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Labor and Rights with Tove Pils and Ruby from Red Umbrella Sweden

This episode is in english. Scroll down for tips and links.

Welcome to SAQMI Play, the podcast that features queer film makers and film making.

This episode is a discussion about Tove Pils’ documentary Labor between me, Sam Message, and film maker Tove, as well as sex worker Ruby from Red Umbrella Sweden, an organization and community for sex workers. The conversation took place following a screening of Labor at LGBTQI+ film festival Film Out West, at Hagabion in Gothenburg 2023. 

In the film we follow Hannah as she leaves her family behind to go to the city of her dreams, San Francisco, where she hopes to explore her sexuality. At a party she meets the professional dominatrix Chloe and escort Syd. 

Throughout the documentary we follow Hannah, Syd and Chloes journeys to gain an intimate insight into their own experiences with sex work. By following these individuals over a period of ten years the film dives deep into the lives of queer sex workers on their own terms. Through this powerful lens the film exposes the profound impact of the intense stigma surrounding sex work, both in San Fransisco and even more so within the often heated debate within the Swedish context. 

More about the film Labor and the director Tove Pils:

In Labor, Tove Pils depicts a queer community that challenges the view of sex and work. When one of the film’s main characters, Hanna, travels to San Francisco, she falls in love with the heights, the atmosphere and a vibrant queer scene. At a party she meets Chloe and Cyd who are both sex workers. Hanna, who wants to find a way to stay in San Francisco, is attracted by the large sums of money they bring in. But since Hanna doesn’t dare to work alone, Chloe takes her under her wing and they start selling sex together. While Hanna feels that she has found home in San Francisco, it grates on her that she cannot tell her parents that she is a sex worker. Is there any chance they could understand?

Labor premiered in 2023 at the Gothenburg Film Festival in the Nordic Documentary Competition and has been screened around the world, and won the award for best documentary at Lovers Filmfest in Torino, Italy. In their filmmaking, Tove Pils tries to create structures to investigate what she and the communities they belong to strive for. Desire is a central concept for Tove. Labor deals with sexual, economic and social desires. In all of Tove’s films, there are representations of longing for queer spaces, both external and internal. Sugar Oil Pine Water (2021) is a dreamy hybrid about the desire for queer ritual spaces. PUSH ME (2014) is about finding spaces where you can challenge your own and society’s boundaries and norms and explore sexual desires.

Actors: Hanna, Chloé, Syd
Producer: Melissa Lindgren, Story AB

Labor screened in SAQMIs serie Nightfall – Queer Talks & Screenings as part of Film Out West LGBTQI+ Filmfestival at Hagabion in Gothenburg December 2th 2023. Participants in the talk was Sam Message (moderator), Tove Pils and Ruby. Live recording by Silas Lilo Jensen. Curator Anna Linder.

Additional information: Labor exhibition 2019, supported by SAQMI.

About the participants in the panel:

Ruby, trans woman, sex worker and activist who is a member of Red Umbrella Sweden, an organization and community of and for sex workers and their rights and interests. Ruby has several years of experience in sex work in Sweden and has participated in panel talks and discussions at events such as Erotisk Afton, Pride, Småland’s nation, etc. She also helped organize the first Slut Walk in Malmö and spends time on political engagement at the grassroots level to influence and change society.

Sam Message (They/them) is an artist and community organiser based in Gothenburg. In their work they explore how art & culture can be used to weave new connections between people in order to build a more inclusive society and a more sustainable LGBTQ+ community.

Nedan följer ett urval av intervjuer, recensioner och artiklar om Labor:

1.Tove Pils följde sexarbetare i tio år: ”En viktig berättelse”, Sveriges Radio P1, 26/10-2023, Reporter: Felicia Frithiof, Producent: Esfar Ahmad.
2. Dokumentären “Labor” om sexarbete: “Att sälja sex är nödvändigtvis inte värre än andra jobb”, QX, 13/11-2022, Juli Adolphsson.
3. The Film Collaborative Boards Sex Work Documentary ‘Labor’ as Film Screens at CPH:DOX (EXCLUSIVE), VARIETY, 21/3-2023, Lise Pedersen.
4. One of our top picks at Copenhagen Documentary film festival, CPH:DOX, was Tove Pils Labor, Nordic Watchlist, 12/5-2023, Interview by Alex Minnis.
5. ”Labor”: I huvudet på en sexarbetare, Sydsvenskan, 20/10-2023, Malin Krutmeijer. (Observera att inlogg krävs).

