Posted at 11:09 on 10 Mar 2017 by Pandora / Blake
I'm writing this blogpost on my way back from Switzerland, where I've been staying in Lausanne for five days for La Fete du Slip. Apparently it's the biggest festival of its kind in Europe after the Porn Film Festival Berlin - I'm told that six thousand people attended this year. It was my first time there. I was invited to accompany the screening of my film Please May I Come, Mistress, and they kindly offered some help with expenses which made it possible. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet members of our extended international porn family, discover hot new films, and visit Switzerland for the first time.
I’m always curious to visit new places. Lausanne is a small town on the Swiss bank of Lake Geneva, with the French Alps decorating the horizon. It’s hilly, each incline a hidden third dimension invisible on Google maps, but quickly discovered puffing up and down cobbled streets, or trying to work out a way between different levels of roads and bridges on foot. The central streets are paved and tidy, with restaurants, little shops and all the other trappings of a wealthy town. Other areas - like Arsenic, the venue hosting the porn film screenings - are more like the cities I’m used to, with large concrete infrascructure, graffiti and somewhat more urban decay. Even by London standards it's very expensive. Food and drink costs over twice what I expected, and I still hadn't got used to it by the time I left.
I grew to appreciate the more hidden aspects of Swiss culture as I learned more about La Fete du Slip. For instance, the multiple venues - seven in total - which welcomed us and our very explicit films, artworks and performances; indicative of a welcoming alternative subculture. The city itself is increasingly supportive of the festival, which for the first time this year was helped by public funding. It's a remarkable achievement for a porn film festival to cultivate the trust and respect of bureaucratic officialdom. I'm delighted that the hard work and love that has been invested into La Fete du Slip is paying off, and that their hometown is making them feel welcome. It makes me feel encouraged: even as the UK is creeping towards increased prudishness and censorship, other nearby countries are opening their minds, and not only tolerating but actively nurturing events like this.
La Fete du Slip aims to raise awareness and acceptance of gender, sexuality and sexual expression in all its glorious variety; to educate, inspire, and reduce shame and ignorance around sex. I liked it a lot. The organisers are all unpaid volunteers, who pour their hearts and souls into the festival and work ridiculously hard to make it as good as it can be. Despite the large number of people who attended, it somehow retains a small family feel, perhaps because of how much the team care.
There was so much going on I barely got to see half of it. Out of the seven venues, the only ones I visited were Arsenic, where the porn was screened, and Le Bourg, the bar that hosted a few screenings, evening parties and the closing awards ceremony. Perhaps another year I'll make it to some of the other festival spaces to check out the art exhibitions, workshops and dance performances, all of which I heard good things about.
The porn screenings are divided into three short film programmes: Porn Competition 1, Porn Competition 2, and Slip D'Or. Films in all three programmes are eligible for the Audience Award, which is decided democratically - audience members are each handed a voting slip and a pencil on their way in to a screening. The grand prize of the Slip D'Or, or "Golden Panties", is selected by a panel of judges. I appreciated that each programme was repeated enough times that it was possible to see all of them, so you didn’t have to miss out. I didn’t quite manage a full house of porn screenings, as I had to attend Porn Competition 2 (in which my film was screened) more than once to do the Q&A. But I still managed to see all three of the competition programmes, and two additional documentaries.
Inbetween, the days felt absurdly full - what with attending the Q&As for my screenings, giving interviews to journalists and researchers, networking with other porn professionals, and hanging out with friends.
I was sharing an airbnb with Parker Marx, and it was a harmonious flatshare; we both tended to want to do admin and exercise in the mornings, and we were both up for self-catering rather than spending a fortune eating out. We even managed to host a dinner party with Vex Ashley and Carmina (camgirl and writer for French porn culture magazine Le Tag Parfait) which was very lovely. And it was great to catch up with Gala Vanting during the brief moments when she wasn't occupied with her duty as a judge, as last year's winner of the Slip D'Or.
It was very satisfying to be able to actually see most of the things I cared about - and it meant that by the time the closing awards ceremony came around I'd actually watched all the winning films. Here are the films that were recognised at La Fete du Slip 2017:
Audience Award - Red Shift by Four Chambers
I was delighted when I heard that this film had won the Audience Award, even though it meant mine hadn't. In fact I voted for Red Shift myself. It's a dreamlike, evocative drive through LA at night, the streetlights shifting in a rhythm of colour and shadow that plays over Vex Ashley and Mickey Mod as they fuck in the back seat. The lights seem neverending, and time moves in strange loops within the dark sanctuary of the steadily moving car. Sometimes Vex is alone, and sometimes they are together. Is she dreaming this, or remembering?
Vex and Mickey have amazing chemistry, and the sex is hot, with artful shots both skillfully captured within the interior of the moving car, and filmed voyeuristically through the windows while it's parked. The windows and car body provide enough obfuscation to lend the film the teasing, implied aesthetic that is the Four Chambers trademark, but without feeling disengaged. Inside the hot, closed space of the car the shots feel intimate and personal.
