When most people think of pornography they immediately picture lonely men pleasuring themselves from the comfort of their homes, or perhaps an old-fashioned cinema or cruising club where male homossexuals go cruising. Most of the films are dull, the actors have unnatural bodies (often with grotesquely pumped-up muscles and gentital), there is hardly any script – the most audacious aspect of the storyline is normally a visiting carpenter or plummer – but instead repetitive money shots and relentless penetration. And sex is mostly unprotected.
Not in Berlin. The 11th Berlin Porn Film Festival taking place from October 26th-30th is a very transgressive event, but not because it shows explicit sex in oldest surviving cinema of Germany, Moviementos. The Festival is very unusual because it subverts the concept of porn, going far beyond males phantasies and self-pleasure, to including thorny political issues, social commentary, technology experimentation, the female gaze and much, much more. You wouldn’t expect the conventional American off-the-shelf porn flick to attract a crowd of highly-tuned, cosmopolitan, progressive and liberated Berliners, would you?
A long day’s journey
I arrived yesterday at the 11th Berlin Porn Film Festival in the morning. This is my second time at the event: I had visited the first edition in 2006, when its survival was still uncertain. I was delighted to see that the Festival is now firmly established, taking up all three screens of the emblematic cinema in Kreuzberg, with a 72-page programme, and plenty of media partners and sponsors – including a law firm.
The first film on my list was Europe She Loves (Jan Gassman, 2016), marketed as “Europe on the verge of social and economic change. A close up into the shaken vision of four couples, daily struggles, fights, kids, sex and passion”. Clearly a commentary on the woes of modern Europe, and not your backstreet shop purchase. Sadly the tickets were already sold, and all I could do was watching the eclectic crowd – old, young, hipters, punks, suited and booted types, male, female, gay, straight and everything in between – walk into the film. It’s only Thursday afternoon, and people had shown up in drives to a porn film festival. There’s definitely something very special about it.
So I headed to the cinema’s lounge full with pictures of glowing genitals and a bar serving quiches for just €2,20. I sat down and ate my pastry while contemplating the shiny artwork on wall, and waiting for the queer ultra-progressive Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce to arrive for our scheduled interview. Bruce explained to me that he had a very special relation with Berlin, which he had visited for the first time in 1989 throught his friendship with the film producer Jürgen Brüning – who is also the founder and the director of the Porn Film Festival. I asked Bruce a lot of very dirty questions about libertarian arts in Berlin, conservative politics the UK and what porn role he would give to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – so stay tuned for the full interview next week!
In the afternoon, I took a few hours break to walk around town with my friend Mark in order to visit and photograph sites from the films we love. Berlin is a city in motion. We went to the Europa Center, where Christianne F. used to work and takes drugs – as seen in Christiane F. We Children from Bahnhof Zoo (Uli Edel, 1981) -, the railway bridge where Liza Minelli screamed in Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972), and we even visited the toilet where the characters of Fassbinder’s The Third Generation (1980) delivered an expletive-laden anti-semitic rant. Sadly these facilities were now exclusively for ladies, and so we had to do out snaps from outside. The females probably wouldn’t appreciate if two males walked inside their toilet taking pictures, even if we explained that we were homosexuals doing it in the name of cinema.
Back to Moviementos and the Porn Film Festival: we got tickets to watch the featurette Cursed Be Your Name, Liberty (Vladimir Ceballos, 1994). The director talked to Cuban rockers who had purposely infected themselves with the HIV virus in the early 1990s in order to avoid the military service, police persecution and estigmatisation (!!!). They found it more liberating to be locked up in a sanatorium and to die than to face a deeply conservative and oppressive society. The director had to flee Cuba, and couldn’t return until 2015. This is the kind deeply sobering and thought-provoking film that you will not see anywhere else. A true dirty gem.
Mark and I wrapped up the evening by watching the highly experimental Andy Wahrol To Se Vrati: Boyz (Malga Kubiak, 2016), a very unusual tribute to the American pop artist. There was an impromptu drag queen strip-tease before the film started, while the director was literally jumping and running around in a frenzy as if she has accidentally poured her prescription drugs in her whisky. There was also a dog on which I accidentally stepped. To my surprise, all of the unusual types – including the pooch – starred in the film. This was definitely not your everyday cinema experience.
The movie consisted of a screen split in up to 16 simultaneous images of people being naked, talking about sexuality, arguing or just sitting on a sofa. There were also images of children and of a man on his deathbed. There was no sex at all. In fact, Mark and I had reached end of first day at the Berlin Porn Film Festival without having seen any sexual activity whatsoever. This could change tonight though, as I’m heading there to see a compilation of Brazilian short porn movies entitled Pop Porn (2016). I wonder whether they will have any surprises in store before – or after – the screening!
To be honest, I am not concerned whether I will see penetration on the silver screen tonight. “Porn” here is beyond what most people think. It’s a far more extensive and liberating experience, where all types of people – regardless of genre, age and race – can deep dive into their sexuality, as a reflection of their cultural, social and political views. This is extremely refreshing; you should dive in, too, and don’t be scared of drowning!