“Obscene Beauty” is a new film that celebrates the art of burlesque and gives a behind-the-scenes look at its culture and performers. The documentary was created by Lesley Demetriades and Nasya Kamrat, owners of Unknown Works and Faculty NY respectively. The NYC Neo-Burlesque entertainment scene will be on full display when the film debuts at the Coney Island Film Festival on September 14, 2018.

Obscene Beauty” focuses on the “Neo-Burlesque scene” that is active in modern-day New York City. Burlesque has a long history in The Big Apple dating back to at least1868, but the often-maligned performance art form continues to evolve in a way that reflects--and often parodies--present day sociocultural themes.

“Obscene Beauty” is an exploration of a well-known art form that celebrates sexuality, comedy, art, and self-awareness. The documentary follows some of the most celebrated key artists working within the current community of burlesque performers while examining how they perceive their artistry and how their art impacts their lives.

Award-winning television and film producer and director Lesley Demetriades was excited to work on this film with Nasya Kamrat--who is also an award-winning director/producer who has a penchant for telling stories through experimental, digital, and interactive mediums. Lesley and Nasya recently discussed this documentary film, the process of creating it, and their hopes and plans for the future.

Artist, movies, and burlesque

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love of Movies and how did that lead to the establishment of your production companies; Unknown Works and Faculty NY?

Lesley Demetriades (LD): I was always a huge theater lover. I discovered my love of film a few years ago, actually. I had taken film classes previously, but I didn't know how much I loved movies until I started making them myself.

I worked in television for years, but I fell more and more in love with filmmaking the more I learned about it.

Nasya Kamrat (NK): Like Lesley, I grew up in the theater, with a particular focus on playwriting. When I moved to NYC back in 2002, I started working with projections and video in the context of theater and loved how the medium was able to enhance the world of the stage and amplify the story.

The faculty was created to effectively marry that love of storytelling, with strategy, design, and technology for brands.

MM: When and how did you first get interested in burlesque and why did you decide to create a documentary—“Obscene Beauty”—about it?

LD: I first became interested in NYC's neo-burlesque scene through two of my close friends who are associate producers on the project - Matthew and Rachel Holtzclaw. It was 2011, I was new to NYC, and I really wanted to learn about the city. They introduced me to this thrilling underground world of neo-burlesque. I was starting to frequent more and more burlesque shows and realized that nobody had done an ultimate NYC neo-burlesque documentary yet.

I contacted my friend Nasya, and we spoke about the idea, and she was really into it too. Both of us loved how this artform encapsulated what we were already interested in as artists in our own right as well as audience members.

NK: I went to my first burlesque show when I first moved to NYC over fifteen years ago. I was blown away, but it wasn't until Lesley came to me with the idea to develop a documentary about neo-burlesque where I really started to research and get to know the scene. For me, exploring the idea of female empowerment was incredibly compelling, and I immediately loved how these badass women owned their sexuality and presented it these amazing three-minute packages full of humor, politics, and a whole lot of glitter.

MM: How much research did you do on the history of burlesque and did anything you learn surprise you?

LD & NK: We did a TON of research about the history of burlesque before we delved into the Neo-Burlesque scene. We both have degrees in Theater, which gave us a good theater history foundation and then we fully investigated the specific history of US burlesque and NY burlesque. We also enrolled the help of the professors and historians we respect, who are in our documentary as well. What was most surprising was the evolution of Burlesque and how it consistently responded to what was happening in the world—politically, technologically, and socially.

MM: How has burlesque changed from the 1800s to today?

LD & NK: If you watch “Obscene Beauty,” you'll get a more detailed answer. It has been remarkable, tracking the progression of this art form. Burlesque was something that started out having a pretty balanced audience when it hit the US over a century ago. As the years progressed, it got more and more sexual, which had it become a more male-oriented thing. Then it seemed to die out. Our documentary actually explores that part of its history and offers some new perspective on it. The art form didn't really die; rather it circulated in a different economy before making its re-emergence in the 1990s.

MM: How did you find artists to interview for the film, what did they think about the project, and what were some of the most memorable stories you heard?

LD & NK: It was one of the most in-flow experiences we've ever had. Matthew and Rachel gave us ten names of their favorite performers to start with. We went to their shows over and over to really understand their work. Then when we interviewed those performers, they gave us the names of their favorite performers. So, it's like “Obscene Beauty” is curated by the best of the best burlesque performers. It was amazing to watch it all unfold into the most comprehensive documentary on the subject. The performers absolutely loved what we were doing—like us, believing how important to capture the underground world as it was - a slice of life that can never be duplicated.

MM: What were the challenges of making the film and how long did it take to complete?

LD & NK: The film took six years to complete, which was way too long. We had some production issues along the way, but we ended up finding our way out of them. We lost funding towards the end due to an investor dropping out and we found ourselves creatively and fiscally responsible for finishing the film. Even with all of those twists and turns, we're really happy with how it turned out. It was marathon filmmaking, and we had to fight to the finish. We've made something pretty special, and we think that will be a very easy thing for our audiences to see.

Coney Island Film Festival and the future

MM: It’s debuting at the Coney Island Film Festival, so what kind of history does that area have with burlesque?

LD & NK: We are beyond excited to be opening the Coney Island Film Festival this year! We couldn't think of a better place to have the “Obscene Beauty” premiere. Coney Island is such a big part of burlesque's history in NYC. It also happens to be a place where artists can hone their craft and do numbers that are really out there. We mean reeeeeaaaally out there. It can be an unbelievably quintessential "New York Epic" night as an audience member. You know, the kind of night that goes down in history in your group of friends and will be recalled for the rest of your life.

MM: How many film festivals will you submit it to and what are your favorite things about partaking in such festivals?

LD & NK: We're being super selective about what film festivals we apply to because we know we have a really special film on our hands.

Coney Island was a no-brainer. The rest we are really making sure are good fits for our film. We're not interested in submitting it to a ton of film festivals just for the laurels. We feel strongly that our audience has to be at these festivals because they are so integral to what Burlesque is.

MM: You are based in both LA and NY...how demanding is it to travel from one place to the other?

LD: I've spent the last three years in LA finishing two films and it turned out to be a great place to finish indie films. I'm getting the itch to head back to NYC to film something though. I absolutely love working in NYC.

NK: I've been in NYC since 2002, but work quite a bit on the west coast, and am actually planning to a move out to Portland at the end of this year to open up a second Faculty office.

For “Obscene Beauty,” being bi-coastal actually helped the film a great deal as we were able to tap into larger networks of talent for finishing the film. For example, all of the editing was done in NYC, while all of the finishing and music composition was done in LA, essentially allowing us to tap into some of the best talent from both coasts.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for the future of Unknown Works and Faculty NY and what projects are you working on now or planning to start work on?

LD: Unknown Works just released our feature film, “Women & Sometimes Men,” via Gravitas Ventures this year. It's a story about a woman who breaks off her engagement to date men, women, and couples in NYC.

It's available on Prime Video, iTunes, Hulu, and most other IVOD and VOD platforms. The next project we're working on is a thriller set in Appalachia, so we'll be traveling there sometime in 2019. We're currently working on the script for it, and we're really excited about it. More to come on that front!

NK: Of late, Faculty is really focused on spatial storytelling and have been fortunate enough to be working with clients on really unique events, activations, and installations. For us, we are excited to take all of the tools we have garnered in the theater and film worlds and translate those to really unique and entertaining experiences that people can enjoy in real life.