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Inside Lara Roxx
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by Jay Seaver

"Not the sort of movie she set out to make."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Hey, festivals, I know all I really want to know about the porn industry. Really, you can stop screening docs about it and films that are set there; folks give me funny looks after I tell them what I saw. Well, after this one, I suppose; it's an impressively personal look at someone who survived it at great cost.

"Lara Roxx" is the stage name of a young Quebeçoise who made her way to Los Angeles in early 2004 to try to hit porn's big-time after having stripped and done some videos back in Montreal. Like most, she planned to only work for a few years to earn some money, but her plans were cut even shorter when the industry was shut down by positive HIV tests. Lara had performed with patient zero and contracted the virus herself. Soon after she returned home, photographer Mia Donovan (who had done projects featuring Montreal sex workers) contacted her, and they had their first meeting in a mental health facility, where it's clear that Lara has problems other than the disease she contracted, and this project could take a long time if it's to have a happy ending.

Director Mia Donovan doesn't make much of a pretense of distance or objectivity where her subject is concerned. The film wouldn't work otherwise; as much as Lara has some exhibitionist tendencies and is comfortable being on camera, getting this sort of access requires a tremendous amount of trust, which just isn't going to be there if Lara suspects that Mia will sandbag her. That's not just about her talking to Donovan in the first place, but continuing for the next five years, through highs and lows - it's a very delicate balance, as Donovan must back off at difficult times to retain Lara's trust and friendship.

Two things are quite striking, and telling both about Lara's story and the porn industry as a whole: First, these girls are young - Lara is about 22 when we first meet her, and without her makeup, she both looks used up and not terribly different of the pictures of her from high school and even middle school. Later, when she's trying to push for greater industry safety and medical care, she meets a girl considering getting into the business who just radiates naivete. Second - and not as related to the first as one might think - is the level of willful ignorance in the industry. A visit to an older man (a performer himself) who was supportive when Lara was diagnosed and for whom she still has a great deal of affection pulls the rug out from under the audience when he starts rattling off that HIV isn't as easy to catch as people think, and what happened to Lara was just bad luck - why, if he slept with her, he'd be fine.

It's a rant, really, defensive and almost angry, and Donovan makes it even more awkward by keeping Lara in frame while he goes on. That's probably not as lucky a shot as it may seem; as a photographer by trade, she knows how to use the frame. She and editor Omar Majeed do a very nice job of piecing the footage together into a movie; though it's clear that the available footage is limited for various reasons, Donovan and Majeed seldom bridge the gaps in obvious ways, building a picture of Lara's life without having to spell out every step.

I found myself hoping Lara was doing well as the movie ended, even as text indicates that not a lot has changed in the industry. She's not perfect, but she let the world see her at her worst because she thought people needed to see that, and that's worth a little admiration. Even better, her struggle is honest and intriguing but not melodramatic in Donovan's hands, which is something that not all well-meaning documentaries can say.

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originally posted: 04/14/12 09:38:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

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12/12/13 gwen um... 1 stars
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Directed by
  Mia Donovan

Written by

  Lara Roxx

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