- Les Predatrices
- Bishop Black - Performer in Focus
- A Spanking Ode
- Soupeur de Tasse
- Who Will Fuck Daddy
- Butcher’s Hook
“It’s porn Christmas, according to someone out in the hall.” This was the first thing I heard before the opening film. Whoever it was standing out there, they really summed up the feel of this festival. These days I hate Christmas but when I was younger it was a time to be around people I rarely saw and a time where you knew you’d be a bunch unwrapping things you knew you really wanted, without knowing exactly what was in store. The porn festival is an odd kind of parallel to Christmas. It brings people together who are normally spread out across the globe, people who are united by their interest in beautiful and unusual porn movies, and diverse sexuality in general. If these things appeal to you then going to the festival feels distinctly like going home for Christmas used to a long time ago. For the shortest time there’s no need to have the same tedious conversations about whether porn is an art form or whose interpretation of sexuality is supposedly the correct one. It’s a good place to be. Since I’m anxious by nature I find the environment in the cramped interior of Kino Moviemento, where the festival is hosted, to be really high pressure; I rarely speak to anyone whilst I’m there, but it’s a rare and comforting thing to be surrounded by people who are relatively like-minded when it comes to sexuality and cinema. When you’re waiting for a film to start, you never quite know what to expect. It feels strangely reminiscent of the childish joy of tearing the wrapping paper off presents. Especially in the shorts programs, which often feature work from amateur or independent directors, the range of different styles of porn on display never fail to surprise me.
To any long-term fan of porn cinema, the festival has a kind of movie premiere atmosphere albeit with less glitz and more substance. The cinema fills up with people whose work I really respect. It’s a chance to hear people whose films, articles and Twitter feeds I follow during the rest of the year speaking about their work directly. It’s also an opportunity to discover new artists I’d otherwise never have heard of. The cinema walls are always decorated with different kinds of art and my favorite this year was a stunning set of black-and-white photographs taken by Jo Pollux. The photos captured moments from several BDSM sessions, situated in an unknown industrial setting and featuring several well-known Berlin performers including Sadie Lune and Bishop Black amongst others. Despite being static images, the photos did extremely well at evoking the action in the scenes they captured. Each one seemed to have frozen time at the perfect moment: a sub whose head was just pulled from a bucket of water lurches back and gasps for air as drops of water fan out from their soaking wet hair. Another sub gazes lustfully upwards as a stiletto heel slides deeper into their mouth. These images captured some of the things I really love about BDSM and I can definitely recommend checking out Jo Pollux’s work.
Much as I love the porn festival, nothing is perfect and there is one persistent problem I’ve noticed. It seems like every year at least one or two dubious or outright offensive films sneak their way into the program. Of course, this is all down to opinion and I’ve enjoyed some grotesque and crude films at the festival in the past. But when a movie outrages a significant part of the audience without bringing anything interesting to the table, you have to wonder how a group of people who organise such a great festival could have selected it from all the submissions (this year apparently there were around 3000). Last year the problematic film was a crude and trashy rape and revenge story, directed by two Italian men who seemed surprised that a woman in the audience was so angry and upset that they had used this weak and offensive trope once again. A debate about trigger warnings followed in which the directors seemed encouraged when five other men in the audience praised the film and downplayed the woman’s concerns. It was a low moment and sadly this year had something bad as well.
In the BDSM program was a vile little film called Arnelia Grove. It offers an ignorant, childish and pathetic take on BDSM which gives Fifty Shades of Grey a run for its money. It revolves around a dominant man ordering a woman to do extremely dangerous and implausible things over the phone. There are several not so subtle moments which hint that the two characters are emotionally damaged, perpetuating the tired old myth that BDSM is inherently tied to abuse. With this regrettable scene set up, out of nowhere comes shot in which the submissive woman polishing the floor in a maids costume with a black-face mask on. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Afterwards most of the audience was outraged and demanded an explanation. The director Christophe Streule said that he was ‘a bit of a vanilla guy’ and had only ‘done some googling’ instead of actual research for the film. He tried to deflect the outrage about the black-face scene by insisting that it was just lifted directly from some story he had read - he refused to own his decision to include it. Many members of the audience demanded that the festival post a written explanation for why this awful film was screened, something which doesn’t seem to have materialised. Exactly why the festival selected it and gave its director an artists’ pass remains a mystery, but I really hope that they learn something from this mistake.
