On Tender Hooks, an in depth look at the incredible individuals that make up our suspension community, is the first feature film by director Kate Shenton. Along with documenting the experience of what we do and why, Kate took the leap herself to fully immerse herself in the subject and the film by being suspended. She took a bit of time to tell us about the film, her powerful experience with suspension, and her journey into our community. Be sure to check the film’s Facebook page for more information about where you can purchase the full length DVD.
When I first started filming On Tender Hooks I was a terribly squeamish person. I couldn’t handle more than a paper cut. One of the main reasons I wanted to make this film was because the community was such a world away from the life that I had lived. I come from an incredibly conservative background, and to say coming into the world of suspension was eye-opening would be an understatement. I never realized that I was a judgmental person until I was surrounded by people who are so easily judged. The first three questions I asked were the same as many people, ‘Is it a fetish? Is itself harming? Does it hurt?’
What drew me into suspension was not the hooks, nor the stretch skin. It was the people. That is always been at my motivation for making the film. There is no warmer atmosphere than when you go to a suspension event, nor is there anywhere more open-minded and accepting. In all honesty, the initial shock of seeing a suspension wears off very quickly, but what doesn’t wear off is the energy and love shown by the community. It was this that drew me deep into the world of suspension, and it was this that I wanted to capture in my film.
Of course once I decided to embark on making a feature documentary about human suspension, I knew I could not justify filming something in such intimate detail which I’ve not experienced myself. The possibility of undergoing a suspension was the most petrifying thing I could imagine. I am not someone who is very good with pain nor am I drawn to extreme experiences.
There is one moment that will always stick with me from my experience of suspending. It was not the been pierced through my skin or the natural high when finally up in the air. It was the moment when I was sitting on a chair crying, after failing to get up in the air twice. I’ve never felt so scared. The only thought I had in my head was that I wanted to be cut down from the ropes and to run a million miles away. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that I could not make this film if I did not go through with the experience. I don’t know where I got it from, but I found the strength to stand up from the chair and attempt to suspend. It was this attempt when I finally succeeded. Something came over me and I just stopped crying and stood up. It was a inner strength that I never knew I had.
There have been many moments in the process of making this film which I have had to remember that strength; Overcoming my fear of flying so that I could film abroad, approaching sales agents armed with nothing more than a bag full of DVDs, curling up into the fetus position as the film was about to screen for the first time. I have never personally felt that I am strong person but that experience, being pulled up into the air despite how scared I was, will always remind me that I’m a stronger person then I think I am.
This is why, when faced with writing this article, I think those three questions came into my head again. ‘Is it self harming? Is it a fetish? Does it hurt?’ So many times I’ve heard these questions from people, and yet I have never thought to ask why it’s always the same three so often. Assessing it now, I think it is because we live in such a judgmental society that restricts us from experiencing what is out there. We put it into a simple category which makes sense within a small world, when what we should be doing is looking so much deeper into the reasons why. No one does anything without a reason, and often the reasons behind the most extreme activities can be humble, honest, and something we can all associate with.
This is what On Tender Hooks has taught me. I myself, personally, would never do a suspension again, but I would never take back the experience of doing it. By taking myself out of my comfort zone and out of the world I’ve been brought up in, I have learned so much more about myself and the experiences and people that are out there.
I never set out to make freakshow. I set out to make a film about a group of very ordinary people who do some truly extraordinary things. A group of people who have changed my perceptions on life and my understanding on myself. If my film manages to make someone feel a tiny little bit more open minded than they originally did that my job is complete.
I also still can’t handle paper cuts….
Thank you so much, Kate, for taking time to become a part of our community, for the incredible film, and for telling us a bit about your work.