The Berlin Porn Film Festival 2014


berlinpornfilmfest2014I’m back from my fourth Berlin Porn Film Festival and once again I’m invigorated, inspired and generally thrilled that I went. So here’s my thoughts on this year’s event.

2014 marks the 9th year of the festival which is pretty impressive considering it’s an indie event, run on the blood sweat and tears of a small group of people who are really passionate about alternative representations of sexuality. Claus, Jurgen, Jochen and Manuela are the powerhouse behind the festival, joined this year by Paola, and they’re some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. They are not just curators but filmmakers, performers and film critics themselves, and they are members of the thriving queer community in Berlin. This means that the films they select are very diverse but always interesting.The use of “porn” in the title of the festival is both useful and perhaps misleading. It’s certainly great for getting people in the doors but the festival is not about wall-to-wall sex, though there’s an element of that. In essence it’s about exploring the range of possibilities when it comes to depicting sex on film. That can mean straight-up hardcore sex scenes but it can also mean quiet, lyrical films that only hint at desire or that explore the complexities of love, relationships and intimacy.

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Portrait of Jochen by Alexa Vachon – when photographed by Luke with his iPhone he developed a halo. This was subsequently memed-up by Morgana

This year the festival stretched across five days and screened over 130 films. The final stats said over 7000 tickets were sold which was a record. I felt a bit overwhelmed at the smorgasbord on offer and didn’t get to see as many films as I’d liked, especially as I had a fairly busy schedule – I was a member of the short film jury, my feature The Fantasy Project was premiering and I was also a filmmaker in focus on Friday night.

On top of that there was a lot of schmoozing to do which I will admit is my favourite part of the festival. Many people are there for the sex but I’m there for the conversations; Berlin is my chance to be part of a beautiful porn family and to discuss my favourite topics: porn and film. This year we were part of an Australian contingent including Morgana, Michelle Flynn and Gala Vanting so we hung out a bit, partly because this way we can drawl in our Australian accents without having to enunciate. On top of that I got to catch up with my international porn friends (and here I’m going to just shamelessly name drop): Pandora Blake, Ovidie, Jiz Lee, Shine Louise Houston, Jennifer Lyon Bell, Annabelle Lee, Lucie Blush, Petra Joy, Marije Janssen, Courtney Trouble, and also the team from Dusk TV – Liesbet, Yvette and Natalie. Plus I had another wonderful chat with veteran Dutch porn director Willem Van Batenburg and Antoni from queer sex shop Kinky Winky in Poland.

I also got to meet Vex from Four Chambers and Joanna Angel and I had a good chat with Maria Bala from Toytool Committee in Spain (I loved their film Support Your Local Pornographers!). Also attending was performer and filmmaker Sadie Lune who I’d briefly met at previous festivals. She was there with her gorgeous toddler, as were a few other performers and their babies. Let it not be said that the BPFF is not a child-friendly event 🙂

Some pics:

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The Australian contingent: Me, Morgana, Michelle Flynn and Gala Vanting, plus Pandora Blake and Yvette and Natalie from Dusk

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Doing the “Director Point” – Me, Cheyenne Picardo, Lucie Blush, Pandora Blake and Jennifer Lyon Bell on the Sunday night

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The Dusk dinner on Thursday night. Had a great time talking to fellow female porn filmmakers. Yvette, Maria Bala, Jen Lyon Bell, Natalie, Michelle Flynn, Lola Clavo and Morgana Muses

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The movie theatre staff get into the spirit of things. Here’s one of our favourite ushers with Luke

ME ME ME

Since this is a personal blog post I’m going to devote a section to my personal filmmaking adventures. Because: Me.

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This year I was honoured to be asked to be a filmmaker in focus. It’s gratifying and validating to have an entire session to yourself to show your work and discuss it. Afterwards I said to Jochen “I just got to talk about myself for an hour and a half, what’s not to like?” The session was one of the last, on the Sunday and unfortunately it was up against the closing night film but it was still well attended. I screened Tease (my CFNM short), Kaleidogasm 3, I.M. In Love, Vince from The Thought Of Her, Something Better (my mini doco that received the Honorable Mention at this year’s Feminist Porn Awards), my first film That’s What I Like and my latest film Tactile, both of which star the same guy, Andy. I think these were received well; I’m going to do a separate blog post using the text I wrote for the session. Although if you want to see the films in full, you’ll need to join Bright Desire, naturally (hey, those airfares to Berlin weren’t cheap!)