On a more positive note, there was an interesting Q&A session with Vex Ashley after her film L’Appel du Vide in the female porn shorts. She talked about driving porn towards being an art form which is about more than just turning you on. For me, these two things were never exclusive and if anything were deeply intertwined. I tend to thrive on films which are blunt about their purpose and which work by using their images and sounds to give you a decidedly voyeuristic window into a sexual moment. Perhaps for this reason I have never quite been able to get on with Vex Ashley’s films, many of which take a different and less direct approach. Those I’ve seen tend to focus on rich imagery, creative use of lighting and an often abstract construction of space. I always find beautiful them to look at and interesting to watch, but they never quite fulfill what I’m looking for in porn. However, when I was listening to Vex’s description of her reasoning behind the film, even though I didn’t enjoy watching it so much, it did make me wonder if judging porn primarily by how much it turns me on might be costing me a few valuable experiences. She also explained some of the motivations behind her Four Chambers project and how it had evolved over time. The whole discussion made me want to revisit some of the less conventionally-constructed films and scenes I’ve seen during past festivals.
In the end, the ‘porn Christmas’ always goes past in a flash and before I know it I’m walking away from Moviemento again on Sunday night, feeling sad that this little bubble of great movies and sex positivity always has to burst so soon, but equally with my head full of new ideas. This year I promised myself that I’ll try to submit a film next time. Whether I stick to it or not remains to be seen, but it’s great to know that at least once a year there’s somewhere that porn is really appreciated for the art form that it is.
All the key elements of a classic porn film are present here. Visually it was beautiful, with creative use of lighting and set design which really gave the feeling that the performers were inhabiting their own world instead of playing out loosely connected sex scenes. The story is about two mysterious women who have been abducting men from a seedy nightclub, using them to satisfy their sexual appetites and then murdering them. They do this only to satisfy the will of a strange and creepy man who puts them in rope bondage and supplies them with an unknown drug to which they are hopelessly addicted. The narrator is another woman who gets involved with this pair and gradually finds out the truth about who the women are and what they do with their victims.
Each character had a distinctive look and demeanor, the two women who prey on men in the story appear powerful and beautiful but somehow sinister. The shibari master who controls them looked just enough like a classic horror villain to be witty without seeming absurd. The sex scenes were shot were shot in a distinctive and appealing style. The cinematography was especially creative – the screen was filled with juxtaposed body parts: genitals and orgasm faces were framed by slender arms and legs, in each scene the space was broken up in a curious way that made the sex seem especially hot and visually rich.
My favorite scene had to be one in a darkened alley with harsh yellow light streaming in from above. A street harasser starts bothering one of the women as she stands smoking. Barely acknowledging him, she leads him over to one side, lifts her skirt and thrusts his head downwards as she continues to smoke wordlessly. After a while she throws a cigarette away, turns around and lifts her skirt again, wordlessly demanding sex. The combination of lighting, performance and camera work in this scene was electric and intensely sexy. These images remained with me a long time after the film was over.
A few things about this film did make me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell if the ending was meant to be comical or deliberately surreal but for me it detracted from the carefully established feeling of otherworldliness which permeates this film. I also found the general theme of this movie a little problematic. It’s an increasingly frequent trope for sexually powerful or dominant women to be portrayed as hunters or killers. The women in Les Predatrices, whilst visibly powerful, were still indirectly fulfilling the desires of the male character. It would be refreshing to see a female character filled with sexual desire and unafraid to exercise it as she pleases, without it being portrayed as the symptom of some pathology or sickness. It wasn’t perfect, but I think this was a worthy film to open the porn festival and I really enjoyed watching it.
Ms Naughty has produced numerous classic films in recent years, many of which have been festival favourites of mine. Her work tends to focus on straight and cis-gendered couples. Usually I would find this off-putting but the quality of her filmmaking and her sharp sense of humour are always more than enough to keep me interested. Devourable completely changed my perspective on Ms Naughty’s work. This film is a sweet, poignant and intimate portrait of a queer couple living in Australia. It’s a mixture of interview segments and sex scenes which together grant a unique insight into the couple’s lives and especially how they relate to each other. There are so many moments in this film when something tiny like a desiring glance or a funny but adoring remark reveals something touching about how these two people feel about each other.
As well as queer sexuality, this film explores polyamory and its complexities. As deeply attached as they are to each other, the two people explain in depth about how the other relationships in their lives and their community supplement and support them. There’s a distinct feeling of raw honesty in every moment of this film. Whilst the pair are having sex there are some elements of dominance but I didn’t see a trace of the conventions that usually come with this dynamic. One partner jokes with and teases the other as they play and communicate in a way that felt somewhere between coarse and deeply affectionate. I also found the sex well shot and captivating. The performers’ bodies were refreshingly unconventional by porn standards and the camera framed them beautifully. The relationship dynamic displayed here felt unique and the film explored it in a way that felt extremely intimate without being intrusive.
Ms Naughty may not deal with queer relationships and sexualities so frequently but when she does the results are genuinely impressive. This movie is a deep and insightful portrait of two people’s lives and sexuality; it was a major festival highlight. You should really make sure that you get to see this film.
