Berlin Porn Film Festival 2017

 

Another year rolls around and once again, here I am, jetlagged, ill and writing up my latest adventure at the Berlin Porn Film Festival. The 12th edition was my 7th time attending, the 4th in a row and it was just as memorable and intense as previous years. I was also in Berlin to receive a Poryes award the previous weekend. More about that in a separate post.

In 2017 I had two films screening – Trinity and Devourable. The former is my MMF threesome scene that has done really well at festivals over the last year and it was well received. Devourable is a 12 minute documentary about a polyamorous, BDSM-sharing lesbian couple that I hastily edited together before the deadline on June 30. It turned out to be a huge hit and I was surprised and encouraged by the positive things people said about it, including that it had made them cry. Perhaps I need to make more proper documentaries. The films screened across seven separate sessions (Female Porn Shorts, BDSM Shorts and Lesbian Shorts) so I was kept busy attending and speaking at those throughout the festival.

This time around we were determined not to spend the whole festival shooting like we did last year. That plan didn’t quite work; aside from 3 full porn scenes we ended up shooting five extra little scenes that I am making into a short film. I came up with the idea on the plane on the 27th September and thus the whole thing was rather haphazard and spontaneous. I have no idea if this short film will work but the important thing is I was finally struck with some serious inspiration and couldn’t help but to plunge in and start shooting. The film is inspired by the divisive vote Australia has just had regarding marriage equality; it’s coming soon!

This year’s festival saw an expansion of the festival to six days along with a makeover of branding (the much-loved inflatable dolls have been replaced with sex toys in a slick new look that I rather like). The programmers Jurgen, Manuela, Jochen and Paola have once again done a stellar job of bringing the whole thing together and ensuring the festival was hugely popular. Sessions were almost uniformly sold out and, while I don’t have exact figures, it’s probable that more than 10,000 people attended the event over the course of the week. People were packed into cinemas, sitting in the aisles, standing, putting their names on huge waiting lists when tickets sold out. It was a little bit mad, really.

As usual the program included some specialty short-film sessions, created to reflect emerging themes within the submissions. In my interview with him, Jurgen Bruning said this year there were a lot of films exploring the idea of discovery. “There are more short films where people are trying to discover themselves in front of the camera. So we made the Discovery Porn Shorts program. It has things like women discovering their body… it’s not new, like in the 60s women started doing that, but we had so many different films and different aspects of that. It’s not about nudity, more like how they wanted to present themselves which we found interesting. There are so many different body types and people are saying ‘I can show myself, even if I don’t fit the heteronormative norm.’ And they’re getting more and more proud about themselves.”

The festival also had an increased focus on performers; this year there were three Performer In Focus sessions with Lina Bembe, Bishop Black and Chelsea Poe. All three performers have made their own films as well as starred in a wide variety of indie and feminist productions. I think the festival’s expansion of platform to include performer perspectives is fantastic, especially as porn becomes more collaborative and as more and more performers become involved behind the camera.

Once again the festival included a variety of performances, panels, art exhibitions and workshops. I didn’t get to attend Shine Louise Houston’s editing workshop due to my commitment to present my own films but Luke did and came away with some really useful tips. Also of note was the “Reclaim My Image” workshop reserved for people of colour. This two-day session was about exploring new ways for queer POC to present themselves in porn and was organized by Jasco Viefhues, Bishop Black and Lina Bembe. We offered our cameras for use by workshop participants (which forced me to stop filming for a bit, a relief) and I’m really keen to see the results, if they decide to release any of the material they filmed.

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There was also a panel on the state of the porn industry, inspired by Ovidie’s film Pornocracy, but I confess I gave in and didn’t attend due to a mix of exhaustion and a desire to finally see some films. I figured that I already know the state of the industry and it’s not very encouraging thanks to the dominance of piracy-based tube sites and ongoing censorship.

What was encouraging was the programmer’s meeting, where film festival organizers and filmmakers were invited to network with other. I am amazed at the sheer growth in porn/erotic film festivals over the last couple of years. There are now dozens to choose from. It was wonderful to be in a room absolutely packed with people from all over the world, all of us keen on presenting alternative, positive depictions of sexuality.

