The Berlin Porn Film Festival 2016

And thus is came to pass that October whizzed around again and that meant it was time for the 11th PornFilmFestival Berlin. Despite a general travel wearyness we got on a plane and spent 3 days in transit in order to visit our Berlin porn family and be inspired by a bunch of clever, entertaining and sexy films.

This was my 6th Berlin Porn Film Festival and the 3rd one I’ve attended in a row. I was saying it might be my last but perhaps not. The reason we keep returning is that Berlin has become that one special place in the world where we don’t have to hide. It’s where people are accepted for who they are, where kink and fetish and sex work and polyamory and queerness are the norm and it’s where we can talk about porn and filmmaking 24/7 and feel right at home.

It’s funny – Luke and I may be the only straight monogamous married couple there. We’re the “weird” ones but we fit in anyway.

This year was massive, both in terms of the festival and in terms of the amount of work I got done. We shot a total of 6 scenes over 9 days which was intense. We also packed in two solid film-watching days, a lot of long lunches with performers and dinners with fellow filmmakers. I missed a lot of things, unfortunately, because we had shoots on two of the festival days but getting those two shoots was totally worth it. One was a pairing of Jiz Lee and Bishop Black. The other was an MMF bisexual threesome which was so amazing. I will do a separate post on our shoots. I will focus on the festival in this post.

Feature Films

2016 seems to have been the biggest year yet for PFF Berlin. They really packed people in and sold over 9000 tickets. The selection of films on offer was spectacular, to the point that it created a lot of anxiety and several spreadsheets to maximize seeing as many things as possible in the face of timetable clashes. There were a record number of feature films in the program and I didn’t see as many as I’d liked, partly because I tried to give short films the priority.

The opening night film The Bedroom was directed by my Australian friend Anna Brownfield so I was super glad to be there for that. The central idea behind this film is clever: one bedroom, six decades. The film explores societal changes in attitude toward sex and sexuality while also offering six explicit sex scenes, each depicting a different kind of sex/sexuality/gender presentation – straight, solo, gay, lesbian, trans and cybersex/sexting. It was great to hear Anna’s stories of making the film and how she came up with the concept. I think my fave scene was the one from the 70s, where a young woman reads The Female Eunuch and The Joy Of Sex and ends up masturbating on her parents bed (even though the door is open, a detail that upset almost everyone, apparently).

I also attended the premiere of Shine Louise Houston’s film Snapshot, which is not quite finished, though I thought it was fantastic. Shine describes the film as a cross between Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Antonioni’s Blow Up. It’s a queer porn film with a delightful amount of suspense and story (which, if you know me, you’ll know I’m so jaded I now watch porn for the plot). There’s some innovative sex scenes as well, with a focus on voyeurism and exhibitionism, along with lots of body diversity.

Fellow Aussie traveler Michelle Flynn’s Momentum Vol 4. was well attended and I think well received by the Berlin audience. The film takes its time lingering over wide Australian landscapes like a salt lake, dirt tracks and neglected silos and shearing sheds. It made me a bit homesick. And then I wished I was brave enough to film outdoors in Australia. I think it might have been the only film I saw this year with solo male masturbation scenes – something I always like to see. Michelle is good fun and she was there for a Q&A with Ryan James – who I’ve worked with multiple times – and fellow performer Skye. She revealed that the final scene was edited differently thanks to an unfortunate incident with lost footage. A timely reminder… backup, people!

Enactone by Sky Deep told the tale of a black female vampire from the 1900s in modern day Berlin. Our heroine is on a journey to become a better vampire, to experience blood drinking during orgasm without killing the victim. The film made an interesting connection between lynching (the method of our vampire’s original death) and being tied up with rope in a shibari BDSM scene, suggesting the latter was a release from the pain of the former. The film is a complex mix of racial and sexual politics (with hot queer sex) and it went on to win Best Feature at the BPFF award night on Sunday.