Bishop Black - Performer in Focus
Bishop Black has cemented his place as a porn festival heart-throb through his prolific and varied work. His performances always light up the screen and he has played in many favorites of mine. This performer in focus session gave him a chance to screen some of the films that he feels best sum up his work and to give some of his own thoughts and insights on them. In his performances Bishop frequently displays different aspects of gender, different sexualities and roles. The films on display were a great snapshot of the many facets of Bishop’s work.
One film was Dominate Me, a classic D/s scene with the lavish sets and polished cinematography typical of the Xconfessions series, directed by Erika Lust. The scene aligned closely with some personal fantasies of mine, including a shiver-inducing moment where pinwheel is run firmly across Bishop’s penis. He later explained that this great moment was something he suggested to fill in whilst he was having trouble getting hard. Explaining why he chose this film, Bishop repeated a story that he mentioned at the Racial Politics in Porn panel last year. Dominate me features a white woman dominating Bishop. He explained that although he enjoyed the scene and had significant creative control, he had frequently been criticised for it and someone even tried to tell him that he’d been exploited. Erika Lust did not back him up whilst this was happening and Bishop said he feels it’s very important for filmmakers to own their work, which Lust apparently did not. Bishop went on to relate his experience as a performer of colour, saying that there is a constant pressure to justify what you do what you anticipate the way it might be received, as his experience with Dominate Me illustrated.
Bishop also screened Gloaming, a film he shot for Four Chambers with Rooster, another accomplished queer performer. The film is an extended sex scene shot in a style typical of Four Chambers with frequent cuts between different scenes body parts and camera angles gradually building up a complete picture. In this film it has the effect of putting all the focus onto the two performers and how they interact with each other. They seem like there is genuine passion between them they appear totally comfortable having sex together. Bishop said he chose this film because he enjoyed making it and that the way it depicted black bodies in a sexual situation was refreshing to him. He said that it’s sadly rare to see two black performers in a porn film without their race being explicitly foregrounded or exploited as a cheap selling point.
The screening felt as much like an audience with Bishop as a chance to see some of his films. I really liked the varied selection of films which offered a diverse range of perspectives on sexuality. The topics which came up in the Q&A session were just as interesting and this screening was a good addition to the festival.
A Spanking Ode
Of all the films I saw at the festival, this is perhaps the one which inspired me the most to pick up a camera and shoot something myself. The concept was extremely simple but the film and its delightfully cute imagery remained fixed in my mind long after it was over. It was an unconventional spanking scene set somewhere out in a forest. The characters all wore strange and flamboyant costumes, most of which were cute animal onesies. The spanking was largely in slow motion and each spankee was sprinkled with glitter or brightly coloured powder so that every slap resulted in a burst of colour above their rebounding flesh. The soundtrack was a briliantly absurd and incongruous operatic piece. It was only a very short film but it had a sweet and bizarre tone which was only enhanced by all the unique uses of colours and costumes. It can remember its images more clearly than many other films I saw that weekend which with higher budgets and much longer running times.
It struck me how effective this film could be with a single idea, developed creatively. I saw a lot of feature films this year and A Spanking Ode made me realise that the greatest gems at the porn festival are all those cute, inventive and sexy little movies that you would rarely see elsewhere. Whilst I was watching I wasn’t sure whether to feel turned on, to laugh or just to feel confused about what I was seeing. It’s an excellent film which can surprise you in this way and turn your expectations on their head. A Spanking Ode was an enchanting and unexpected addition to the fetish shorts programme.
Soupeur de Tasse
Two things which Marc Martin’s films always do: they make me think and they get a physical reaction. The fetish shorts programme, usually includes at least a couple of ‘shockers’: movies which are especially intense or unusual even by the diverse standards of the porn festival. One of the most difficult and memorable films from 2015, Manure Tank, was also directed by Martin. I found Soupeur de Tasse significantly more stomach churning and drawn out. It exhibits a fetish of which I was only loosely aware and does it in the most graphic and shamelessly disgusting way. The film revolves around a man who gets off on dropping bread into urinals then later collecting and eating it. Fetishes and the films which display them often hinge on minute details. Here the camera captures every last little bit of the visceral action. Personally I was really close to throwing up and many people in the audience were covering their eyes. It was really disgusting. It also felt like it wouldn’t end; just when I thought it was over, the man on screen walked into yet another public toilet and the audience either groaned giggled nervously or cried oh no!
Believe it or not I’m glad that this film was in the fetish shorts programme. Why? As I watched it, it occurred to me how rare it is for films like this depicting lesser-known fetishes to be given a proper audience and a big screen. It reminded me that some people see my own fetishes as repulsive or wrong and that it’s not okay to look down on consensual sex that others enjoy because it seems mystifying or disgusting. Martin previously stated that he established his Pig Prod porn label to combat the wave of prudishness he felt was moving through the gay scene. I can only give an outsider’s perspective, but it feels like he was succesful in this goal. I found Soupeur de Tasse extremely grim and I struggled to watch it but I can always respect a shameless filmmaker with a vision. Marc Martin certainly seems to be that. I don’t know if this was a festival highlight for me but I certainly won’t forget it.
