JENNIFER LYON BELL — “Some lesbian films have given me the feeling that lovemaking is OK but fucking isn’t!”

While exploring the Dutch “porna” movement — porn for women that’s hardcore and erotic — Miss Lagsalot had a chat with Jennifer Lyon Bell, the filmmaker extraordinaire operating out of Holland. Her films, from her company Blue Artichoke Films, are aired regularly on Dusk! TV, home of porna, and she’s been instrumental in the process of appealing to a female market in Europe. Having attended Harvard University here in the states, she’s got a good grasp of what women want on both side of the pond.

WHACK! MAGAZINE You, as one of the luminaries (it seems) of Dutch erotica for and by women, are very close to Dusk!, the new Dutch TV channel that shows porn for women, called “porna” as opposed to “porno,” which is thought to be more male-oriented. When did you first hear about this project?

JENNIFER LYON BELL I met Martijn [Broersma, founder and director of Dusk!] and his partner at Venus Berlin two years ago. They were just getting started then, and looking for new films to feature. They called my mobile asking for a meeting and mentioning they were from Amsterdam. I said, “Hey, I’m from Amsterdam, too!” They were tickled to realize they could have called me without even being at Venus. We went out for drinks, they told me all about their plans, and I felt they had a great idea on their hands.

W! They had decided to fill a gap (excuse the pun) in the market of porn for women in that area of the world. Do you think there was a large gap, and are they doing well so far in filling it?

JLB Definitely there are tons of women who want to see porn, and who prefer to sample a pre-curated selection. Having a cable channel dedicated to female-focused porn is a great way to do this. As far as I know, Dusk! is offering a unique product on the international marketplace right now, and they’ve been very successful. Their biggest challenge is finding enough films to offer 24/7 programming without repeating too much. They keep asking me when I’ll bring them more of my films!

W! How many of your films are on offer right now? For Dusk!, I mean.

JLB Right now they have Headshot and Matinee, and at the moment I’m in the process of giving them the brand new film collaboration, Skin. Like. Sun. (aka Des Jours Plus Belles Que La Nuit). Matinee is a big winner for them; it’s often rated in their top 10 films, and many times it’s been rated their #1 film. (I’m quite proud of that.)

W! You deserve to be proud! From what I’ve heard, European ladies are a rather demanding market.

JLB It’s nice to have a venue for showing a film that’s very sexual but also a bit arty. My films wouldn’t be a great fit on a lot of plain porn channels.

W! You mentioned that the “porna” on Dusk! is pre-curated. I know there’s also an online panel that discusses what’s been shown. Do you get the feeling that there’s a strong sense of the female porn community growing around it, a strong sense of what they want? Or is it a diverse group wanting diverse things?

JLB Honestly, it’s hard for me to predict what the panel will like. I think it’s a diverse group.  They offer some very fetishy fare, some arty, erotic, explicit stuff like mine, and some gentle-toned big-budget mainstream porn. A very diverse selection. What I miss is the new queer porn, which I’m a fan of and think is very hot, not least because it definitely highlights authentic female arousal and orgasm. Dusk! decided to focus on the straight female viewer and I think they decided that the queer movement isn’t a good fit. I wish they thought differently, but hey, that’s just one girl’s opinion!

W! Well it’s an important opinion. Queer porn is a very big movement, at least conceptually, and I think it fits in SO well with feminist/female-oriented fare…

JLB Dusk!’s situation actually kind of mirrors the relationship between the American new sexuality movement and the European one. In the American movement, the new queer porn is key. In Europe, it really depends on the city/country. Berlin and Paris seem to have embraced a queer sensibility, but Amsterdam’s a little behind the curve. I’ve been asked by female-friendly sex stores quite recently what “queer” means, why it’s different than “lesbian,” and why straight women would want to look at it.

W! Oh, interesting! What did you tell them?