Features

 

I didn’t get to see as many films as I’d wanted due to filming and screening commitments, along with the fact that it was really difficult to get tickets to things. This is the first year I’ve missed both the opening and closing films. In the end, I only saw two features. The first, Rester Vertical, sounded fantastic but was actually incredibly boring and we left early. The second, Fluid0, was quite impressive. It imagines a future world of replicants and sexual mutants whose bodily fluids work like a drug on everyday humans. This interesting idea leads to a bunch of sex scenes and surreal scenarios starring almost every porn performer I’ve ever met in Berlin, (including Bishop Black and Candy Flip, who we’ve worked with before). Fluid0 follows a police replicant charged with apprehending the “Zero” generation as she succumbs to the intoxicating fluid and discovers a new life. Along the way we meet addicts, dealers, sex workers and the unfortunate Zero mutants who spend all day masturbating to provide the precious fluids for consumption. It was a very strange film and the only way to watch it was to give in and go along for the visually spectacular ride. Director Shu Lea Cheang originally developed the film for Lars Von Triers’ porn imprint Puzzy Power in 2000 but the company went bankrupt before it could be made. It took 17 years and the help of festival founder and producer Jurgen Bruning to see the light of day.

Short Films

 

Despite being really busy I was determined to take in as many shorts as I could. I always find them inspirational and it’s probably the best use of time as you can’t see these films in many other places. As usual, the Fun Porn Shorts program was my favourite; it’s always nice to have a laugh at sex. The 100 Blows was probably my favourite, featuring a woman putting a ridiculous variety of things in her mouth. Fantasme, How Come? and Hausbesuch were also great. I think I need to make more comedy porn.

The two Berlin Porn Shorts programs revealed just how much the Berlin porn scene has exploded over the last few years, inspired by the PornFilmFestival. I only managed to catch part 1 and I’m so glad I did. The 36 Year-Old Virgin by Skyler Braeden Fox was so moving it reduced me to tears. In it, transman Skler talks with friends about the idea of virginity before attempting to have penetrative sex for the first time. The outcome is unexpected and hugely moving; I really was reduced to a blubbering mess by it. Aside from that, I was amused by KAy Garnellan’s cheeky Feierabend which has Emy Fem doing fun things with a beer tap and also by Zombie Queer Punk Urban Post Porn Horror Show which is basically a crazy romp through industrial Berlin by porn stars made up as zombies, all of them licking and humping anything in sight like they’re fresh brains. Too much fun.

Discovery Porn Shorts was another really interesting session with some great films. We encountered another Australian filmmaker at the festival, Jack Atherton, which was great as we were feeling a bit alone this year. His film Caledonian Road was funny and moving and gave us a huge dose of homesickness thanks to the hilarious sweary monologue at the end. I also really enjoyed Look At Me Like That, which explored a woman’s growing sense of sexual confidence. The script was based on the experiences of over 50 women who spoke about their various sexual experiences with men and how expectations of what men want inform the development of women’s sexuality. I also liked Eros because it was gorgeous, plain and simple:

 

One other film in Discovery stayed with me. One Click Away was a non-explicit short that was basically a group of anonymous men discussing their experience of growing up with porn on the internet and talking about how they use online porn now. Most encountered porn in their early teens and felt that it didn’t have a negative effect. Many rejected the idea that porn made them think less of women. For them, porn is an easy way to get aroused, a handy form of stress release and a mostly brainless, quick activity. What really struck me as a porn creator was the absolute assumption that porn was free. For these men, it really is “one click away” and not a single person gave any thought to how it got onto the internet, who made it, who starred in it or whether what they were watching had any meaning or merit. The idea of free and easy access to porn is so normalized that it is now a part of people’s everyday sexual habits. This is incredibly depressing.

Suffice to say, you should pay for your porn. It means we can make more porn and pay performers and ourselves properly.

