Atlanta-made documentary examines the allure and perils of high heels

The Atlanta-made documentary "High on Heels" focuses on the allure and perils of wearing high heels.
Courtesy of Adelin Gasana
The Atlanta-made documentary "High on Heels" focuses on the allure and perils of wearing high heels. Courtesy of Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

Filmmaker Adelin Gasana interviews experts and fans in “High on Heels.”

It’s a very strange contradiction.

On one hand, high heels are a symbol of a beauty standard, so women will risk bunions, broken ankles, hammer toe, joint degeneration, back pain and a host of other maladies to wear them.

And yet, women of various ages, races and backgrounds are quite literally and often inexplicably “High on Heels,” if the women featured in this Atlanta-made documentary are any indication.

Model and high-heel enthusiast Ashley LaRue is featured in the documentary "High on Heels."
Courtesy of Adelin Gasana
Model and high-heel enthusiast Ashley LaRue is featured in the documentary "High on Heels." Courtesy of Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

From Atlantans like entrepreneur Velicia Hill and model Ashley LaRue to Paris shoe designer Tanya Heat — the inventor of a shoe with interchangeable heels, from stacked to stiletto — the women interviewed in “High on Heels” see them as the ultimate power footwear in the office or the club.

“I actually wear heels when I’m having a bad day,” says dancer and choreographer Jessica Washington. “It’s a way of picking myself up.”

Like a sports car for the male ego, the high heels’ allure is both culturally determined but also deeply psychological for the women who sport stilettos or wedges.

Poster art for the documentary "High on Heels." 
Courtesy of Adelin Gasana
Poster art for the documentary "High on Heels." Courtesy of Adelin Gasana

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“A source of power, confidence, sexiness, empowerment,” says television host Greer Howard, in summing up the powerful, multifaceted appeal of heels.

“When you wear them, you do sort of feel like you could do anything.”

Rwandan-born filmmaker Adelin Gasana, 34, who lives in Vinings, is the man behind “High on Heels.”

Atlanta filmmaker Adelin Gasana on the set of "High on Heels." 
Courtesy of Adelin Gasana
Atlanta filmmaker Adelin Gasana on the set of "High on Heels." Courtesy of Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

“Raising awareness and shining a light on what women experience will give men appreciation for what the women in their lives endure,” says Gasana in explaining his interest in the topic. Gasana anticipated screening the film on the festival circuit in 2020, but COVID-19 ended up changing his plans. Instead, the longtime documentarian and Court TV editor who counts filmmaker Errol Morris among his influences decided to pivot and offer his film to stay-at-home viewers for free on YouTube and Vimeo.

Though some of the film’s structure can feel scattershot with Gasana relying on endless shots of high heels as narrative filler, he’s an earnest filmmaker looking for a window into what, for many men, must feel like a hidden, secret world. For women, “High on Heels” may offer surprising insights into the meaning and effect of this iconic female armor they may have never considered.

“High on Heels” features a profusion of personal testimony to the psychological appeal of a pair of stilettos in a gamboling mix of interviews with Atlanta women professing their outsize love of heels.

The women interviewed attest to the almost erotic power of the clicking of approaching heels on a floor, and conjure up the significance of that first pair of high heels for a young girl as a symbolic rite of passage into womanhood.

Atlanta master cobbler "Byron" is one of the shoe experts interviewed in "High on Heels."
Courtesy of Adelin Gasana
Atlanta master cobbler "Byron" is one of the shoe experts interviewed in "High on Heels." Courtesy of Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

Credit: Adelin Gasana

The film has some fascinating insights into the origin of high heels courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum’s Lisa Small, curator of the 2014 exhibition “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.” Heels were originally worn by cavalrymen in 10th-century Persia “to stabilize their feet in the stirrups,” says Small in a filmed lecture. Men in the French court also wore heels before they were adopted by women in the 18th century.

“High on Heels” also features testimony from those laboring in the stiletto trenches. To offer a sobering corrective to the power of the heel are witnesses to its pain, like podiatrist Cheree Eldridge and chiropractor Kerstin Halstead who talk about the myriad ways a woman can do damage to her feet and back while under the influence of heels. “For the vast majority, they do experience pain at some point,” says Eldridge.

“High on Heels” as the title implies, is largely a fan’s eye view of this iconic footwear. A lone dissenting voice is model Nzinga Imani, who doesn’t believe the hype. “My issue with women saying they feel more empowered with the heels on,” says Imani, “[is] it’s a mental conditioning to believe that because you’re seen that way when you have them on.”

“At the end of the day, I would much rather not have to wear them.”

HOW TO WATCH

“High on Heels” is available for streaming free on Vimeo and YouTube.

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