Not your typical porno vignette, but Cory Wees' "Morphina" took top honors at the inaugural Good Vibrations' Amateur Erotic Film Competition, shown Oct. 26 to a packed house at the landmark Castro Theatre in San Francisco. "I have a dark side like, I suppose, everybody does," says Wees, a film student/ESL teacher, "and here I am exposing it in front of hundreds of people. I think everyone should have a chance to do such a thing."
He and six other entrants submitted film shorts ranging in subject matter and style from masturbation to female ejaculation and from comedy to varied visual effects. Unlike the usual take on "amateur porn," the films were not merely home videos of folks having sex but serious attempts at erotic cinema.
"Fuck I Wanna Fuck," a mockumentary about a pair of swinging hipsters, showed the most professional polish among the entrants by using two cameras and skilled editing. After taking the second place award that night, its producer-director Max Power is anxious to bring something new to the world of adult movies. He has been in contact with alt-darlings Eon McKai and Joanna Angel and looks forward to producing more films.
"This is what I was born to do," he says. "Nothing against any of the industry that's down in Los Angeles, but I just think that there's so much more room for growth. If they just deviate from the traditional way of making it, we could have fun like it was in the 1970s."
Joy King, director of special events for Wicked Pictures, was on the judging panel for the film festival, which was co-sponsored by Wicked, and she echoes Power's enthusiasm.
"It's really refreshing because I work in a business where I read scripts, I approve movies and after awhile, there's only so many ways to present the same basic scenario," she explains. "It was really nice to see the ingenuity and the different ways people were able to bring eroticism to the screen."
The Good Vibrations competition is unique for offering amateur erotic filmmakers a chance to see their work in a theatrical venue, projected on the big screen — an experience that many professional porners have never had since adult theatres were swept away by the flood of VCRs, DVDs and the Internet's small-screen popularity.
The competition also joins a list of erotic cinema festivals hosted at movie houses across the United States and internationally — from the Victoria Erotica Festival, scheduled for May 4-6 and held in Victoria, B.C., to New York's CineKink Film Festival, which claims to celebrate "wide diversity of alternative sexuality," including BDSM, leather and fetish, swinging, non-monogamy, poly-amory and gender-bending.
This year's fourth annual CineKink, held from Oct. 17- 22, awarded top honors to Adam&Eve's "O: The Power of Submission," starring Carmen Luvana, Kylie Ireland, Shayla Laveaux, Justine Joli, Adrianna Nicole, Evan Stone and Tommy Gunn. A CineKink award also went to "The Notorious Bettie Page," the mainstream biopic starring Gretchen Mol and directed by Mary Harron ("American Psycho"). The 2007 CineKink Film Festival currently is scheduled for Oct. 16-21, and opens for submissions in March.
With the growing popularity of festivals and competitions showcasing erotic films, Good Vibrations' president Theresa Sparks hopes to take the Amateur Erotic Film Competition to other U.S. cities, as well as producing a compilation of the entries on DVD and for download from the company's retail website.
"We're looking at the East Coast," says Sparks, "and then possibly Los Angeles in the near future."
Selections from CineKink's festival will hit the road in January for a cross-country tour that will include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Chicago.
In fact, October 2006 turned out to be a huge month for adult cinema all over the world. In addition to the Good Vibrations and CineKink film festivals, sexually explicit films received international exposure at two prestigious European erotic events.
The Barcelona International Film Festival, held Oct. 4-8, recognized several American adult personalities for their work. Gina Lynn was voted Best Actress by the public, while Tom Byron took the award for Best Actor. A Special Jury Award was presented to Thomas Zupko, and a Lifetime Achievement Award was given to classic star Nina Hartley. Film retrospectives honoring Silvia Saint and John Leslie also were shown, along with many examples of adult filmmaking from professional and independent producer-directors.
In Germany, at the inaugural Porn Film Festival Berlin, held Oct. 18-25 and coinciding with the 10th Venus Erotic Exhibition, a full schedule of films were shown in movie houses across the city, spanning a week of additional seminars, programs and special events. Alt.porn director-producer Eon McKai's work was featured with a night of screenings at the Kant Kino art-house theater in Berlin's Charlottenburg district, including "East Side Story," "The Rebelle Rousers," "Skater Girls" and "DeArmond Does the Internet."
Capitalizing on film festival or midnight movie formats, is it far-fetched to consider the possibility of sexually explicit films being produced for theatrical release?
Can the X-rated industry step up to a new level requiring acting skills, plot lines and higher production values?
Or will Hollywood, plagued by declining theater attendance and lower revenue, beat the adult industry at its own game by exploiting sex as the last temptation for mainstream audiences?
"In a way, pornography has already made it into the mainstream movies," says Michael Höfner, media spokesman for Porn Film Festival Berlin. He cites the recent release of John Cameron Mitchell's explicit drama "Shortbus," and British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's experimental "9 Songs."
"Today," adds Höfner, "porn is chic."