There were so many other films I would have loved to have seen – The Material Boy, about a man convinced he’s Madonna’s lost son, Cord, a dystopian vision where every sexual contact leads to death, Porno & Liberta, a doco about the golden age of porn, Fuck Them All, Maria Beatty’s trans film starring KAy Garnellen and even Pagan Variations, which was apparently too long but very diverse and full of ideas. I do regret seeing Europe, She Loves, a pseudo documentary about the sex lives of five different couples across Europe. It was interesting for about half an hour but didn’t offer anything fresh after that. A pity, I missed Berlin Porn Shorts because of it.

Short Films

I made it to a quite a few short film sessions, though not as many as I wanted. As usual, I got to immerse myself in a variety of ideas, genres, filmmaking methods and sex acts and they were either inspiring, arousing, disturbing or boring as hell, depending on the film. That’s part of the fun of Berlin, it’s Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates and you just have to roll with it and hope you get a good one.

For me, some of the stand out films were by Aron Kantor, who runs Dirty Glitter films. He makes gorgeous queer shorts that often feature song-and-dance numbers and I just have to share two of them:

Both of these films are unashamedly queer and kinky but they have a delightful sense of fun that you can’t help but immerse yourself in.

He also produced the stunning semi-long short Imperial Tranzam, which sees a beautiful drag queen covered in motor oil… in slow motion. It was both disturbing and unforgettable… and I found myself wondering what they used instead of oil. I can’t find any further info about it.

I had three films in the festival this year and all of them were in the Female Porn session, along with two by Paulita Pappel, which meant we dominated the Q&As a bit. My films were See Me, Scarlet Woman and Since You Asked So Nicely. I was also proud to screen See Me, featuring Mel Lou. I feel like this is one of the more important films I’ve made recently. I also got a lot of positive feedback about the …So Nicely, which features Pandora Blake and Parker Marx in a pegging/cunnilingus scene. The original film on Bright Desire is over an hour long but I cut it back to 13 minutes and focused on the very British communication that occurs between the two as they play with strapons and stringy lube. “I didn’t realize I was so chatty,” Parker said in the Q&A.

Interestingly, Parker also gets pegged in The Bitchhiker, a film by Olympe de G, under the Lust Films label. He said those are the only two pegging scenes he’s done in a very busy porn year but it seems that at Berlin he became “that pegging guy”.

Another long short I enjoyed was Heartbreaker vs Obscura, a lesbian superhero film by Lily Cade. It was generally absurd and made me laugh a lot. I enjoyed the idea of lesbian-based superpowers, such as the ability to seduce minions and break hearts at will.

As usual, the Fun Porn Shorts session was a winner, with a lot of fab, freewheeling ideas on show. Etage X was a standout and it went on to win the short film competition. Starring my friend Morgana Muses, it’s an hilarious film about two older women who are stuck in an elevator together, with one desperately needing to pee. The way this plays out is depicted so subtly, without dialogue… I can’t talk more about it without giving away the plot but it had the audience cheering at the end.

I also loved Fuck First by Sticky Biscuits, a cute little song about the relationship between sex and eating. Like Sock Puppet last year, be warned, this song gets in your head but you’ll love it anyway.

This year we were lucky to shoot a scene with Theo Meow and Candy Flip from Meow Meow films. I’ve been a fan of their work and this year they brought a rather epic and delightfully ridiculous film called Hanna and the Keta Boys to the festival. It’s totally Berlin and involves a cunning plan to poison the world with asparagus… plus pegging. Watch it with the CC on and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. I was stunned to learn that the male performer in this hadn’t done porn before, nor had he done pegging. So, as I said, epic.

trouser-bar-ss

The Fun Porn session also included the 20 minute film Trouser Bar, which was a lot of fun thanks to its overt 70s aesthetic, paying loving homage to courdroy trousers and classic gay porn. What I didn’t know was that this film has been surrounded by controversy, thanks to the rumour that the writer of the script was classic Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud, who died in 2000. Apparently he had secretly written the scene and sent it to gay porn director Peter de Rome, where it languished until it was picked up by Trouser Bar director Kristen Bjorn. The estate of the late actor strenuously objected to his name being associated with the film. The Guardian has a piece on the film’s production:

John Gielgud was obsessed with trousers, loved corduroy and leather. And so he wrote a film set in a menswear shop.

