The fifth annual Cinekink Film Festival, billed as “the really alternative film festival,” just wrapped up in New York and while I missed too many of the films I was lucky enough to catch a panel discussion, moderated by Rachel Kramer Bussel, called “Women Behind the Lens”. The panelists were Candida Royalle, Audacia Ray and Julie Simone; three very different adult filmmakers.
The idea of filmmaker panel discussions doesn’t usually make me want to hike across town on a cold gray day, originally I was going mostly because I knew some of the panelists and wanted to be a supportive friend. But listening to all three panelists I was completely re-enchanted and reminded of the fact that the intent to produce something creative, while it might not always result in material that’s going to get you off, matters a lot.
Being someone whose gender identity doesn’t fit so neatly into one of two check boxes, I don’t usually go in for the “women pornographer” hook when it comes to panels, books, or the like. I don’t believe that having certain chromosomes, a uterus, or being treated your entire life like a second class citizen produces a uniform artistic vision, and so I don’t buy that there’s anything fundamentally different about “women” making adult moves. This isn’t to say that some women don’t do it differently, and certainly these three women do. This was evident from the first question asked, which was why do you make movies. Each filmmaker had a different response, and while each was professional and keenly attuned to the business side of their work, none of their initial responses was about money. It may be an obvious point, but this IS a fundamental difference from mainstream pornography. For many years now the vast majority of porn films have about as much to do with artistic vision or intent as “The Celebrity Apprentice” has to do with being an apprentice, or a celebrity. The very fact that these filmmakers have a vision and are trying to translate that on film, whether it works for you or not, is of note.
I was also struck by simple things, like how respectful and supportive the three filmmakers were of each other on stage. Given the difference in style, content, and vision, there were plenty of opportunities for the panelists to criticize, or at the least attempt to distance them from, the work of their fellow panelists. Instead, whether or not they liked each others work they were all adamant about each other’s right to express themselves. The idea of a panel on pornography actually being about expression is a bit radical in this day and age where the most outrageous thing most events can drum up is Ron Jeremy vs. the XXX Church Guy. In my democratic primary-addled brain I could only watch this and think, they’re being much more Obama than Hillary, which again goes to show you that you never know when gender is going to bend in an unexpected way.
In the end I left wanting to go back and watch some of these films again, and in the case of Julie Simone I want to see more for the first time. I'm still completely unconvinced that gender is the most interesting or complicated lens through which to talk about pornography. But the panel made me realize at least one thing about my own adult movie watching habits. While I tend to think that when it comes to moving image pornography it's the image in front of me that turns me on, I realize that on at least one level it's actually the ideas being projected and the sense of engagement by the filmmaker that gets me going. I also realized that I'm listening to way too much NPR coverage of the primaries.
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