Porn Film Festival Vienna Featured Image

This article was written for Kapitál magazine. You can read theSlovak version here.

I am sitting in the dark, surrounded by almost a hundred strangers, ready to watch porn on the big screen of a small, independent cinema in the city center of Vienna.

The scenery in any way fits the image that comes to my mind when I think about porn cinemas; instead, there is a full range of people from all genders, ages, education and origins. We are all here to attend the opening of the second edition of the Porn Film Festival Vienna, whose motto for this year is “What is shame?”.

Porn Film Festival Vienna Screening

I must admit that after last year’s “What is porn?”, they couldn’t have chosen a better question. “Shame is closely connected to sexuality. The naked body itself is stilly and politically charged as nothing else”, as Jasmin Hagendorfer, the Creative Director of PFFV told me. And as I am sitting there, I can feel this shame inside of me. I cannot shake the feeling that I am doing publically something that we usually do in the privacy of our homes. And for sure I am not the only one in this room feeling this way; as a quick survey I ran among 265 people assured me, the vast majority of people (89%) watch porn with the intention to masturbate, which is not something you do, or even talk about, in public.

If, as their claim on their website, the goal is to challenge prejudices and stereotypes, they got me from minute one.

The festival opens every year with a selection of short porn movies that give the audience an overview of what PFFV is all about: reflecting “the diversity of contemporary porn productions” and featuring “a wide variety of aesthetics and topics”. As the sponsors’ ads begin, it is made clear that LGBTIQ and feminism are within the core values of the festival. For 80 minutes, I disconnect from the outside world and all I have seen in pornography, starting with the shoot of a man masturbating in time-lapse, struggling to maintain an erection and showing the most vulnerable view of masculinity I’ve seen on screen. This short is followed by surprising, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, always powerful images of people engaging in different kinds of sexual practices. And what catches my attention the most is the absence of penetration, and even money shot, in a lot of those shorts. After two years working in mainstream pornography, the lack of the typical structure in a porn movie is what stimulates me the most. As Tristan Taormino points out in ‘The Feminist Porn Book’ (2012) mainstream porn follows a strict formula for most of the scenes: oral sex, 2 or 3 positions and external cum shot. Sitting here, awaiting to be surprised and challenged is a whole new experience. If, as their claim on their website, the goal is to challenge prejudices and stereotypes, they got me from minute one.

The Porn Film Festival Vienna is something quite new. It started in 2018, when Yavuz Kurtulmus (director of PFFV), after leading Transition International Queer Minorities Film Festival for a few years, saw that the screening of porn shorts was successful and came up with the idea of creating “an own festival focused on sexuality, gender, feminism, and politics viewed through the pornographic lens”. Together with Jasmin Hagendorfer and Gregor Schmidinger, they are the core of the organization team. Maybe one of the most amazing things is that they managed to create the entire festival without public funding, but finding partners, sponsors and using crowdfunding. Even if the PFF around the world are independently organized, they support each other, especially when political pressure and criticism arises. In the case of Vienna, the right-wing party FPÖ filed a complaint. In the case of the festival London PFF, it was feminist organizations who tried to get the festival cancelled, which resulted in change of locations eventually.

Their success and the positive feedback (almost 4,000 people participated in each edition) proves how people are curious about sexuality and in a need of a space where they can talk freely and without being judged about sex, gender, feminism and pornography. A place to discuss how pornography relates to society, but most importantly: a space to watch it outside our comfort zone.

Creating this space is not easy, and their guidelines are clear: respect, behave, don’t assume and keep an open mind. Things like gender-neutral bathrooms, consent and no discrimination of any kind are stated in their program, website and hanging on the venues. I especially enjoyed the one of the stated values of the festival: “an enthusiastic YES is a yes, everything else is a NO”. At the end of the day, this ensures a safe-space for all kinds of genders, ages, body kinds and sexual preferences.

Porn Film Festival Vienna is not only about watching pornography. It is about self-reflection, learning, and challenging yourself.

But Porn Film Festival Vienna is not only about watching pornography. It is about self-reflection, learning, and challenging yourself. Their program includes a variety of films, short movies and documentaries (some of them followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers), as well as workshops, lectures, parties and a bunch of other activities held in more than 10 venues.

Every year, the core team creates “a vision, a thematic outline […], a golden thread and topics” they want to see reflected in the festival. This year they chose shame because for them “it was important to challenge with this question, and to curate films, documentaries, workshops and lectures that deal with this very important theme”, as Jasmin Hagendorfer declared.

With all that information in mind, my next stop is the screening of Political Porn Shorts. To be honest, I don’t know what to expect. It is quite obvious to me that porn is political, at least in the sense that it reflects an important part of the society: its sexuality. But it is difficult for me to imagine how that can be actually portrayed. This turns out to be a journey through unfulfilled fantasies, the owning of our own body, empowerment, preconceptions and prejudices, consent, feminism, consciousness, voyeurism, shame, sexwork and people with disabilities, stereotypes and political domination. Within their array of genres and views, one thing connects those short movies, and it is not sex: It’s the brutal honesty that they show.

Continuing with the program, I move on to the Fem porn shorts, a selection full of diversity and expressions of female lust. The variety of sexual practices is dazzling: pregnancy, tattoos, piercings, body hair, squirt, BDSM… The use of latex gloves and plastic film as a reminder of safe sex and the talks between actors about what they would like or not in the scene is also something divergent from what we are used to seeing in mainstream porn. But what shocks me is how I feel totally mesmerized by the different body shapes, races and genders.

The porn we have easier (and free) access to is the mainstream, heteronormative, white porn.

Let’s face that: we are curious about other bodies and we have a lot of questions when it comes to gender. In the era of the internet, there’s no excuse to not have an idea of how transgender or queer’s bodies might look like, or the million ways of representing sex on screen. But the truth is: most probably we will never search for it. Mainly because the porn we have easier (and free) access to is the mainstream, heteronormative, white porn. But when we are faced directly with feminist, indie or queer porn on the big screen, all the questions begin to be answered, and of course, others arise. Your horizons broad just by watching people having sex. Isn’t that amazing?

I am determined to enjoy the last projection I am attending: ‘It is not the pornographer that is perverse…’, a gay porn movie that promises to “create a furious tour de force through gay subcultures and the madness of our present times”. It is time to challenge myself to see something I would never search on my computer. The movie turns out to be a comedy, and when, in the third segment, the Purple Army Faction kidnaps a heterosexual guy and convinces him to join their cause in an arousing yet totally hilarious way, the girl sitting next to me and I cross sights and start laughing at the same time. Laughing eventually brings me the relief. After all, I’ve been watching porn for the last three days.

The festival ends with a party, and while enjoying a deserved cold beer, I surprise myself already looking forward to the next year’s question and its answer. It is made clear to me that, as Jasmin Hagendorfer says, “creating a Porn Film Festival is a VERY political act”. The next PFFV is in April 2020.

So let’s make politics! Let’s watch porn, and talk about it!

For more info: Check PFFV websiteand follow them on Instagram or Facebook

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