Wikipedia details the legal drama, without naming the writer, referring only to “a Gentleman”.

I wish I’d known the backstory when watching the film, which features several high profile British actors such as Nigel Havers and Julian Clary. There was an extended legal disclaimer at the beginning which had me thinking there was some issue with the title of the film. Still, I enjoyed it as a standalone movie, even if it was a little too long.

I also have to give a shout out to Pandora Blake’s delightful erotic documentary Please May I Come Mistress? It shows an older couple in a BDSM relationship, talking about their sex lives over a nice cup of tea. Then we see them play together, with a focus on orgasm denial. This film was just so sweet, it’s the kind of thing I love to see and to film, because it shows the relationship and dynamic behind the sex, making the end result so much more emotionally appealing. Please go to Dreams of Spanking and check it out.

goldenfountain

Experimental Porn Shorts is always a challenge and you do end up bored half the time but I did enjoy a film called Golden Fountain by Miguel Andres. This was a slo-mo film of a man painted gold, peeing endlessly. I mean, endlessly. It was beautifully shot, a pleasure to watch but it was also a very long film. And I got the giggles, feeling thankful that I went to the toilet before the session. And the end totally needed a Homer Simpson-style “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

Trigger Warnings and Found Footage

By the way, one of the joys of Berlin for me is being able to see films like Golden Fountain because they depict sex acts that many governments have deemed “extreme” or “offensive” in their censorship laws, Australia included. At the festival, there’s a much more open-minded approach to sexuality, kink and bodily fluids. I’ve seen things that turned my stomach but the trick is to simply look away until it’s over. Indeed, one of the moderators offered that statement as a warning at the start of the Fetish Porn Shorts, which featured a fairly intense breath control scene that included rancid urine. Definitely a squick for me but not necessarily for everyone. It’s nice to leave that door open.

Apparently one audience member did offer a complaint (in a session I didn’t attend), suggesting the festival should have trigger warnings. I disagree with this idea. Essentially, if you’re at the Berlin Porn Film Festival, you know you may be in for some confronting material. It’s a given. I think it would have a chilling effect if the programmers had to consider warnings for films… and also, we’d never get anything watched.

There is one troubling issue that needs to be discussed: that of copyright and “found footage”. Three films at the festival made heavy use of clips downloaded from the internet. The first, Predatory Prostitute, was a reexamination of the context of serial killer Aileen Wournos. The film contrasted contemporary interviews with Wournos with snippets of films like Thelma and Louise, music videos, clips from talk shows and court footage of men who had killed dozens of sex workers. Without voiceover or a talking head star, the film cleverly made its point about the stigma surrounding sex work and how it creates an unsafe environment which – ultimately – meant that one woman felt justified in killing seven men.

– Be warned, the above video made me wince a lot,

The other two clip-based films were shorts. Quand On Aime Les Objets focused on humanity’s obsession with sticking things up its butt/into its pussy. Passion Opening was part of the Bike Smut program and featured a lot of random snippets downloaded from Tumblr, including scenes from mainstream porn films. The latter featured a statement at the end, that the clips had been used “non consensually”. It gave no credit.

It may be that we need to have a discussion about what constitutes “fair use” for a film to be shown at a festival, especially if no credit is given to the original producers. Predatory Prostitute shows that using pre-existing footage can be an incredibly useful technique for making a point. But if your film consists almost entirely of other people’s work and you don’t give credit and there’s no overwhelming point except for titillation, well, I don’t think you deserve to be taking up space in a festival program when other people are actually filming and producing their own work.

The Panels + Filmmaker in Focus

vrpanel_caroline

VR Panel, pic by Caroline Ryan

This time there were three panel sessions on offer, all at the new location called Spektrum. Jen Lyon Bell, Sadie Lune, David Bloom and others got together to discuss sex positive parenting. It was well received and full of very amusing anecdotes, none of which can be repeated out of respect for the privacy of the little people involved. There was also a panel on VR (virtual reality) porn which I was totally going to attend but missed because filming the MMF threesome went over time (possibly the best excuse ever for not going). Michelle Flynn, who creates VR for her company Light Southern, says she thinks it will be the future of porn.