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Ego trip: having your name on tickets

Last of all I showed Dear Jiz and I was honoured to have Jiz there for the screening. This is the first time we’ve been together for the film and things got a bit emotional; Jiz describes it as their most vulnerable film and it caused a few tears: I went out in sympathy which made talking about it afterwards a bit incoherent. Jiz explained that they’ve become something of a touchstone for the queer community in ways they haven’t really expected and it can create some pressure. Also, Jiz talked about how the film might come across as egotistical, though I totally don’t agree. I think it’s simply representative of how compelling and compassionate Jiz can be and how people are drawn to those who dare to stand up and be seen, especially when that representation hasn’t been out there previously.

Anyway, Jiz later tweeted that they had found some resolution after discussing it which makes me glad; I’m proud of the film but I feel uncomfortable that it produces such intense emotion, to the point that I would stop showing it if Jiz asked me to. But I think things will be OK and I’m going to submit it to more film festivals (also, it’s screening at MIX NYC on November 15).

The screening of The Fantasy Project on Saturday night was totally sold out and people were sitting in the aisles, so that boosted the ego a bit. Both Luke and I were really nervous about seeing the finished product on the big screen; we had only rendered a final version a few days before we left for Europe and I hadn’t sat down and watched the whole thing to check for errors. Luke was especially nervous about the colour correction process, which he’d done himself; when you’re self-taught there’s a lot of room for disaster.

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I printed up posters at the last minute

Indeed, the entire film was self-funded and produced by just me and Luke. We shot it ourselves, I edited, l did the sound mix (huge learning curve) and then used Creative Commons music. So it’s real DIY stuff and I’ll admit there’s been a lot of compromises made in the process.

In any case, it looked pretty good and I think it was well received, even if there were a few bits of laughter at some of the “cliches” (hey, I LIKE those cliches). This film is very unashamedly “porn for women” and I was aware people would think it was corny in places. But I don’t care because those “cliches” are actually very rare in porn and I know that some women want to see them. There is a real focus on sensuality, touch and laughter as well as a plethora of cunnilingus. And yes, some cheesy romance because there’s nothing wrong with that.

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The threesome scene from The Fantasy Project showing in a packed cinema

I was very pleased that people actually cheered at the point in the threesome scene when the two guys kiss for the first time. Good MMF porn where the guys focus on the girl is almost non-existent. During the editing process this scene was called “the unicorns scene” because of the rarity of it all.

I am going to do a re-edit of the film because the screening made me aware of some issues with it. Then I’m going to get it out into the world, which is a huge challenge in itself. The question of whether I should bother with DVDs (and how to make that happen) is something I’ll need to consider.

Two of my short films also screened in the Female Porn session. Transported stars Gala Vanting getting off in her campervan in the Australian bush (“I look like such a hippy”, she said after seeing it for the first time). Because we shot outside, the film features a magpie warbling in the background. Claus wanted to know what bird it was, wondering if it was like a turkey. I said they’re lovely black and white birds with a nice song but didn’t mention their habit of trying to kill you when you ride a bike.

The other film was Instructed which I jointly made with Pandora Blake in Toronto in April. It was Pandora’s first explicit film and her first screening at a film festival. The film involves “remote dominance” – her lover instructs her to perform tasks via a letter (which Pandora hadn’t seen before we shot). We both got a lot of positive feedback about this film and I’m very pleased with how it went. It was so great to hang out with Pandora again and watch this hot scene on the big screen.

Being on the short film jury was quite an experience. I watched the selected films and observed the rather heated audience conversation that occurred after the final film, Once Upon A Time There Was An Unfaithful Mummy. On the Saturday I had lunch with Bart and Jackie, the other jury members and we methodically discussed the pros and cons of each film. I found myself arguing for some and being blase about others. Jennifer Lyon Bell had suggested a good set of criteria for thinking about things: is it arousing? beautiful? artistic? important? Bart, who curates the XPOSED International Queer Film Festival and who once worked at SBS’s Eat Carpet program added the idea of what was memorable – what stayed with you afterwards.

