Porn Film Festival Berlin 2016

Posted at 11:17 on 21 Nov 2016 by Pandora Blake

Tags: Ms Naughty, porn, Porn Film Festival Berlin, porn screenings, queer porn

This year I took the train again to the Berlin Porn Film Festival, a habit I began last year and which I mean to continue. It's a ten or eleven hour journey across northern Europe, and I vastly prefer it to flying: I like the armchairs and reclining seats of the Eurostar and high speed ICE trains, with hot coffee brought to your seat, and fast, free wifi which is unconstrained by the adult content filters now ubiquitous in the UK. I like not having to do airport security, or waiting at boarding gates. For ten hours it's just me, my laptop and my books, as the autumn fields and grey skies of Belgium and Germany whip past at nearly two hundred kilometres an hour.

That space and time to reflect has become a necessary ritual for me before the film festival, which is so crammed with social and sensory overstimulation. The linear, methodical journey by train feels more like a pilgrimage than the stop-and-start process of air travel; there's something satisfyingly complete about watching the horizon blur by. And at journey's end, I find belonging, acceptance. Here is the community queer pornographers lack the rest of the year, dotted around the globe as we are, turning Twitter into our shared office. Here, I'm neither shocking nor extreme. Sometimes I struggle with the unspoken suspicion that I choose this life because some part of me is attracted to rebellion, to the feeling of being outrageous; but when being among my people brings me such happiness, that suspicion is silenced.

This was my third year at the festival. Some part of that powerful sense of belonging was born last year, when I was awarded First Prize in the Short Film Competition for Houseboy, my BDSM romance about the teething pains of a queer poly household. That recognition, coming at a time when this film - along with the rest of my website Dreams of Spanking - had been outlawed by the UK government as too extreme to be tolerated, kept me afloat during my legal struggles. It also explains why I feel more at home in Berlin, at least for the week of the Porn Film Festival, than I do in the UK, which seems determined to criminalise my sexuality and my self expression. True, Germany already has mandatory age verification for online porn - a spectre currently looming over the UK - but at least they don't place prudish limits on the activities consenting adults can watch or film.

In the three years I've been going (the festival is now in its eleventh year) the PFF has changed, and so have I. In 2014 I went alone, knowing almost no-one; I'd made some tentative connections at the Feminist Porn Awards, but not many of those faces were in Berlin. Really I only went because Ms Naughty, whom I'd met and filmed with at the FPA, had submitted our collaboration and it was being screened. I hadn't yet managed to edit a festival screener of anything myself; although I knew enough to know that any of the films on Dreams of Spanking  would need to be ruthlessly shortened before I could stomach showing them on the big screen. 

The festival organisers are keen for performers to come to the screenings to answer questions after the film, and in my first year they generously offered to organise crash space to make it more affordable. So I found myself staying in a household of queer Berliners, festival veterans, only one of whom spoke English; I slept on their capacious sofa, and spent almost no time at the house. This was before my troubles with ATVOD, and before I stopped drinking. I immersed myself in porn during the day and stayed out late every night. 

Even three years ago, the festival was noticably smaller. I remember coming out of screenings and finding familiar faces in the Moviemento lounge; filmmakers and performers would hang out there throughout the day, and I was introduced to many of the people I now consider friends. Filmmakers working on laptops, scrambling to update websites. Journalists and documentary makers asking us for interviews. I was grateful to be included in lunches and coffees with porn makers from America, Australia and Europe. My film with Ms Naughty garnered compliments. I felt accepted.

Since then, the festival has swelled until it threatens to burst its banks. This year another screen was added down the road, and that too was full to capacity, with people standing at the bank every time I went. The Moviemento was intolerably crowded. Before each screening there would be columns of people standing in line, waiting to be allowed into the cinema. They were so oversubscribed that even with a ticket, you had to arrive early to be sure of getting in. Then previous screening would end, and there would be a hideous crush as two crowds tried to move against each other at the same time - made worse by a third stream of people trying to cross to another screening, or queueing at the counter for tickets. The wall to wall press of people obliterated any possibility of doing something so peaceful as sitting at the tables with a coffee. Wrapped up in jumper, coat and scarf I Would swelter as I waited in line, feeling sometimes unable to breathe, never mind engage in conversation.

