North Bend FF Review: Avant-Doc ‘Searching Eva’ Shows Life in the 21st Century


“I’m gonna tell this story again. My name is Eva.” 

The life of an Instagram sex worker is one that is probably met with plenty of questions. Projections, prejudices, and perceptions answering why and who would resort to such a profession are almost certainly already floating in your head, but that’s where Searching Eva comes in, responding to your questions with honesty, sincerity, and avant-garde cinema.

Focusing on the titular lead, Pia Hellenthal’s film tracks online sex worker Eva Collé as she answers her follower’s AMA questions. Through voice over narration and images of her daily life, we begin to see Eva’s life take form complete with her views, her past, and ultimately what it means to live in 21st century society.

Instead of talking heads spitting out testimonies set to cinéma vérité footage, Hellenthal embraces unconventional art cinema to derive ephemeral meaning through oblique documentation. In layman terms: this isn’t your traditional documentary. Nowadays docs are a dime a dozen because of how easy they are to produce, and they tend to take form around a certain set of rules. But Searching Eva diverges from those conventions to create something that is truly a piece of art.

Each scene is prefaced by a question on a black title card followed by Eva’s narration. The questions could be about any number of things —her line of work, her life, or her thoughts on society — but they take on a more holistic message with each subsequent question, amassing to a complete picture by the film’s end. Rebellion, social norms, gender, economic systems, and the state of being are all up for grabs and take shape as Eva sees it, making you rethink notions you yourself have already determined to be true.

In between those questions, you get any variety of images that alternate between real life, staged scenes, and artful compositions. These images aren’t constructed with narrative logic, but rather with the intention of conveying something specific about Eva. One question prefaces another and builds out an overall feel. There is an arm’s length distance to the whole film, not only through the footage, but also where the audience is coming from and their perspective. The way the questions are framed are as if we the audience are the ones asking the questions, and Eva is addressing us, answering our questions about her and changing our own way of thinking.

To see this film is to see the world as Eva sees it, and what we come to observe challenges 21st century rules of thought. Eva is someone on the fringes, pushing boundaries of social norms and being truly individualistic. For that reason, her documentation becomes interesting. To hear from her and see a side of life unseen to most is where we can see the 21st century be reevaluated, it’s just a matter of whether or not we choose to listen that its message will take hold.

I think the most impressive part about this film is how disparate, yet holistically complete it is. As different avant-doc techniques are deployed, you may be taken aback, but it is through this that we see Eva differently. Searching Eva is a film where form plays an important role in how we see Eva. For someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and challenges society differently, it’s a smart — and impressively cohesive — creative decision to construct a doc that challenges the rules under the same mindset. The end result is a visually evocative doc that was my favorite film at North Bend this year, and if you can manage to track it down, don’t hesitate to give it a watch and pick Eva’s mind.