Who Will Fuck Daddy
Lasse Långström’s shorts were some of the films I liked the most at last year’s festival. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Who Will Fuck Daddy. So many people wanted to see the film that it was moved to the largest cinema at the last minute. For a film with so many expectations riding on it, Who Will Fuck Daddy certainly didn’t disappoint. Without a conventional narrative thread or a coherent sense of space, it’s sometimes hard to stick with a feature length film even if its visuals are beautiful. That was not the case here. The movie jumps between different sequences which sometimes contain the same people or characters without providing any explanation. Even the title of the film is quite cryptic. Unusually for a film as surreal and experimental as this one, I never felt lost in the images and it felt like everything I saw gradually formed into a coherent and uniquely queer perspective. Långström said in the Q&A session that the film was an attempt to deal with masculinity and maybe go a tiny way towards healing it.
It’s difficult to describe this film in detail without detracting from it. Långström said this started with the idea of creating a colourful, queer fairytale forest on film - something which they certainly succeeded at - but this is just one aspect of the film. Some scenes are deliberately artificial and carefully constructed. A colourful figure drifts along a peaceful and isolated stretch of water on a large and exquisitely painted model flower. An androgynous and melancholy-looking person sits on a crescent moon in a starry sky and gazes down at the earth. In stark contrast, other scenes are shot in fly on the wall style with hand-held cameras, with Långström guiding or getting directly involved in the action. One scene is from a caravan trip where they attempt to explain a game where players compete to withstand the most pressure on their nipples. It turns into a comical and drawn-out farce which eclipses the actual game when it finally happens. Another scene features two straight men who Långström later explained were very keen to take part in the film. When the possibility of a rimming scene was suggested they agreed to try it, but reluctance and awkwardness meant that they never get past restrained kissing before lying down feeling defeated. This film managed to touch so many different topics and specific aspects of masculinity without seeming heavy-handed or losing its sense of surreal delight.
Who Will Fuck Daddy surely ranks among my favourite films. I was reminded of the mixture of beautifully constructed images and layers of meaning wrapped in surrealism common to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work, but Långström takes a more mature, witty and ultimately likeable perspective on the themes they tackle. The mischievous sense of humour which made their short films so memorable last year also resonates here, but every joke and funny set piece feels like it is still informed by the director’s world view. In amongst all the humour and wonder that the film conjures up, it’s still subtly chipping away at the idea of masculinity and binary gender in general. Having seen many films which deal with this subject, it was refreshing to see one which didn’t pull any punches but somehow didn’t feel overt in what it was doing. There’s so much to say about Who Will Fuck Daddy, but the best way I can describe it is to say that it’s a must-see film and you’re really missing out on something special if you haven’t seen it.
Ben Berlin’s films always have a raw and brutal style which really appeals to me. The ones I’ve seen vary in their intensity and the different kinds of SM play they display, but there’s always an undercurrent of unchained sadism which I often miss in BDSM cinema. Ben Berlin said in a previous Q&A session that one of their fetishes is old and abandoned industrial buildings and the location for butcher’s hook is especially memorable. The film takes place in an abandoned pig farm with its rusty metal gates and dirty brickwork. In one of the pig pens, someone is lying naked except for the cling film which is wrapped all over them. An ominous figure appears wearing a mask and a deliciously fetish-inflected take on a butchers outfit. What follows is some hard and inventive SM play on the floor of the pig pen. The cling film is sheared off with a sharp knife which runs along the sub’s skin, sometimes breaking it and leaving them bleeding. Genitals are squeezed and tormented with a pair of medical tongs. The sub is shoved around and beaten on their legs with a truncheon. As a masochist, watching all of this not only brought back pleasant memories of past SM sessions but also set my mind racing with new ideas.
In the Q&A session, a few interesting background details were revealed. Although the whether outside appeared sunny, it was freezing cold and the performers (especially the person in the sub role) really had to tough it out to get the film done. There is a later scene where the sub is naked outdoors and the butcher is pouring milk over them. Knowing how cold it was during filming made me feel for the submissive performer but it was also kind of hot - it fed into the general tone of harshness and brutality which runs through the film. I always find it refreshing to see sadism on film, being practised by people who love it and get off on it. Ben Berlin takes this a step further by adding a distinct aesthetic, created partly by the settings and partly by the unusual array of outfits and implements they select. If you don’t lean more towards the SM part of BDSM, you might not enjoy this film as much as I did, but for anyone who enjoys receiving or inflicting pain Butcher’s Hook is definitely worth checking out.