I rather liked the two gay-themed shorts that explored male bodies (including Bearmania, above). I also enjoyed Shine Louise Houston’s Put The Needle On The Record because of her interesting idea of depicting an erotic scenario mainly through storytelling. In the end though, we all agreed that Joanna Rytel’s “Mummy” short was the winner because it was important, memorable and well executed. I was aware that the choice could be considered controversial. The film depicts a naked child and a mother talking about sex; our society is so nervous about children and sex now that it may be considered heavily transgressive – as the conversation after the screening proved. However I did not see it as erotic. The film raises a lot of points about the innocence of children, the demands on women to be perfect mothers and the idea that nudity must always be sexual. Some felt that Joanna using her own daughter for the film was an issue but I didn’t see it that way. Many people involve their children in their art, filmmaking or blogging and I don’t think is any different.

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Me with the Berlin Porn Film Festival Short Film Jury 2014 – J. Jackie Baier and Bartholomew Sammut

The Films

One of the joys of BPFF is seeing films, admiring techniques and delving into ideas. The movies I saw this year were fairly diverse and ranged from fascinating to kinda boring. One thing I’ve noticed about the BPFF is that watching sex on a big screen in a cinema is different to seeing it on your computer. Progression and story become a lot more important. I’m a bit jaded with porn and found that films featuring long extended sex scenes tended to bore me. I should perhaps include my own film The Fantasy Project in this – that movie is primarily wank material and I was painfully aware that some scenes went too long for the cinema environment. The same could be said for quite a few of the shorts this year. They were great as scenes in and of themselves but they had me picking my nails in boredom because they went waaaaay too long without saying anything new except: here’s some fucking.

That said, there were still plenty of great films that engaged me and left me wanting more.

My absolute favourite film of this festival was SM Rechter (S&M Judge). This Belgian film tells the true story of a high court judge who was convicted of assault and battery of his wife because they practiced BDSM. Shamefully, this occurred relatively recently, in the late 90s. I remember seeing the news items on it. The film sympathetically described their case – a woman hopelessly depressed because she couldn’t express her desire and a man who reluctantly agreed to help her find happiness through BDSM. Ultimately the film is about love and intimacy and I’m a sucker for romance. It also had me feeling angry that the state could dare to bring a case against people’s private life like that, ignoring the woman’s avowal of consent and ruining the couple’s life forever. In any case, if you have a chance to see it, do because it’s a beautiful, moving and powerful film.

The opening night film R100 was something of a mindfuck and it got everyone talking. The film depicts a Japanese man who enters into a contract to be regularly submissive for a year – and then things get out of control. It starts out well but then the director ramps the whole thing up and up until it reaches levels of weirdness that are difficult to describe… but it’s still funny. I enjoyed it.

I also have to rave about Ovidie’s new film Pulsion because I think it’s a beautiful example of how explicit sex and story can be combined. It’s about a group of people at a retreat for various sex-related “addictions”; in essence, it’s a bunch of people who love sex and a doctor is trying to cure them, with little success. The simplicity of the story gives rise to a lot of very amusing situations and humour is the key to the whole thing; I laughed a lot at this film. One standout scene involves three patients sneaking out to fuck in the dark, bitten by mosquitos, lit only by tiny LED lamps. It was a brave move by Ovidie to shoot like this and one that occurred last minute as they couldn’t do a planned scene. The ad-libbed lines by the pro porn stars are pure gold and the whole thing is incredibly watchable, even as they fuck like rabbits and abruptly opt for anal without so much as a by-your-leave.

I was especially pleased to be able to have dinner with Ovidie and her partner and talk filmmaking; they are both immensely talented and I think their work is underrated, perhaps because it is in French and the US/English-speaking industry tends to dominate. I wish I’d discovered her films earlier.

I’m always keen to see good short films and scheduling meant I missed too many sessions. The Experimental Porn session , however, was a bit of fun and included Go Fuck Yourself, an amazing male solo scene shot with multiple cameras, including Go-Pros on each wrist. It made for a fascinating visual journey, as did the beautifully animated Pix (above), which featured a progression of erotic male selfies. I also laughed at the ridiculously cheerful gay sex acrobatics in Teabaggers and then found myself tearing up at the film Autumn, which has a sex scene conveyed only with sound and then goes on to ponder sex death and aging… all with a favourite 80s song as a soundtrack.