So apart from the bare minimum necessary to obtain tickets and get into screenings, this year few of us socialised at the cinema. Instead, we made plans by text or direct messages to meet in restaurants or cafes; but without that central melting pot of the Moviemento lounge, there was no space to run into people serendipitously. I empathised with those who were new to the festival this year, who had no idea where people were meeting. I tried to include those I knew about, but it was noticeable that this year's social occasions were smaller, with fewer new faces. I fear that the clique of pornographers clique has become inaccessible, and for that reason alone, I think the Porn Film Festival should move on from the Moviemento.

I understand the attachment that keeps them hanging on - the acceptance, tolerance and courage of the Moviemento is what made the festival possible - but all the love of the community doesn't make the space big enough. It's time to accept that the festival has outgrown its roots.

There's no doubt that the growing popularity of the PFF is something to be celebrated. More people curious about watching cutting-edge, queer, radical porn is exactly what we need. I've long felt that if anti-porn campaigners would only sit down and watch some porn - not stuff on tube sites, but some interesting, indie, arty, political porn - it would complicate everything for them. Here is the messiness of the human condition in all its natural, unairbrushed beauty: the drama of relationships and intimacy; the politics of bodies, identity and pleasure. 

Still, the competition for seats was stressful. The festival generously gives filmmakers whose work is screened a free pass for the week; we can watch any screening we like without paying a penny. The catch is that we have to reserve a spot in advance, and we can only do so the day before. By the time I got to the cinema each morning to reserve my tickets for the following day, I found many, many screenings had already sold out to people buying tickets online. I heard several stories of filmmakers not being able to get into their own screenings. What struck me as a kind of charming manufactured scarcity two years ago, enough to generate a sense of urgency and excitement, now feels grossly insufficient. I hauled myself out of bed  after a meagre few hours sleep and hot-footed it to the cinema as soon as it opened, in hopes of getting near the front of the morning queue.

But it was worth it. This year (the same thing we do every year, Pinkie) I have grand intentions to post reviews of the porn I saw; we'll see if I actually manage it. For now, I want to ignore specifics and talk in a more general sense about the experience of surrounding myself with the best and most current indie, queer, and feminist porn the world has to offer. It's inspiring, exciting, affirming and validating. Facing an apparent onslaught of criminalisation this year, I've found myself wondering if after a decade in porn, it's reaching the time for me to retire. But two days into the Berlin Porn Film Festival I opened my notebook and filled five pages with porn ideas; a glorious muddle of cinematic dreams for the future, and determination to finish the work I've started.

I went into the festival tired. This year I knew it, and I took care of myself; a routine of sobriety, as much sleep as reasonably possible, and honouring my inner introvert. It's impossible to do the Porn Film Festival without getting overpeopled - the social frenzy is part of the experience - but I did my best to limit the damage. I stayed in a peaceful, private apartment ten minutes walk from the cinema, and went back to it twice a day to recharge. I was sharing with Tai Crimson, and we had an introvert's pact to interact as little as possible when we were both there, for which I'm incredibly grateful. Still, it was nice to enjoy some social time with her too here and there around the films, and particularly on Sunday - my first real day off in about a month - having brunch at a hip Israeli cafe and record store, and chilling out at Liquidrom, the glossy spa with the musical saltwater pool like a giant, domed sensory deprivation tank.

I saw more films than I did last year, and socialised a little less. But I made it out to the Saturday night party, and threw myself into dancing, talking, chatting up performers I'd like to hire, and making new Berlin connections.

I left, as I always do, feeling recharged and depleted in different ways; and loving porn, my queer community, and Berlin a little more. The week after I took a much-needed real holiday, a week in the sun with D - the sort of holiday with lie-ins and sunbathing and reading books, far removed than the hectic porn film festival, constantly dashing from one commitment to the next and never having space to breathe. I'm giving all my newfound pornspiration a bit of time to shake down, and I'll see where the pieces settle. Increasing criminalisation, financial discrimination and online ghettoisation make a porn career a game with a heavily stacked deck, and I fear that in the end, the house will inevitably win. But the beautiful, horny, edgy, innovative, hilarious, moving and above all stimulating films I watched in Berlin have once again reminded me why, despite all the hurdles, this is something I want to do.

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