“There is a lot of information and organisations out there doing good work to make the situation for sex workers better. Here are some of them, but there are so many more. The US organisations are recommendations from Chloe and Cyd, plus San Francisco Bay Area Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival, which also has an online archive with films and videos that is worth looking up. If you live in the nordic region please look up and learn more about the organizations here. There is also a link to all members in The European Sex Worker Alliance, which we think is a great way to see what organisations exists in Europe”. Tove Pils

Bay area workers support (BAWS), is a peer-led resource organization, who works for the health, safety, and livelihoods of people in the sex trade. In the face of criminalization, stigma, and inadequate resources, BAWS mobilizes. BAWS harnesses community power and builds local partnerships to provide material resources, information, and support. BAWS creates space to increase strength, justice, and love for Bay Area workers. DONATE here.

SWOP Behind Bars is a national grassroots social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers, victims of trafficking and their communities with a focus on those currently incarcerated or seeking reentry. DONATE here.

Red Canary Song (NYC based) is a grassroots organization of Asian and migrant sex workers and massage workers, organizing transnationally. Our work is in the tradition of sex worker mutual aid, and we center base-building with migrant massage workers through a framework of labor rights, migrant rights and PIC abolitionist framework. We believe that full decriminalization of sex work is necessary for the safety and survival of massage workers and trafficking survivors. DONATE here.

Lysistrata Cooperative (NYC based). A 150 member co-op operating nationally in the United States run by and for current/former sex workers founded in 2016. Lysistrata is best know for their 6 year ongoing Sex Worker Emergency Fund and is currently able to assist individuals with sliding scale amounts of $50-$100 depending on the specific situation/individual, availability of funds, location, and volume of requests. DONATE here.

Women with a vision (New Orleans based). Women With A Vision, Inc (WWAV) is a community-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1989 by a grassroots collective of African-American women in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. The mission of Women With A Vision is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families and communities by addressing the social conditions that impede their health and well-being. We accomplish this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services and community-based participatory research. Women with a vision – sex work decriminalization program. DONATE here.

GLITS – Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (NYC based) has led to change systemic and economic oppression of systemic and economic discrimination not only in NYC but also globally in regards to our marginalized communities. We are approaching the health and rights crises facing transgender members and the sex worker community. harm reduction, principles of human rights, economic and social justice, along with a commitment to empowerment and pride in finding solutions from within our own community. The first issue we address is that of immediate need/crisis support for transgender and TLGBQIA and Bi Poc community members from the NYC area, across the US and globally by supporting asylum seekers from our priority communities. The next issue we address is health care and health resilience for transgender people. We need to address this issue because our society is hype-marginalized and in deep need of safe sex accessories and free/low-cost health to address both trans-specific and holistic needs. We are currently working on housing because so many in our G.L.I.T.S. community lack stable housing, deepening the cycle of disenfranchisement. G.L.I.T.S. also advocates and educates to ensure the health, well-being and inclusion of transgender people in our society and to address the stigmatization and criminalization of transgender people due to anti-prostitution/anti-sex work laws. DONATE here.

Utopia Washington United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance Washington (UTOPIA Washington) is a queer and trans people of color, grassroots organization born out of the struggles, challenges, strength and resilience of Queer and Trans Pacific Islander (QTPI – “Q-T-pie”) communities. Utopia Washington – Sex Worker Empowerment Initiative. DONATE here.

San Francisco Bay Area Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival has provided a forum for sex worker filmmakers and video makers since 1999. The festival has since expanded to become a vibrant venue for performances, workshops, visual arts, political organizing, skill-sharing, and ever-expanding events for sex workers from San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and from all over the world. We proudly support our Bay Area communities as we welcome sex workers, friends, families and allies, and showcase the work of sex worker artists. The Sex Worker Festival recognizes and honors prostitutes, dancers, porn artists and other sex workers from various communities, who have been dynamic and integral members of art communities since time immemorial. Archive here. DONATE here.

