“I hope viewers learn that shame should have no place in sexual spaces like bathhouses.” ~ Blair Fukumura director of “The Night Cleaner”
As gay men, we love going to cruisey gay bars, sex clubs, and bathhouses. What could be better than a place where everyone’s arrived with the same purpose: to fuck their brains out until closing time. But there’s a dirty, somewhat icky side to the bathhouse experience – namely, who’s gonna clean up the mess afterwards? That’s the subject of this month’s NakedSword NSFW title, “The Night Cleaner”, a dirty animated delight from acclaimed Canadian director Blair Fukumura.In Fukumura’s previous short, “Bedding Andrew”, we met activist Andrew Gurza, an out-and-proud disabled daddy who describes the experiences trying to hook up in an ableist society. Continuing Fukumura’s practice of interviewing interesting queers outside the mainstream, in “The Night Cleaner”, we meet one such cleaner, named Travis Shannon, who prowls the bathhouse he works in every night – not for cock or ass – but for used condoms, sheets stained with lube, shit, and blood, and more. He’s “The Night Cleaner”, and though a charming and clever-seeming young man, he explains what it’s like to engage in this most-unusual profession.
Fukumura uses computer animation to illustrate Shannon’s narrative in much the same way the StoryCorps team presents their interview excerpts. The result is like a Saturday morning cartoon segment from an alternate gay universe: filthy, provocative, funny, and illuminating all at once. We’re not the only ones who think so. “The Night Cleaner” has had a steady run playing at prestigious LGBT film festivals (34 in total!) all over the US and Europe, and even netted some special recognition and awards from a few: Best in Category at Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBT Film Festival, Special Mention from the Durban South African LGBT Film Festival Jury, and Most Original Short Documentary from ImageOut: The Rochester LGBT Film Festival Jury.
Adam Baran: How did you meet “The Night Cleaner” and what made you think this would be an interesting subject for a film?
Blair Fukumura: I had raised funds via Indiegogo for an animation that fell through, so I needed a way to pay back my investors and got a job at the bathhouse where Travis Shannon worked. I was his shift supervisor, and it was my job to radio him via walkie-talkie about cleaning up the especially heinous “code browns”. His responses were always incredibly cheerful no matter how horrendous the spill, and I thought he’d make a funny person to interview. I thought Travis’ experiences would make for an interesting subject because bathhouses in the film are often visual shorthand for vice — or sensuality — and the experience of the cleaning staff is so beyond anything like that.
What was your job at the bathhouse?
As a shift supervisor, I had to count floats, and ask patrons to leave who were over their time allowances. I met a lot of interesting customers. Not all of whom wanted to leave.
Yikes. Did Travis take much convincing to tell his story?
Travis didn’t take much convincing at all. He was always telling funny stories at work in different squeaky voices, so I knew he’d be the perfect raconteur for this doc.
How long did it take you to do the animation and what was the most challenging part?
I interviewed Travis in April of 2016 and was finished that September. The most challenging part was getting the style of the animation right. Travis’ stories are so graphic that photorealism didn’t work, so I settled on a look that was more cartoonish which helped to distance the viewer from the gruesome details. I used children’s illustrators as reference. Mary Blair who did the “It’s A Small World” ride at Disneyland was a big influence. Ezra Jack Keats who wrote “The Snowy Day” was also an influence.
What do you hope NakedSword viewers take away from the film?
Despite the potentially demeaning tasks assigned to him, Travis remains upbeat and sex-positive throughout the entire short doc and I hope viewers learn that shame should have no place in sexual spaces like bathhouses.
What are you working on next?
I’m about halfway through my next animated film which is set in 1942 Japantown in Vancouver. I’m documenting a neighborhood that was ethnically cleansed in Canada, the street that my father grew up on.
Sounds exciting! Thank You!
Explore all of films selected for NakedSword Film Works (NSFW).