JLB I suggested that queer porn was more all-embracing than traditional lesbian porn, in terms of both the gender of the people in the films, and of the sexual orientation you’d see. Also, I explained that these films really embrace authentic arousal and orgasm and don’t stint on either one — something that’s really important to me as a female viewer. I think that this queer porn movement is unafraid of depicting explicit sexuality, so it’s less soft-core in general. Not that it isn’t also loving at times — there’s a lot of love in queer porn I’ve seen — but some lesbian films I’ve seen have given me the feeling that lovemaking is OK but fucking isn’t. Queer porn definitely embraces fucking!

W! Yes, queer porn loves fucking! I’m interested to hear that Dusk! has gone mainly for the straight demographic, though. Given that it’s well-understood that women tend to have a more fluid sexuality in practice, it seems that there would be more room for a larger expression of more orientations and genders. But I guess one must start somewhere. Do you think Dusk! can maybe open people up slowly to new ideas?

JLB Sure, I think Dusk! could slowly open up their core demographic a bit. A lot depends, I guess, on what films they introduce into their panel and how they cut the vignettes. I’ve seen many queer porn films where one vignette could be appealing to a very mainstream audience, whereas other vignettes would be fairly challenging — due to the type of sex, like BDSM-influenced sex, or fisting, or whatever. I bet an accessible vignette could do really well under the right circumstances, and then the audience could get to know and love some of the performers, etc.

W! So, does Dusk! play only vignettes? Or whole films?

JLB Dusk! plays both, as far as I know. For example, Matinee can’t really be cut into vignettes without sacrificing the story that makes the sex especially hot — so they show the whole thing. I’m certain that pre-vignetted porn films are generally separated, though they may be shown whole too from time to time. I know that they plan thematic programming blocks sometimes, and separating the vignettes gives them more freedom to create themes.

W! I can’t wait to see how this all turns out for them!

JLB Me too!

W! In the meantime, how do you like the term “porna” they’re using for female-centric erotic material? Would you apply it to your work?

JLB I do appreciate that they’ve come up with a simple word to describe porn that appeals to women. Personally I’ve had a hard time coming up with terms to describe what I do — “explicit erotic film”? “Alternative erotica”? “Feminist porn”?  I do wonder if the word “porna” gives space to describe films that, while they may be made by women, appeal very much to men as well. Along the way, I’ve discovered that there are a ton of men out there who are searching not only for more authentic depictions of female sexuality in particular, but also of more authentic depictions of sexual relationships in general. I’m not sure that the word “porna” covers that. And that’s the situation I’m in, since both women and men seems attracted to what I’m trying to do.

All that being said, I’m proud to have my films on the Dusk! channel, and pleased that women do respond so well to them. So I’m happy to have it called “porna” if that helps women understand why they might be different than the “porn” they’ve probably seen before.

W! I’ve heard that men are making up a surprising number of viewers for Dusk!, which is very encouraging. Yet they’re not allowed to participate in panel discussions… And I do find it a bit off-putting, myself, that “porna” must be seen as essentially distinct from “porno” to find its own character. Female vs. Male and all that… I wonder why we can’t just all get along… but maybe that will come further down the road? Maybe we have to start by identifying as what we’re not before we can start identifying as what we are?

JLB At least the word “porna” still includes the word “porn” in it, which is much nicer than distancing completely from all porn and getting into unfair and demeaning judgments about porn performers and producers. Some of my friends make excellent ethical porn.

W! So you’d mentioned in an article that I read that you believe there’s a similarly under-exposed portion of women in America who aren’t getting the erotic entertainment they want, and that there’s a strong movement of feminist porn here that has difficulty selling itself… Do you think an American version of Dusk! could work to fill that gap (again, excuse the pun)?

JLB Absolutely, I think a Dusk!-type channel in America could do really well. They’ll have to make their own decisions about the queer porn issue, of course. But as in Europe, there are a lot of women who I think really want a curated porn experience that they can tune into when it pleases them. I suspect an American version would have to be very focused about their targeting and branding to stand out, because there’s just so much adult entertainment in the USA compared to Europe. But from what I understand, a Dusk!-type channel would still be a unique presence in the cable marketplace. And it would be a truly great thing for feminist porn-makers worldwide to be able to reach an American audience of women, particularly some American women whom I suspect are not being served at all by today’s offerings.