I was pleased to at least gain my first experience of VR via the “test sets” on display at Spektrum. It’s a slightly weird experience, especially when you are watching a POV of gay porn and you suddenly have a penis. The shearing shed scene from Momentum was shot in both 2D and VR and I watched that too. I’m definitely jaded about porn because I found myself wanting to walk around the shed and check out all the old shearing equipment, even while Ryan and Skye fucked against the wall. Yep, jaded. Of course, I liked it a lot more than the stereotypical male POV scenario with a woman simpering and talking crap to me. I can see the potential in VR but I suspect the content is mostly going to be the same ol’ misogynist nonsense.

I did attend the Racial Politics in Porn panel and recorded a bit of it. The moderator didn’t do a great job of asking questions but the panelists were great with their responses. They discussed the stigma surrounding people of colour doing porn and the barriers to entry. Shine Louise Houston revealed that even The Crash Pad site has trouble attracting performers of colour because they don’t put themselves forward due to stigma. The panelists also advocated diversity behind the camera as well as in front of it.

fourchambers

I attended the Four Chambers Filmmaker in Focus session, where Vex Ashley spoke about her brand of arty, sploshy porn. Four Chambers have had something of a meteoric rise in awareness over the last two years. They started out posting experimental videos on Vimeo and now shoot one scene a month, funded by an ongoing crowdfunding campaign through Patreon. It’s an interesting way to make money from porn, one that Vex says remains precarious; they could be deleted and censored at any time. I enjoyed hearing about Vex’s methods and aims; I’ve long admired her work. Four Chambers is only a small operation – it’s Vex and a partner, running the whole thing themselves. They work only with performers who they feel they can collaborate with and each film tends to have a main theme e.g. marks on skin, wetness. If you’re interested I’ve edited together a small video of Vex’s presentation and it’s available in the member’s area of Bright Desire.

The People, The Festival

One of the joys of Berlin is meeting up with the people I consider to be my porn family. This is the collection of directors, performers, academics and festival people who I’ve met over the years and who I always enjoy talking to. As I said, it’s the one place we don’t have to hide, we can openly talk about our work and exchange ideas. At this point I could name drop but it would be a long read so I’ll hold back. Suffice to say, I love you guys (especially you Pandora, Jen, Julia, Shine, Jiz, Parker… and all the Aussie porn posse).

We didn’t get to any of the parties this year either, including the one we were invited to but the bouncers wouldn’t let us in. Most evenings we were exhausted from filming, or else I was drunk or suffering from a tummy bug. So I can’t report on how much post-film shagging went on. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of it and I heard a few juicy stories in the days following.

As mentioned, they sold over 9000 tickets this year and this meant that the little Moviemento Cinema was packed the whole time. We had to be at the cinema first thing each day to snag tickets for the next day and usually there was a waiting list. Seating in the cinemas was often overfull, with people sitting in aisles and blocking doors. It may be that the success of the festival is stifling it a little; it was a lot harder to meet fellow filmmakers and chat due to the press of bodies. I’m not sure what the festival will do next year (it’s definitely on again, by the way). Moviemento is their home but perhaps it’s time to find a bigger cinema so the festival can keep growing.

So. Will I go back next year? I left saying I would. It is an exhausting thing to get there and I’m sick of missing my October spring weather but nothing else in the world is like those magic five days in Berlin. Plus, we get to shoot some amazing performers there.

So this won’t be my last PornFilmFestival Berlin report. Maybe. In any case, if you get the chance to go next year, do it. The festival shows us how much potential there is within the “genre” of porn and that the topic of sex is an endless source of inspiration, entertainment and fun.

Please watch my mini doco of the festival, at the top of the post. It took me ages to stop procrastinating and edit that damn thing. A much longer and more expansive version of this film will soon be available in the member’s area at Bright Desire.

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