The US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS) is a multiracial network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry. Founded in 1982, US PROS campaigns for the decriminalization of prostitution and for justice, protection and resources so that no woman, young person or man is forced into prostitution through poverty or violence. DONATE here.

European Sex Workers Rights Alliance (ESWA) is now a network led by sex workers, proudly representing more than 100 organizations in 30 countries in Europe and Central Asia. Our goal is to ensure that the voices of all sex workers are heard and that their human, health and labor rights are recognized and protected. With our actions and approach inspired by our member community, we work to build a strong, vibrant and sustainable network that mobilizes national, regional and international advocacy activities that move us towards long-term systemic change. Links to all ESWA member organisations. DONATE here.

Red Umbrella Sweden is a Swedish organisation advocating for the rights, safety, justice and self determination of sex workers. All our members are current or former sex workers with lived experience of doing sex work. Sex workers’ includes anyone who trades sexual services for material gain of any kind. This means cam workers, strippers, street based sex workers, erotic massage workers, brothel workers, full service workers, porn actors, content creators, etc. DONATE here.

PION (Norway) was established in 1990, and is a member-based interest and rights organisation, contact center and political mouthpiece for women, men and trans people who sell sexual services in Norway regardless of residence status and affiliation.

SIO (Denmark) ”Nothing about us – without us”
This is the headline for the Danish sex workers’ organisation – SIO (in Danish: Sexarbejdernes Interesseorganisation; Sex workers’ Interest Organisation). We demand worker rights for sex workers, and we demand to be heard in political matters concerning us

The Red Van (Copenhagen) is a mobile harm reduction organization for street-based sex work in Copenhagen. Our mission is to make working conditions less precarious by providing a safer space for street-based sex workers and sellers. We believe in rights, not rescue. DONATE here.

Pro-tukipiste (Finland) is an organization founded in 1990 to promote the inclusion and human rights of people working in the sex and erotic industry. We provide low-threshold support, counselling and health services as well as community activities. Our services are for anyone who works in the sex or erotic industry, offers sex against payment or has become a victim of criminal trafficking in human beings.

The Red Umbrella Film Festival (RUFF) (Dublin) is organized by current and former sex workers. Our aim is to create conversation and community around the issues sex workers face in Ireland and internationally through film. We want the voices of sex workers to be heard – in the media, on screen, in research and on the street. We believe there should be nothing about us without us. Our four-day festival in October 2023 will feature feature and short films, panel discussions, workshops and a Saturday night performance and dance party. By creating space for sex workers’ stories, we hope to challenge stigma and shame, fight for our safety and self-determination, and build towards a decriminalized future. All funds raised by the festival will go towards the launch of a street-based sex worker collective. DONATE here.

Nightfall is a night of queer talks and screenings. Inviting artists to share and talk about their work and their process. Nightfall is both a showcase for finished work and a queer peer review for work in progress.

Credits SAQMI Play:
Producer: Anna Linder
Design and code: Vincent Orback
Composer: Amanda Lindgren
Recorded, edited and mixed by Silas Lilo
Host: Sam Message
Original: Nightfall #13, at Hagabion, Gothenburg.
Publisher: Anna Linder

SAQMI Play is produced with support from The Swedish Arts Council and Gothenburg City.

Labor and Rights with Tove Pils and Ruby from Red Umbrella Sweden

00:00:00 / 00:33:15


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Tove Pils, Ruby from Red Umbrella Sweden and Sam Message, SAQMI. Photo by Sara Lindquist.
Stills for the film Labor
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Labor. Bild av Edit Hammar
Poster by Edith Hammar
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Poster by Sara Lindquist.
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Photos by Frameline SF.
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Backstage with Labor. Tove and Chloé at Frameline 47. Photos by Sara Lindquist.
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Photo by Frameline SF.
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Tove Pils. Photo by Sara Lindquist.
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Chloés garden. Photo by Sara Lindquist.
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Tove Pils. Photo by Sara Lindquist.