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The Rise of Indie Porn?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

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It was all undoubtedly an initiation into sex, but I felt like it was addressed to Hannibal Lecter. There were hacked-off feet, seared together from what must have been scorching heat and violent fire, leaving only tiny gaps between them. Horrifying limbless torsos, and genitalia everywhere -- lone detached penises, solo vulvas in various states, some with hair and some without, all the ghastly color of dead flesh, all cool to the touch. Surely I had wandered onto the set of "Silence of the Porn Stars."

Or maybe I was standing in the middle of an Adult Video News expo, surrounded by the latest crop of porn star anatomy sex toys. OK, I was, and this was in 2005, but you get the idea: With all the human parts on jiggly, fleshy display in the other parts of the expo that were just as artificial as their molded counterparts, it was easy to feel the disconnect.

Adult Video News is a porn trade magazine whose expo and awards event attracts thousands of people to Las Vegas every year. A variety of media outlets cover the event from every angle imaginable -- the Fleshbot.com blog offers the best and most unbiased coverage -- and every year the AVN awards show hands out the "porn Oscars" to movies, performers, directors, editors and porn industry personalities deemed worthy of a statuette. For those in the mainstream porn business, it's a big backslapping event where the same companies and same names win year after year. It is a celebration of itself.

But to think of the "porn Oscars" as a true representation of porn's very best is like having sex with a Jenna Jameson love doll and telling your friends you had sex with the porn star. Like big Hollywood studios that crank out the latest Tom Cruise time-suck and call it filmmaking, AVN mostly awards and recognizes the mainstream porn companies. If you didn't know anything else about indie film and porn, you wouldn't suspect there were enough indie porn filmmakers outside the mainstream porn distribution network to make porn significant and fascinating as a film genre.

Granted, every once in a while AVN doles out a statue to someone who doesn't work for Wicked, Vivid or VCA -- in 2001, local lesbian porn filmmakers SIR Video won the AVN award for Best All Girl Feature, and this year another indie lesbian studio, Dana Dane's Pulse, won Best All Girl Series for "Erocktavision." Also, in a refreshing surprise, female-to-male (FTM) transman Buck Angel won Transsexual Performer of the Year in what is the first (and hopefully not the last) time an FTM gets the prize.

But take a quick look at the lineup for the New York-based CineKink festival -- Thursday through Saturday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as CineKink: San Francisco -- and it's clear that the world of porn and porn film is much, much greater than AVN. CineKink is "an organization that recognizes and encourages the positive depiction of alternative sexuality in film and television, most visibly through its annual film festival, CineKink NYC." Now in its fourth season, CineKink draws its porny selections from every source: Hollywood, sex documentary, erotic drama, straight-up porn movies and homemade to high-production -- and it is highly inclusive of all genders and orientations. In CineKink's short-film competition, audience choice awards, presentations and parties, and porn stars and their myriad artificial parts, are in the minority.

CineKink seems to know this, and their superlative blog (cinekink.com/blog/), focusing on the erotic in film and media, is a much more accurate reflection of the porn genre than AVN's hot industry-on-industry action.

This year, AVN gave the Best Film award to "Manhunters," whose production studio Wicked Pictures received no less than 15 AVN awards. Tonight at 7, CineKink will show "Vice & Consent," which won CineKink's Audience Choice Award 2006 for Best Feature Documentary and took home three other sets of laurel leaves from the VIFFI Hollywood film fest, Frameline SF's LGBT selection and Australia's queerDoc film fest. OK, I'll concede that one might masturbate to "Manhunters," whereas one would be less likely to masturbate to "Vice & Consent." But I'll also argue that CineKink has plenty of wankable material, while AVN serves up little more than the porn equivalent of a predictable-yet-entertaining Hollywood blockbuster.

AVN's bold move this year was Buck Angel. I doubt they could withstand the snarky criticism of CineKink's satire short, "Dick Ho: Asian Male Porn Star," about "mythical" '70s Asian porn legend Dick Ho, who was "allegedly so well endowed that rumors of a porn industry conspiracy to eliminate any knowledge of his existence persist today." Nor would we see anything as fun as the musical selection "Do You Take It?" by The Wet Spots or the fruit-fixated selection that was banned in Italy, "Filthy Food." And, wonderfully, at CineKink we'll get to see a screening of Comstock Films' "Damon and Hunter," a sweet-and-hard-core glimpse into the life of two sweethearts who show us just how two men in love have sex. "Damon and Hunter" boasts several international film awards as well and shocks by showing porn as an intimate act of connection, rather than a plane crash of parts waiting for their turn at the awards trough.

Hopefully, with festivals like NYC CineKink, the success of indie porn festivals like Seattle's HUMP!, the local Good Vibes Amateur Erotic Film Competition, the Berlin Porn Film Festival, Toronto's Vixens & Visionaries: The Emmas: Feminist Porn Awards and many more porn fests cropping up every year, we'll see the indies start to mix with the mainstream porn purveyors. Seeing all those body parts at the AVN expo is analogous to the separation between sex and sensuality evident in AVN's typical lineup of winners. We're only going to find sexual authenticity and really hot porn when we reconnect those parts to actual people, like those behind the indie efforts found at CineKink.

So if you're in San Francisco this weekend, see a few movies outside mainstream film and mainstream porn. Just don't accidentally butter your popcorn with lube.

CineKink: San Francisco, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.; (415) 978-2700: $8; $6 seniors/students; advance tickets available online through the YBCA box office or call (415) 978-2787.

Violet Blue

Violet Blue is author and editor of nearly two dozen sexual health books and erotica collections. She is a professional sex educator, lecturer, podcaster, blogger, vlogger, porn/erotica reviewer and machine artist. She has written for outlets ranging from Forbes.com to O, The Oprah Magazine.

Violet is also a fetish model, a member of Survival Research Labs, an author at Metblogs San Francisco; girl friday contributor at Fleshbot.com, a San Francisco native and a Forbes Web Celeb. Her tech site is Techyum; her audio and e-books are at Digita Publications.

For more information and links to Web sites discussed in Open Source Sex, go to Violet Blue's Web site, tinynibbles.com.


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