W! You also mentioned that you think feminist porn and other women-centric porn has trouble selling itself… but then again, there is the internet. Why do you think female-oriented erotic material isn’t taking off online?

JLB Well, I can speak from my own experience as to at least one reason. I wanted to find an internet-based streaming/download 3rd party solution that allowed me to brand my own films the way I wanted to — as explicit erotic film, not necessarily porn. I knew some viewers would be cool with the porn reference, but that other viewers had had such unpleasant experiences with mainstream porn that they felt better viewing this as a different kind of film entirely. And what I found is that you can do this if you build a site designed for this from scratch, but that 3rd party solutions are usually either super-adult-oriented or ban explicit material entirely. It’s a bifurcated world: Porn vs. “normal film.” And for those of us trying to bridge or blur that gap, the choices are fairly limiting.

W! Hmmmm….

JLB I might also add: I think female-oriented erotic material is taking off online. Compared to 5 years ago, there’s a wealth of material available. I just see lots more potential there.

W! I think it is, too. But you can’t really argue, I suppose, with the ubiquity and accessibility of TV you can just turn on. So the cable network that Dusk! is on reaches 1.2 million, from what I hear. Do you think that it could help get rid of the “porn vs. not porn” bifurcation to open up responsible erotic film to more people?

JLB I’m a huge believer in creating change by offering more alternatives, not fewer. Hopefully more filmmakers — especially women — will make films they find hot, and those films will find their audience. And yes, I do hope that more filmmakers will make arousing films that challenge traditional porn genres. Blurring the bifurcation means that more people will be able to find films that naturally appeal to them, and it also means that people might open their minds a little and discover something new.

I’ve never had a cable porn channel myself, so my main experience with it is at friends’ houses. But I thought it was interesting that it feels different to decide to watch a cable channel, and sit back and see what’s on, than it does to pop in a DVD or click on your subscription to a porn site. They’re all good in their own ways. Maybe what’s neat about Dusk! is that it encourages a relaxed viewing experience. It’s not a quick-click choice. That’s appealing to many people.

W! That’s a very good point. I think that online/DVD porn is something that, since you have to make the conscious decision to watch, is often very… um… goal-oriented. And that’s what often sets porn apart from regular films in the public mind: porn is goal-oriented, whereas “film” is an artistic experience you let yourself fall into on its own terms. Maybe this could help open up that experience more for TV viewers.

JLB Yes, I think TV viewers might be attracted to experiencing film on its own artistic terms, which would make a cable porn channel appealing. Not that you couldn’t, um, eventually reach your goal while watching the channel!

W! Right, exactly. But Playboy TV and Skinemax and all the other cable porn in America at the moment is SO goal-oriented, it discourages watching without masturbation in mind. I hope films like yours can reach a wider audience over there, and maybe eventually over here, in a similar way.

Ok, last real question: Dusk! is using panel/viewer feedback to inform its programming and collect information about what its audience is looking for. Do you think this could prove a rich resource for filmmakers like yourself about what female viewers really want?

JLB Oh, yes, panel and viewer feedback would be very valuable to me, and I’m sure to lots of other filmmakers. I really appreciate the direct consumer feedback I do get. And I would love to have more, especially from female viewers. That being said, from a creative standpoint, sometimes you just have to say, “fuck it” and make the film you’d personally want to see as a female viewer yourself, even if you’re not sure other women would agree with you. That’s the only way to make a film that stands out from the crowd. I think viewers can feel your honesty, and it makes a difference to them.

W! I agree! Hear, hear!

For more info on Dusk!, check out their English-language website, and for more on Blue Artichoke Films and Jennifer Lyon Bell, click here.

—Interview conducted by WHACK! staph Editor-in-Chief and pervert-in-bed, Miss Lagsalot.

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. I'm Back From Vacation & Here Are Some Links! - Lynsey G

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.