I was also thrilled with the selection of Spanish and Latin American films showcased by the Muestra Marrana porn film festival held regularly in Spain. This is a no-budget operation but the quality of ideas is sky-high and the politics is so in-your-face that it’s hard to ignore. I loved El Sexorcismo di Aily Habibi (The Sexorcism of Aily Habibi) (above, not in English unfortunately) which featured one woman’s sexual “fuck you” to the Catholic Church (apparently the Italians loved that one) and also the simplicity of Regla de 3 by Eva Pez and Nelo Vilar which mixed period blood with a blue marker for one single, hilarious gag. Fisting by Ben Berlin offered a clever visual trick that raised questions as to what is erotic. I also winced at Post Porn VeritĂ© by Kate Sepulveda, the unusual story of one man’s filming nightmare involving a Ken doll and someone’s butt. I’ll let you imagine the details. All the films they showed are listed here.

My friend Gala Vanting debuted her film Love Hard to a packed audience. Her documentary is an open-hearted look at the intimacy of BDSM and features a selection of Australian people explaining why they do what they do. It was one of the most beautiful-looking films of the festival thanks to the cinematography of silent partner Aven Frey and it also did a great job of educating and opening up the conversation about kink. I found myself smiling because I half-know many of the people in the film, including the lovely Aloysius who stars in my portrait doco Immunized With A Gramophone Needle. Gala introduced me to him last year and I knew she was interviewing him for her feature so it was great to finally see his contribution. I also laughed at exactly the wrong spot (a discussion about blood play) because the woman speaking was wearing a “Fuck Tony Abbott” t-shirt. Even in Berlin, Australian politics can get in the way.

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I was also thrilled to attend Shine Louise Houston’s Filmmaker in Focus Session on the Saturday night. Shine showed clips from her films and discussed her motivations, inspirations and filmmaking techniques. Some of it was wonderfully technical and I found it to be a learning experience. It’s always useful to hear other filmmakers talk about their work and it’s part of why I love this film festival so much.

I have to give a shoutout to my friend Morgana, who’s small feature A Call For Help debuted this year. Her film happily showcases sex scenes with older women, including herself. As a non-performer, I can only applaud her bravery and determination. She was very nervous at the start of the festival but she was welcomed with open arms and much cheering by the Berlin audience. I’ve decided her personal story of sexual growth – leaving a sexless marriage and exploring her sexuality at an older age – is the Shirley Valentine of porn.

Morgana’s feature screened with Michelle Flynn’s Momentum, a porn movie set in 1970s Australia. The cinemetography in this was delightful and again it felt like I was visiting with friends, since it features a number of performers that I’ve previously worked with including Kara and Devon and Lily Rei. I also really loved Michelle’s short Lliandra Love, which is an intense and personal tribute to Lliandra Dahl.

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Because I’m an old fogey who can’t stay up late or breathe cigarette smoke, we missed all of the parties and most of the naughty shenanigans. The closest I got to it was a free lap dance by this lovely man (I’ve lost his card, can’t remember his name unfortunately). He was giving these to anyone who would sit still. Morgana got one too and things ended messily when he gashed his head on the sharp corner of a stool and blood went everywhere. Lap dancing is a dangerous business!

We finished our trip to Berlin with two real-life couples shoots on the Monday which went very well. These will appear at Bright Desire in the next couple of months. We’d also planned a scene with Jiz Lee and Annabelle Lee but unfortunately had to cancel due to unforseen circumstances (thanks to Laura from Sexclusivataten for the supplies!). I was disappointed because I was keen to shoot again with Jiz and of course Annabelle is just lovely. Hopefully that pairing will happen soon.

All up, it was another amazing festival and I was very sad to come home. There’s something very special about the Berlin event; it’s such a beautiful, welcoming and cheerful space. There’s no rivalry and everyone is supportive and accepting of each other. It really is like a gathering of family. I’m keen to see them all again next year when the festival turns ten.

Edit 9th Nov: I’ve now added my documentary to this post.

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