 

The Short Film Competition selection left me a little nonplussed, I have to say. I have never known what the criteria are for competition selection and this year was just as opaque. There were some I really liked but a lot I found overlong or underwhelming. I think Crystal Clear by Max Disgrace was clever and visually glorious. The story behind it is fun – Max’s flatmate had a clear plastic chair and they conceived the idea of sitting naked on it and putting a camera underneath. This ultimately involved precariously balancing the chair on bricks and lighting it with candles; congrats to the performer for their hard work. The voiceover that accompanies the images of wet cunts and boobs is both arousing and amusing and perfectly complements the film.

I was also hugely impressed with Mum I’m back, a simple film from Greece about a woman returning home after 20 years to a funeral. Shot in a single take, it delivered a huge emotional blow and I thought it should have won. It didn’t. The Best Award Short went to Flower by Matt Lambert. This featured a group of young men having sex in nicely lit log cabin, accompanied by songs by Pansy Division. I thought Flower was OK but it went for ages and I got kinda bored with it. But then, I think I got easily bored with most sex scenes this year. I suspect I really am here just for the articles.

 

With Devourable appearing in both Lesbian Porn Shorts and BDSM Porn Shorts I attended both sessions. With the latter, I enjoyed Nexos, which showed disabled people getting it on in lots of fun ways (the first section involved a woman stimulating a quadriplegic man in a disabled toilet, demonstrating a bunch of new and quirky ways of getting off). More perplexing was Arnilia Grove, a high-budget, beautiful-looking film depicting a D/s relationship between a model and her dom, conducted over the phone. While the film had some interesting dramatic interplay between the two main characters, it became confusing. Worse, the film featured two extremely dangerous sex acts performed alone (including auto-erotic asphyxiation with a plastic bag and tape) and I wonder if the filmmaker had deliberately done this or if they were just clueless. Discussing it with other cinema-goers revealed that others felt the same way, that the filmmaker had been irresponsible in their treatment of risky kink.

My film Trinity received a good response in the Female Porn Shorts session which was heartening. The session also featured films by Shine Louise Houston, Four Chambers and newcomers The Lust Garden, another Patreon-funded filmmaker. I find myself wondering if this category will survive another year. Female filmmakers are becoming so common within the indie porn scene that it seems superfluous to have our own session. Yet I like that the space remains to celebrate women who make porn, if only because so many people still don’t expect it. We’ll see what 2018 brings.

The People

The reason I keep going back to Berlin is because I feel I have a porn family there. It’s the place I can go to meet up with old friends and to meet new ones, to hang out, to talk about porn endlessly, to seriously engage with performers, filmmakers and moviegoers. This year I was missing people (especially our Australian contingent) but I also got to see some regulars like Jen Lyon Bell and her assistant Julia, Shine Louise Houston and Jiz Lee and French filmmaker Ovidie, who I chatted to briefly on the opening night of her film. I was also pleased to meet up again with Carlyle Jansen, who runs the Toronto International Porn Festival (formerly the Feminist Porn Awards). Beyond that, I got to hang out with so many performers. People I’d worked with previously – Bishop Black, Rooster, Lina Bembe, Parker Marx, Sadie Lune, KAy Garnellan, Nichole and Hella Dee – and new friends Kali Sudhra, Lilith and Dante, Marcus Quillan, Dion Di Rossi and Leo among many others. I was also glad to see Maria Bla from Spain, who has had a rough time lately and was in need of many hugs. Indeed, Luke was chief hug dispenser to all. Apologies for this name-drop list but in part I’ve written it as a reminder to myself of all the great people I saw.

It was so good to be back among it all, talking, laughing, drinking, eating and generally having a good time. I’ve been lacking motivation and this was a good shot in the arm. I’ve come home revitalized and eager to get back to porn.

The PornFilmFestival team have already started taking submissions for next year’s festival so it’s definitely on again in 2018. I found myself horribly depressed on the final night, not willing to say goodbye to people and crying at the thought of not seeing them next year. So I suspect we’ll be heading over there again, even though right now you couldn’t get me on a plane if my life depended on it.

In any case, I’m now buckling down to edit the scenes we shot and you’ll be seeing them at BrightDesire.com over the next few months.

 

 

 

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