Smut: We love it. It entertains and excites us. Can it also unite us? Can it be (dare we say) utopian?
If you’ve been to Dan Savage’s HUMP! festival, you’ve already experienced the weird, awkward jollity of sitting in an auditorium with total strangers while watching other strangers fuck on the big screen. Whereas HUMP! leans more toward the participation of nonprofessionals, the new quarterly skin-flick series Pr0n 4 Freakz, opening December 8 at the Northwest Film Forum, is explicit about its connection to professional sex work and performance.
“For ScumTrust, facilitating folks watching porn in public is a step toward demystifying and destigmatizing erotic art and sex work,” write filmmakers/performers/series curators Saira Barbaric and Alistair Fyrn. “We give our audience space to interact with erotic art outside of galleries and porn outside of bedrooms.”
Barbaric and Fyrn (with Isha Ali) make up ScumTrust Productions, which selected the films and made Revelations of the Beast and Uiara: River Monster, two movies that will be screened on Saturday. All the entries in Pr0n 4 Freakz were created by queer artists of color and their allies, with scenarios that range from (in their words) “surreal” to “voyeuristic.”
As porn and erotic art are scrubbed from sites like Tumblr and sex workers struggle to stay safe after SESTA/FOSTA’s shutdown of Backpage and Craigslist personals, it might seem radical to host explicit films at the neighbourhood art house cinema. But for the new director, Vivian Hua, Pr0n 4 Freakz jibes with the Forum’s mission. In an email, she explains, “We could certainly show the same tried-and-true boring vanilla stuff, and we do, certainly, though on increasingly rare occasions. But what gets us excited is stuff that actually explores new terrain. I don't know if I've ever seen work like ScumTrust's before, and certainly not on a big screen.”
Hua and ScumTrust’s producers believe that the screening of diverse, consent-centric porn, while good in itself, can have an influence beyond the theater. Barbaric and Fyrn: “Sex, kink and sexuality are fluctuating, growing parts of identity, and ScumTrust wants to foster folks to feel comfortable exploring […] Like all media, porn has the ability to aid its audience in imagining a different society.” Hua: “I've learned that the lack of orgasms can often be tied to repressed sexuality and an unwillingness to express one's needs to a partner, for instance—and I certainly see that same kind of shame and quiet around porn. I think watching or making porn that is authentic to your own tastes, and then being open about the fact that you enjoy it, is really a crucial thing.”
So what can you expect to see at the first Pr0n 4 Freakz? In addition to Barbaric and Fyrn’s movies, which feature characters like a lustful mermaid, a professor, and hot park rangers, there’ll be Shine Louise Houston’s Lyric Seal + Vai Do CrashPad, from the eponymous San Francisco-based website. Viewers can stay after the screenings for a panel with the performers and filmmakers.
Times aren’t easy for those who make their living in sex work and porn, particularly for those trans people and QTPOC who are already marginalized. Inviting erotic filmmakers into a “standard” art theater won’t change that immediately, but it represents an angle of attack against stigma. Want to envision a better world? Find it onscreen, amidst the spanked butts and tortured tits.