- Documentary Overview
- Short Synopsis
- Long Synopsis
- Director’s Statement
- Media: Stills
- Media: Videos
- Crew Bios
- Press & TV Coverage
- Screenings Partners
The preoccupation over physical beauty is as old as time; what is different today is the central role that the pursuit of the perfect body has taken: it has become our new religion. A beautiful body is seen today as key for personal and also, more importantly, economic success for both women and men. The fast-paced culture brought on by globalization and the new economy has created a new paradigm of self-making: individuals are increasingly pushed to re-invent themselves; the key anxiety of the 21st century is the fear of disposability.
From New York to Tokyo, relentless propaganda reminds us that we have only one body – and that we have to enhance it. Through advertising and mass media, multibillion-dollar industries (most notably cosmetics, fashion, dieting, and cosmetic surgery) saturate our lives with images of idealized, unattainable beauty, of an “Official Body” that does not really exist in nature and that can be obtained only through cosmetic surgery… or digital retouching. Flawless beauty is on display everywhere: in street ads, newspapers, magazines, TV, films… as well as in video games and pornography. The very quantity of these images makes it impossible for people not to be affected by them. Indeed, the ideal consumer is someone who is anxious, depressed and constantly dissatisfied: academic studies from the most respected institutions show that sad people are bigger spenders.
The beauty industry is constantly expanding and has now found two new targets: men and children. A revolution is under way in the perception that these two groups have of themselves.
The Illusionists explores these themes through the testimonies of sociologists, politicians, magazine editors, scientists, artists and activists in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
I never imagined that one quote could change the course of my life. Back in March 2008, I came across an essay that started with these provocative words by Ambrose Bierce: “To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what he wears? But a woman’s body is the woman.”
The truth – and the profound injustice – of this sentence was on prominent display all around me. And it hit close to home: was that the reason why every woman in my life was insecure about her body? I was reminded of this beauty imperatives hundreds of times a day, whenever I saw a billboard ad, opened a magazine, or when I turned on TV. Everywhere, there seemed to be an obsession over female youth and beauty, and about a very specific body type that excluded 99% of the female population. And so I started asking myself: who profits from this? That’s how THE ILLUSIONISTS was born. I began researching the topic, wrote a screenplay, and when TV networks turned down my pitch – fearful of reprisals from advertisers – I raised money for production online, through a crowdfunding campaign.
The title of the film comes from a line uttered by Howard Beale in the iconic film Network (1976), exhorting the audience of his TV show to realize that the media “deal in illusions” and lamenting that people are increasingly unable to tell what’s truly real, as they try to imitate the lives and images they see on TV. They, too, in turn become illusionists.
What differentiates this documentary from other films that discuss beauty and media representation is that its focus is truly global: I filmed interviews in eight countries across four continents, from the United States, to Europe, Lebanon, India and Japan. And, importantly, THE ILLUSIONISTS talks about how this epidemic of body dissatisfaction is affecting not only women, but also men and children. Everyone is a target.
My ultimate goal is that the release of the film will spark public discussions about the link between media messages and negative body image. I want to empower the audience with new knowledge and to give people a platform to “speak truth to media.”
Elena Rossini (writer, producer, DP, editor & director)
– Kat Gordon | Founder, The 3% Conference
– Lisa Wade, PhD | Associate Professor of Sociology at Occidental College
– Christopher Mark Boulton, PhD | Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Tampa
Rachael Abrams, Parent Outreach Specialist for Jewish Community Services
Mahnoor Ahmed, Associate Director, Student Diversity and Development at Towson University
Ilana Posner, ifIknew.org