Feminist Director Erika Lust Challenges Porn's Status Quo

LOS ANGELES — While attending university in Sweden, indie director Erika Lust was not happy with the porn she saw being made. She said women didn’t look real, and they didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves.

“We’re modern women. Not slutty Sharons, horny teens, desperate housewives, hot nurses, and nymphomaniac hookers, always looking to service pimps, multimillionaires or macho sex machines. Not always looking to please rather than be pleased. I wanted to know: where was my lifestyle, my values, my sexuality?,” she asked.

And then she decided to try and change things.

Although the label “feminist porn” is commonly bandied about and attached to movies not necessarily true to the term, along with those simply trying to exploit the burgeoning “couples’” market, Lust for the last decade has produced and directed films that she hopes challenges the adult industry to rethink how it presents sexuality and eroticism.

“The first time I saw a porn film, I had the same reaction that many women have — while I was aroused by some of the images, for the most part I found it unsatisfying. The audio visual quality was awful. I didn’t identify with anything that I saw," Lust says on her website.

That sparked her new career that's helped place her should-to-shoulder within the top echelon of feminsit porn creators.  And to further her efforts to create a new brand of adult content, Lust has transcended directing and has created a unique website — XConfessions.com — that solicits amateur ideas that she then turns into movies.

XBIZ sat down with the award-winning filmmaker to pick her brain about her work and the still growing, albeit amorphous “feminist porn” genre that regardless of its true definition is helping to shape the adult industry in the 21st century.

XBIZ: Briefly tell us how you entered the adult industry?

Lust: First came “The Good Girl” in 2004 when I had to create a final short for the film direction course I was doing in Barcelona. A humorous statement of principles based on the classic "pizza guy" porn. Having grew up in Sweden, I was well aware of the conversation about feminism and pornography and my education was in Political Sciences and Sexuality. Naturally, I had been involved in debates about the representation of women and the power struggle in movies. I had always been disappointed by the mainstream porn I watched. So I thought "why don't I make the kind of porn movie I want to watch?" and I said to myself "Let's make a porno, but make it different …let's make an Indie film."

The film was released online for free and downloaded more than 2 million times within a few months and we received winning the prize for best short film at the International Erotic Film Festival in Barcelona. That's when I decided to start my own production company, Lust Films. I realized that I could represent women's values in porn and finally give them a voice.

XBIZ: Which directors inspired you?

Lust: There are many directors from the Golden Age of “Chic Porn” that I found really influential. Directors like Gerard Damiano, Just Jaeckin, Bud Towsend, and my native Swedish Flossie and The Keyhole, among others. Movies like “Deep Throat” (Damiano), “Alice in Wonderland “(Towsend), and “Autobiography of a Flea,” which was directed by a woman, are some of the titles that I admire and can list as points of reference.

XBIZ: What are your major accomplishments to date?

Lust: Awards and profits aside I think that I have managed to raise awareness on certain topics that were obscured by this male dominated industry. These topics being sex education through explicit erotic movies and the need for more women to get involved in the filmmaking process. It also feels heartwarming to see my company grow in a such a men lead business.

I found it extremely rewarding when people buy my films or I get a good review, because this means that there are people out there who understand my point of view, that like what I do and that they're willing to participate. That's why I started my latest project XConfessions, which is an online community where users share their most intimate and kinkiest confessions and fantasies. Every month I pick two and turn them into erotic short films. The success of this project is without a doubt one of my major accomplishments.

XBIZ: What makes your brand of feminist porn different from the number of other new directors in this genre?

Lust: I think many people mistake soft porn for feminist porn. My films are completely explicit; they don't self-censor to appeal to certain audiences. We show feminist values and female sexuality, this means explicit sex that creates an erotic atmosphere. We make what we want to watch.

Another element of my work that I think sets it apart is, that it is made with extreme attention to detail and quality. I want my stories to feel real, my actor to be relatable and the image quality to be top notch. This is achieved with a lot of hard work into set design and production. I ran by the motto: "let's keep the sex dirty and the values clean.” So, I do make awesome explicit movies, but mainly I make awesome movies. Period.

XBIZ: How do you define feminist porn?

Lust: I would say a porn film is feminist when it manages to show feminist values. That means to portray a fair and modern image of women; this includes our real sexuality and desires. It is the porn I want to have, not just some mainstream male porn that uses the same clichés. In my movies, women don't prevail over men, they're equals. Real people, in real situations exploring their sexuality to find pleasure. The feminist in my indie is the way it's produced, with a production crew of mostly women, thus we have a female point of view. We show what we would like to see, what would speak to us and arouse us. But we're not meant strictly for women, we reach to a modern, cultured and educated audience, that like me, are inclusive.

XBIZ: A number of companies that have been labeled as being run by men who don’t know what women want are now producing couples’ and women’s porn.  Do you think this is a bellwether for the industry?

Lust: I think that the change in porn is inevitable; these changes in the policy by these companies are the result of women raising their voices and demanding more from the industry. Nevertheless I think that these companies are not doing enough, if the industry really wants to satisfy women they need to leave the door open for them to write, produce and direct more adult films.

XBIZ: Tell us more about XConfessions

Lust: XConfessions is an on going crowdsourced project in which fans submit their fantasies anonymously online and each month I take two of them and turn them into cinematic short films. We have already released three volumes containing all short stories and we are about to release Volume 4. [The teaser can be seen here].

This concept has proven quite successful amongst fans because it feels real and makes the viewer take an active role in the filmmaking process. It's an exciting project that has had a tremendous success so far. We're really revolutionizing the way the adult genre is made and I think this marks a new starting point for my career in this industry.

XBIZ: Do you use the people who submit their confessions in your films?

Lust: That happened in the short film “Let's Make A Porno,” where the fantasy from this couple was to be in a porn film. So we made the short and made their fantasy come to life. Usually the submissions are anonymous.

XBIZ: How does it differ from other amateur porn submission sites?

Lust: You can see the dismal difference in the end product of some other films. The films for the XConfessions Project are made with cinematic eye. In most of the amateur/mainstream porn films there are only two guys behind camera. In Lust films we have more than 15. This is to assure a professional film look to our productions. As I said, I treat my films as cinematographic pieces, not as mainstream porn.

XBIZ: What in your estimation is the future of porn films?

Lust: A change is coming and we women have to be a part of the revolution. As it has happened with other forms of art, the portrait of women has to be modernized. We need to have better porn in the future that's fair to women. As far as I'm concerned, I'm involved in the indie movement of erotica, bringing back the artsy films of the ‘70's and reviving the sex-positive revolution.