This documentary film follows a heroin-addicted professional escort as she moves between New York City, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.
Combining frank images of the actual labor of sex work with intimate portraits of her interpersonal life, the film is an alternately humorous and harrowing look at a seldom depicted side of American life as well as a meditation on the performativity at the core of documentary filmmaking and the sex industry alike.
Shot on a mixture of 16mm and HD digital video in luxuriant long takes, its disciplined style foregrounds the sensual texture of the everyday, while playing with the conventions of narrative cinema, focussing on the profound interrelation of performance and identity within the socioeconomic fabric of the U.S. Written in close collaboration with its subject/star, Empathy marks the feature-length directorial debut for Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli.
"Rovinelli and Cominotti ... seem to be pursuing bigger, more abstract questions concerning what it means to be a person in the first place. For a film that feels so small and personal, its ambition is immense." -- Dan Sullivan, Film Comment
""Sex worker," "white trash," "queer," "junkie" -- these are the prison of words that are dispersed across the melodramatic continuum in this documentary fiction ... Profoundly moving." -- Isabelle Regnier, Le Monde
“Can performance and reality be separated? Does it matter? ... Full of tenderness and, yes, empathy for its subject ... the suggestion of happiness despite all, even for the briefest of moments, feels sublime.” -- Kazu Watanabe, Screen Slate
"An intimate and affecting portrait ... [with] an incredibly strong performance by the lead, at once natural and distanced. ... A picture of contemporary American life emerges, of dependence on money for rent and health insurance as much as on drugs and other people." -- Henrike Meyer, Das Filter
Empathy 83min / Color / HD & 16mm / USA / 2016 Cinematography. Bill Kirstein Sound. Kenny Kusiak Addt'l Sound. Jeremie Brugidou Music. Tim Rovinelli, Kenny Kusiak, Magic Fades, Vektroid, & Shisa. Prod. Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli & Bill Kirstein Co-Producer. Em Cominotti Directed by Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli