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Michael Lucas: Undressing Israel

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I imagined that some day I'd sneak a peek at a titillating Michael Lucas film (like his high-grossing, sexed-up 2006 twist on La Dolce Vita), but I never guessed it would be a thought-provoking documentary. The outspoken gay celeb, safe-sex advocate and uber-successful gay porn kingpin (ever heard of Lucas Entertainment?) will premiere Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land at the 2013 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Feb. 8. This week I tracked down Lucas to chat about his shift to documentary. Before we started, he set me straight.

Scott Alexander Hess: What initially inspired you to tackle the form of documentary filmmaking? What do you hope to accomplish with this film?

Michael Lucas: I should probably be clear up front that I am not trying to break into mainstream filmmaking as a career change. I'm very happy making the kind of movies I've been making for the past 15 years. This particular project was just an extension of my love for Israel and its gay community; it's more closely related to my op-ed columns and political activism than to my previous films. I've been frustrated at how little people know about Israel; all they read about is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which can give a very misleading impression of Israeli culture, which is actually very progressive and tolerant. That's especially true when it comes to gay rights, which are more advanced there than in the United States. My hope is to show Israel for what it is: a great gay tourist destination.

Hess: Was there any connection between your adult film Men of Israel and the shift to the documentary? Are there any parallels in choices/ways of creative expression or the message you hope to put out there?

Lucas: There is no connection between Men of Israel and this documentary except that both of them were shot in Israel. The title Undressing Israel is a tongue-in-cheek recognition of my background in the adult industry, but the film itself has nothing to do with porn, and none of the men in it -- except for me, of course -- are involved in porn. But to some degree both projects reflect, in very different ways, my general goal of shining a spotlight on Israel's incredibly vibrant gay world.

Hess: What opportunities and what challenges has your success in the adult film industry offered in the making and promotion of the documentary?

Lucas: The advantages are obvious, I guess: My career has given me a certain amount of notoriety that is useful in promoting this project. It's probably why you're interviewing me right now! But I expect that, as usual, there will be people who will use the fact that I have made gay porn as an excuse to ignore anything I have to say: "Why should we care what some porn star thinks?" and that sort of ad hominem garbage. It'll probably even pop up the comments section of this interview.

Hess: Did you face any backlash in switching to documentary?

Lucas: No, but again, I have no plans to pursue documentary film on an ongoing basis, so it's not as much of an issue. But again, I'm sure there will be people who try to "discredit" me on the basis of my porn career because they disagree with my views on Israel.

Hess: What do you most hope to be known for regarding your body of work?

Lucas: I am proud of both my porn and non-porn work, and I think both of them ultimately reflect my basic values: I'm committed to breaking down social barriers and hypocrisies, and I also value independent and self-reliance. People on the right think of me as a liberal because I make porn, even though I'm a self-made entrepreneur. People on the left think of me as conservative because I support Israel even though Israel is by far the more progressive country in the Middle East. I'm fine with that. Let people be confused!

Hess: What are you working on next?

Lucas: Lucas Entertainment produces 30 adult movies a year. That takes up the bulk of my focus, but I also want to continue writing about politics and gay culture whenever I have the time and platforms to do that.

Hess: What's the most memorable tweet or social media message you have ever received?

Lucas: The one that comes to mind is a Facebook message that I got after one of my articles: "Thank you for changing my mind." I like praise as much as anyone, but messages like that are more satisfying.