I found the website for La Domaine Esemar and was surprised to learn that there was a traditional BDSM training facility and professional dungeon within an hour of where I was living in upstate New York. I thought that this would be an interesting topic to cover in my upcoming Deviant Behavior sociology course for the fall of 2011. So I wrote to Master R, inviting him to my class as guest speakers. He encouraged me to come out and meet them in person, see La Domaine for myself, and get a tour of the dungeon. I couldn’t wait. A week later I drove up the winding country road to their place near the Berkshire Mountains. After two hours of chatting about everything from human sexuality, politics, food, and health, I asked if he would be interested in having a documentary made about his business. He didn’t hesitate to agree. While I didn’t necessarily seek this out as a documentary topic specifically, it was an opportunity I could not pass up. Allowed such access to an underground sexual community was a documentarian’s dream come true.
Years before, I took a course called “Sex and the City” when I was in graduate school at the New School in New York City, with professor Terry Williams, a notorious subcultural ethnographer. In this class, we explored and documented the sexual underground of the city in our field notes. We came to class and shared information about upcoming orgies, strip club events, gay male bars with secluded sex rooms, SM workshops, and our own experiences in this ethnographic field. We talked about ethnics, disclosure, negotiating our own relationships affected by our research, and participation. With this class under my belt, I felt specifically trained to do exactly this type of ethnographic exploration.
I started filming in mid-May 2012. I wanted to capture the community that came together at these parties, the long-term relationships that were established among the group members, and the camaraderie. Several house slaves worked for days to prepare the house by cleaning, cooking, and maintaining the yard. Mistresses and Masters in training (MIT) joined the efforts as part of their apprenticeship into the business; they performed both as slaves and as Mistresses in order to experience both sides of power-fueled relationships. During the weekdays, clients would come for their individual sessions, where they would explore their sexual fetishes with the Mistress and other MITs. The participants were mainstream in most senses, not necessarily out to the people in their lives about their sexual practices, and had a drive for kinky sexuality that brought them to a professional dungeon. The fetishes covered the spectrum from spanking and humiliation to rope bondage, leather, rubber and sensual play. The participants described a vast array of experiences that led them to fetish-oriented sexuality. Ultimately, I wanted to show the humanity of the participants, how they experience their sexuality, and the community that is created at La Domaine. This documentary attempts to shed light on sexual fetishism and the participants from a sociology perspective. Sexuality is a complex human behavior that is affected by many aspects of our lives and expressed in a multitude of ways. La Domaine Esemar shows that sexual expression is part of the movement for personal freedom.
Beverly Yuen Thompson, Director
Albany, NY. May 2012.