Downtown Divas Shows the True Face of Drug Abuse

Heroin Chic has long been a phrase tossed around fashion, applied to supermodels like Kate Moss and Kristen McMenamy in their hey-day.


But the realities of heroin are anything but glamorous. Filmmakers Loral Amir and Gigi Ben Artzi tackle this difficult juxtaposition in their 16mm short film, “Downtown Divas.” In the film, Amir and Artzi interview a handful of drug addicted women largely from eastern Europe who are making a living from prostitution. The interviews highlight how human and relatable these women are, moving beyond the confines of their druggy stereotypes and allotted roles in life. We spoke with the directors to learn about the motivations behind this unflinching, exploratory film.

How did you get started working on this project?

Gigi: I came across one of the women we shot one day and thought it might be interesting to photograph her and other women like her. Loral suggested to film them on 16mm, and thats how the project came about.

What initially interested you about this subject?

Loral: What drew us to this project is the ex-territorial status of these women as part of a group that exists outside society, but is in fact society’s own product. Beyond the aesthetic challenge and that whole “heroin chic” reference, we wanted to integrate these women back into society and ignore that “drug addict” tag that they carry around.

What was something you were surprised to discover while working with these women?

Gigi: I was surprised by the fact that even though these women are “chained” to a world of self destruction without the ability to stop hurting themselves, and are physically and mentally broken due to their addiction, they are still very sensitive and full of emotion.

Loral: Yes, like any other women, they want to look pretty, they like Britney Spears, they have hopes and they have dreams. There is a wide contrast between their physical appearance and their state of mind.


Was there anything you found particularly difficult while working on this film?

Gigi: Just spending time with these women was very difficult, emotionally speaking. You see women with hopes and dreams, but it is impossible to disengage the fact that these women are hurting themselves without an ability to stop on a daily basis, and that hope is unfortunately out of sight for most of them.

Were there any unforeseen obstacles?

Loral: The main obstacle was finding the women. They live in a parallel world and you are not welcome over there. Scary pimps and drug dealers are all over the place.

We were even involved in a police chase while making this project. It was a huge misunderstanding which fortunately ended up with no harm. They were undercover cops and we thought they were criminals. They surrounded the car and tried to smash the windshield and pull us out. I’ve managed to reverse the car into the highway and ran away. I drove like a mad man, but a minute later we discover that those scary guys were actually chasing us, they were right behind us! So, I’m in a car chase, and I rarely drive, and all of this is happening while two of the girls we have filmed are smoking crack in the back of my car and are hysterically shouting that these guys are pimps and that they are going to stab us an beat us to death.

Anyway, they got ahead of us and we had to stop. It turned out they were not pimps or criminals, they were actually undercover cops who thought that we were drug lords or something. I was wearing my 7-year-old cousin’s “Space Jam” cap that day, so it didn’t take them too long to figure out that we are not drug lords and they let us go.


What do you hope to showcase through your work?

Gigi: We wanted to show a different side. Hear these women’s own voices and integrate them back into the mainstream.

When drug addicts are the subject, we only hear about their addiction and how drugs have ruined their lives. We wanted to avoid those things. Once off set, we talked with them about their addiction a lot and heard their stories, we didn’t mention any of it while filming.

What has the response been like to this film and your images? What dialogue do you hope your work instigates?

Loral: Since the film went online there has been a lot of discussion about it. The responses are mainly positive, although there are some people who just assume the worst and are desperately seeking out ways to find negativity in anything.

Their opinions only serve to demonstrate their ignorance—anything from claiming that we are working for the American government in order to promote anti-Russian propaganda or that the project is actually a secret multi-million dollar fashion campaign for a luxury brand. It’s absurd. It’s merely an art film!

Some people are shocked by the photos and refuse to even watch the film. But the contrast between the women’s appearance on the photographs and their appearance in the film is the idea here.

Also, I think some people have taken it out of context, assuming that the idea of the project is to criticize the fashion industry, which is not the case.

What is your WILD Wish?

Loral: Not having to spell my name each time someones asks me “what is your name?”

text by: Emily Kirkpatrick

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