Last week, from March 1-6, the eighth annual Cinekink Film Festival was held here in New York City, showing kinky, sexy, mind-expanding cinema to the cultured degenerate New York film geek crowd for four days and nights before wrapping up with an awards ceremony in a bar. It was really, truly, my kind of place. Cinekink highlighted, for me, the importance of getting perverts and kink lovers, fetishists and voyeurs, degenerates and academics, all together in a room where they feel comfortable with each other because they’re coming together for one common goal: to watch sexy movies in the dark.
It’s true. And it’s kind of weird, really. When I think of watching sexy movies in the dark, the first mental image that pops into my mind is that of a sleazy raincoater slipping into a 1970’s Times Square porno castle and avoiding eye contact with the ticket guy. And not that there’s anything wrong with that: I really wish sometimes that I’d been around for that era of New York City’s past, because Times Square these days is stuck solidly in commercial suckitude. It could use a resurgence of dick suckitude, I do believe.
But the point here is that Peewee Herman types tend to come to mind when one considers kinky film on a big screen (and again, nothing wrong with that: I frickin’ love Paul Reuben), but Cinekink taught me that it doesn’t have to be all mild discomfort and trying to scoot away from the bearded guy who just sat down next to you and who seems to be inching his free hand closer to your lap. To the contrary, Cinekink taught me that, yes, watching sexy movies of all varieties from funny takes on pissing to hardcore pornography on a big screen with a hundred or so other people can be awkward, but it can be done. People don’t end up losing their shit and jerking off all over the people next to them, or running screaming from the theater in a fit of sex-inspired rape rage. As a matter of fact, it’s entirely possible to watch over an hour of truly hot porn in a darkened room and then have an intelligent discussion about it afterward with a total stranger. Same goes for learning about Leather Man competitions, exploring the darker territory of human fetishes, or being somewhat cruelly subjected to a very long, intensely erotic massage between two beautiful women. Frankly, I was amazed I got through that one without turning into a raving, slobbering mess of hormones. I was proud of all of us.
It also taught me that, though I consider myself a seasoned (and cultured!) degenerate, there are whole worlds of kink that I’ve never explored or even really bothered to try to understand. Cinekink gave me glimpses into some of those vast, fascinating worlds in ways that made me feel safe and intrigued rather than put off. Kink Crusaders, for instance, Bucking the System, Piss, Love, Hugs and Kisses, Sissy Stephanie, along with excerpts from Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex II, Kimberly Kane’s My Own Master, and others that depicted fringe sex acts and fetishes, were presented in a respectful, intelligent fashion. Rather than balking at their extreme and sometimes bizarre content, being able to share these films and new ideas with like-mined, curious, and knowledgeable people made the whole thing feel like a celebration of human diversity rather than a freak show. Everyone deserves a voice, and it turns out there’s a whole host of film-makers helping give them one. I know this sounds corny, and, well, it is corny. But hey, I am talking about chains, whips, floggers, piss play, bondage, and sissy cross-dressing here. It’s not that corny — it’s porny. (Heh. …No? Ok fine. I kind of giggled.)
Winners from the week included Kink Crusaders (for best documentary feature) from former gay porn director turned documentarian of Leather Man competitions Mike Skiff; Indietro (for best feature) from Vivan Darkbloom and Kink Studios of Kink.com; Love, Hugs and Kisses, Sissy Stephanie (for best documentary short) from Mrs. G; Piss (for best short) from Vincent Peone & Bette Bentley; Butterfly Caught (for best abstract short) from Joshua Bewig; and Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex II (for best porno—bow chicka wow wow!). All of which I thoroughly enjoyed, though I secretly wanted the best feature prize to go to Caged! from Stephan Brenninkmeijer of Holland, because he is really a great guy and made a fantastic film.
Something else Cinekink provided me was, hands down, the best panel I’ve ever attended on porn; specifically, on ethical porn-making. Ethics and porn are two words that often seem impossibly distant on the spectrum of morality, but there is an increasing number of producers, directors, performers, and porn companies that combine them in truly fantastic style. The panelists discussed the importance, on set, of showing performers that they are valued. For too long, large companies have treated porn performers like interchangeable cogs in a giant machine, threatening performers who don’t want to do a certain act with dismissal because “they can just call someone else.” There are thousands of performers in the LA area willing to work for less, to do more extreme things, to not demand respect or even food on set, and many porn companies take full advantage of this truth. But in and industry that is still losing profit and falling behind its pirates, the only way to keep people in work is to treat them well, I think. Rates are going down, companies are getting stingy with reimbursement for testing, and stars are no longer always treated like stars. But I’d think that, if one wants to make quality products featuring really hot, really jerk-offable sex, the happier the performers are—the more respected they feel and well-fed they are backstage—the better the product.
Issues of consent in making porn were discussed, but, somewhat more importantly to my mind, so were issues of showing the consent to the audience. I think that one of the greatest enemies of the porn industry can sometimes be its own willingness to preserve the indispensible fantasy aspect that anti-condom use companies have been touting for some time. While it’s true that consumers do very much want to be able to lose themselves in the fantasy of the explicit actions they see on the screen, and while it’s certainly the duty of a good porno to make that fantasy believable and sexy, sometimes the consent of the performers gets forgotten. It’s all too easy for young people accessing online porn, or older people taking a peek for the first time, to believe that what the fantasy shows them — rough sex, BDSM play, sloppy blowjobs, gagging, spanking, etc. — are not acts that have been agreed upon in advance by all parties, signed up for, and paid for. It can very much appear to be exploitative, and in some cases, well… sometimes it is a little exploitative.
As Adrianna Nicole and Sinnamon Love pointed out, it’s not uncommon to arrive on set thinking your body wants to do what you said it would do, only to find out that on that day, for whatever reason, it won’t cooperate. And in those cases, it’s all too frequent that the director will coerce the performer into doing what he or she does not want to do, for the sake of the scene. Consent, as the Julian Assange case has recently brought to light and John Boehner’s idiocy has further focused, is not a one-time-off thing: it must be continually given during every sex act, checked in on, and reexamined at every juncture. If that consent is not explicitly shown, either via Tristan’s tactic of making the before-and-after interviews part of her movies, through honest portrayals of the performers’ responses to what their doing (as in Kimberly Kane’s excellent My Own Master), or by simply pairing two people who have enough chemistry that they can demonstrate their desire for each other without stating their consent explicitly. I’d love these ideas about consent to spread farther and penetrate deeper into the industry to become the standard, and the best way to get that process started is by talking about it.
…But now I’ve brought up the words “spreading” and “penetrating,” and frankly folks, I spent most of last week in a darkened theater watching sexy movies. I’ve got to… um… warp this up and go… shave my legs.
So, look, the point is this: I’m a pretty open-minded person, but Cinekink spread me even wider than I’d been before. I’ll be back next year, and the next, and the next, and I’d really encourage all of you in the cities it hits to do the same — there’s a whole universe out there you may not know about, or maybe you do know about it and thought nobody else did. But they do, and they’re making movies. Really fantastic movies. I’ll be posting some of them here over the next few weeks as WHACK!’s featured videos on the homepage, and I’ve provided links throughout the article to others. Check them out, spread that mind, and dig in. Photos to come later this week!
…Oh god. Yeah, I’ve gotta go. See you next year!