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Steven Soderbergh screens his latest film The Girlfriend Experience as a fundraiser for the New Orleans Film Festival

Che, Parts I & II

6:30 p.m. Wed., May 6

Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St.; www.neworleansfilmfest.com

Tickets $25

The Girlfriend Experience

7 p.m. Thu., May 7

Canal Place Cinema, 333 Canal St., The Shops at Canal Place, third floor; www.neworleansfilmfest.com

Ticket $15

click to enlarge Porn star Sasha Grey plays a high-end prostitute in Steven - Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience - © 2008 MAGNOLIA PICTURES
  • © 2008 Magnolia Pictures
  • Porn star Sasha Grey plays a high-end prostitute in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience

The award-winning Sasha Grey is the only professional actress in Steven Soderbergh's latest film, The Girlfriend Experience. She won 2007 Adult Video News awards for Best Three-Way Sex Scene and Best Group Sex Scene (for different films) and several 2008 AVN trophies, some not suitable for print in Gambit. Soderbergh cast the porn star to play a high-end New York callgirl who is trying to both build her career and work out personal relationships.

  "I read about her in a Los Angeles magazine," Soderbergh says. "She didn't seem like the typical person that goes into porn. I knew I wanted someone who was not intimidated by sex."

  One of the most powerful scenes contrasts Grey's amazing calm with the sexual awkwardness of a regular client. The rest of the cast included all acting virgins, and most, in fact, hold the jobs they have in the film. Several of the movie's rich johns had patronized escorts or participated in swinger scenes. Many also were panicked about the economic meltdown during the two weeks when the film was shot in October 2008. All the dialogue was improvised and many brought up the loss of contracts and income as they undressed in very expensive New York hotel rooms with Chelsea (Grey).

  "That came out of structured improv," Soderbergh says. "That was all anyone was talking about."

  All the characters in the film are making deals and watching their fortunes rise and fall.

  "It's an avenue to talk about trust, desire and betrayal," Soderbergh says. And he's quick to point out that all relationships involve negotiations. "Life is a continuing cascade of transactions. Everybody wants something. Even people who want to do nothing have to set up the circumstances for that to be possible."

  Girlfriend and its concerns may recall elements of Soderbergh's early film fest circuit darling, sex lies and videotape, originally released 20 years ago. In between, he has purposely pursued an eclectic array of projects. He followed sex, lies with five bombs including a biopic of Franz Kafka. In 1998, he made a huge comeback with Out of Sight starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. He quickly followed with films like Erin Brockovich (2000), Traffic (2000), for which he won the Best Director Oscar, and launched the talent-loaded Oceans series.

  Soderbergh is in town this week for two screening benefits for the New Orleans Film Festival. His two-part epic Che screens Wednesday and The Girlfriend Experience screens Thursday. He'll attend both shows and participate in discussions afterward.

  Soderbergh's next project fuses two of his approaches to reality. A la Erin Brockovich, he's telling a real story in Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis' book about the Oakland Athletics. And like Girlfriend, many of the actual participants will play themselves.

  "[Non-actors] can give you something unique," Soderberg says. "You do relinquish certain things. They're going to determine how it comes out. I'm fishing for stuff. I am open to what happens."

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