I loved the shot of Vex going down on Mickey, where the column of the car window blocks everything except the back of her head, dimly glimpsed, and his face, lips parted. Most of all when I see blowjobs in porn, I am interested in seeing the face of the person receiving it. I’m not interest in a disembodied cock - I want to see expressions of pleasure. There are also some tantalising glimpses of Vex's slippery pussy, and her hands clawing at the steamed up windows as Mickey fucks her. Relatable, beautiful and hot, this is a film I will show my boyfriend, and it thoroughly deserved to win.
Special Mention - Sauce Andalouse by Mathias Antonietti
The first Swiss film to be submitted to La Fete du Slip, this short animation was the first film I saw of the festival, and it set the bar high. A surreal clay figure animation, it starts off lightly amusing and quickly becomes disturbing and dark. I loved every minute. Finely crafted visual humour that needs no translation, wildly creative, and deeply satisfying. Whether or not the intention of the filmmaker was to recreate the myth of Eros and Thanatos (as the judges chose to interpret it) this is a fabulous example of an under-represented medium in porn. I would love to see more animation - it gives scope to far more extreme, fantastical and ambitious narratives than when working with live performers.
Special Mention - Blue Room by Goodyn Green
Blue Room stars Mad Kate and Jiz Lee in a vigorous, naturalistic take on the dyke porn genre. Goodyn Green is known for shooting ethical queer porn with a sunlit aesthetic and beautiful, intimate cinematography. Some of her other work leaves me a bit cold - however gorgeous the visuals, I find my attention wandering during long, slow, dreamy sequences of sensual touch, and generally want something a bit more story-driven. But Blue Room is more tightly, thoughtfully edited, and I found it the most watchable - and horny - of her films I’ve seen.
It features highly relatable genderqueer sex, with lots of laughter and joy between Kate and Jiz, who take turns giving each other pleasure. There’s improvised safer sex - not the “we planned this” feel of dental dams and gloves that you get in a lot of queer porn, but the more spur-of-the-moment technique of using condoms as barriers for manual and oral sex, which gives it a believable, spontaneous feel. Both performers give pleasure, and surrender to it, with exquisite abandon, and a sense of genuine connection and chemistry. I felt very seen by this film. This is the sort of queer sex I have in my personal life, and it’s lovely to see it represented in porn.
Slip D’or - Birth by Lilith Luxe
Birth managed to do that rare thing at a porn film festival: show me something unlike anything I had seen before. The first I heard about it was a tweet from Vex Ashley, which prepared me, to some extent, for the fact that it would be harrowing viewing. It was a challenging watch both times I saw it - during the Slip D’or screening, and again after it won the top prize. But each time, I got something different out of it, and I suspect additional viewings would reveal further complexity. Birth is an exploration of shadow self that tackles the shame of infertility. It’s a documentary about womanhood, identity, and sexuality. It’s a hot BDSM scene. It has so many dimensions it’s hard to express how richly layered, how laden with meaning this film is without unpacking every detail and spoilering it for its public release.
Lilith Luxe is a porn performer who has worked with Kink.com amongst others, and who found out a couple of years ago that she couldn’t have children. She conceived the idea for this film as a way to express some of her feelings around that unwanted reality, and perhaps achieve some emotional catharsis in the process. It uses an unusual and compelling combination of mismatched video and audio. The visuals are a single, uninterrupted long take of a BDSM scene, which incorporates face and body slapping, humiliation, domination and fisting, and culminating in gut-wrenching screaming and crying from Lilith. The set is monochrome, surreally swathed in plastic sheeting, Lilith’s naked body emerging from the stark backdrop with the warm, touchable tones of an oil painting. Over this, we hear Lilith and her top, Jesse James, exploring her feelings about her infertility in a raw, intimate, almost whispered interview, every breath audible in the mic. The tone of voice is gentle, but what is said is anything but. Jesse reflects Lilith’s shame back to her, validating all her worst feelings about being barren. Hearing Lilith express her darkest thoughts about her body is hard, but hearing Jesse reinforce and contribute to that darkness is hardest of all. Played over the video of him beating her, it's very hard to watch.
There’s no reprieve at the end, no happy behind the scenes shot to break the tension. This film raised so many questions for me. Did the process of making it, and screening it, help Lilith sit with her dark feelings about being infertile, and perhaps start to move on? To what extent did she direct the audio interview - was Jesse briefed to verbally abuse her, and did she tell him what to say? Has emotional masochism been a theme of Lilith’s BDSM play before? Was this scene hot for her, or did the consensual sexual violence have another purpose than arousal?
Birth is simultaneously a porno that tells a story about identity and shame, and a documentary that uses porn as an emotional device. The first time I watched it, my response was primarily emotional. The second time I watched it, the disturbing voiceover and concept took up less of my attention, and I was free to focus on the visuals and, yes, find the kink scene hot. Emotionality and physicality are juxtaposed in a way that both complicates and enhances the effect of each. This is a film that defies genre. I’d hesitate to recommend it as a porno, except to those who enjoy the very darkest scenarios. But as a cinema experience, it is affecting, compelling, thought-provoking and deeply worthwhile - and a thoroughly deserving winner of the Slip D’Or.