeth Gilbert's footsteps" tours would lead?

And why just pick on Self-Fulfilled Liz for the hell she unleashed. I know, I know, it's fun but...

The question was never whether Ubud was touristy (it was), but whether its brand of commercialism was crass (it wasn't, until it was.) Hell, the very notion of Ubud being the island's spiritual centre, the balm for rat race-weary Westerners and the muse for artists seeking inspiration was an image carefully cultivated by Walter Spies et al in the 1920s. (Recommended read: "Bali: A Paradise Created" by Adrian Vickers.)

Am I disheartened that there's now a Starbucks in Ubud? Yup.

But then globalization has no regard for how I feel. As a Texan pal used to say, "You can build a town and call it No Fucking McDonald's, but the bastards will just buy the rest of the country and christen her Fuck Yeah McDonald's."

Also, the town's expat business owners - apparently the ones who were most vocal in their protest - can't have it both ways. You can't vie for tourists to flock to your villas, take cooking lessons and hum Om on your verandahs as you serve them faux enlightenment, and then suddenly find a Starbucks to be in violation of the town's spirit. It's only as inauthentic as your infinity pools once were.

Besides, Starbucks has some credible fair trade and wage policies. If they pay their staff better than some local and "local" employers do, then good for them. Shit, I'll go one better. If they benefit the immediate community more than some of the existing businesses do, then I want every damn tour bus to unload their thirsty, "Eat, Pray, Love"- lugging Ubud fan at their doorstep.

(Photo courtesy of DC Allen.)

Monday, 23 May 2011

U.S. mom, Indo dad

Interesting discussion started by an American woman who got pregnant while traveling in Bali. She wonders if she should take her baby girl to visit her father in Indonesia. Forum members advise her on things she needs to consider first.

(Thanks for the link, Jay)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Screening in San Francisco

"Cowboys in Paradise" will screen at the Asian Art Museum (AAM), San Francisco, on April 14th, 6:00pm. Screening's free with museum admission and I'll be doing a Skype Q&A after. (Only the former is a good reason for you to attend.)

AAM's also got plenty of other Bali-related events and exhibitions lined up all the way through to September. Check them out, then go check them out!

Monday, 4 April 2011

No condoms for the enlightened

Still from "Cowboys in Paradise".

Beth A. caught "Cowboys" and wrote in to say:
"... horrified by the scene where the man says some yoga practitioners tell him not to use condoms cos his energy is clean. WTF! Really hope you told him about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases."
Wasn't my place to mount the soapbox. It's clear from that scene that most Cowboys know the risks. He certainly did, but he goes on to tell us why he doesn't get tested!

Credit where it's due: Bali authorities and AusAID are doing a fair bit to raise HIV/STD awareness. But given the power dynamic in these relationships, I think the fight is most effective when the tourists take the lead and insist on playing safe. No Cowboy would refuse to wear a condom if his lover insisted he did.

Meanwhile, to the women he referred to, I say thanks a fat bunch for desecrating yoga with your stupidity.