Facial hair is a big part of many cultures, as it can be a fashion statement, can evoke a political stance and can even magnify social issues. Don’t believe it? Director Laura Lukitsch is in the midst of completing a whole film about it called Beard Club.
As beautiful as beards can be (and I’m a big fan of beards), there’s a social stigma that can come with being bearded. And if a man is the right combination of bearded and burly, beards can be intimidating to some people. Laura Lukitsch noticed these reactions and stereotypes when she started working on a doc regarding a Beard and Moustache Competition in Berlin.
Lukitsch went to Berlin in pre-production, after getting inspiration from a bus-load of bearded Germans she met at a roadside stop in Sedona, Arizona, on her way to her sister’s wedding. She filmed the men at the stop, who were on their way back from the Beard and Moustache convention, and after seeing huge demand for the footage from her friends and family, realized it was a doc in the making.
But after her trip to Berlin she felt there was more to the story than just facial hair fanatics, so she began pursuing a doc on the social implications of facial hair. ‘One of the men I filmed was a Sikh gentleman who was very active in his community, [helping to bring] understanding to different populations about what Sikhs are, which became more important after 9/11,’ says Lukitsch. ‘He’s a doctor and he had a very touching story about how one patient initially refused treatment from him because of his looks, his beard and his turban…. He was very empathetic towards her but he felt it was his responsibility to help her understand that even though he’s not a Christian he’s there to help her.’
Another individual featured in the doc is circus entertainer and performance artist Jennifer Miller, also known as the bearded lady. ‘Her story is very powerful because it’s about self-acceptance. I intentionally wanted her to express things that are positive about her experience because she has opted to keep the beard, [as] there’s so much negativity around women and facial hair,’ says Lukitsch.
‘I was trying to find a balance throughout the film of people’s different experiences, positive and negative, trying to break down some of the negative stereotypes out there.’
Beard Club is currently in editing and Lukitsch is hoping to finish by the end of May. She has learned a lot about facial hair and its implications in the process, for instance… what’s the difference between an ‘activist beard’ and a ‘hippie beard’? ‘The hippie’s beard can be wild and untamed and their hair is long,’ says Lukitsch. ‘The activists need to keep their beards well groomed so they’re not [mistaken for] hippies.’