A handful of protestors stood outside the inaugural New York City Porn Film Festival on Saturday afternoon handing out (what else but) anti-porn pamphlets. Cops loitered furtively around the entrance. But were the films being shown inside the tiny compound in Bushwick – the ones that had galvanized so many to protect, shield and shame – really porn?

Inside, onscreen, large, glistening phalluses were sucked off, by men, women and monsters. They were also bitten off (in the horror porn program) with comparable gusto. Tila Tequila's sex tape "Backdoored & Squirting" screened, but so did a clip of a man running around naked in the snow with a perfectly cylindrical column of canned cranberry. Miley Cyrus was no where to be found. The atmosphere was decidedly un-sexual and un-sexy. I didn't spy a single exposed (male or female) breast in the crowd.

“I think some people are thinking, 'Why are the cops here?'” one cop told his cop friend. 

NYC Porn Film Fest filled emotional, aesthetic 
holes in porn. Image 1.

Photo: Buster Brown

Conceived by Secret Project Robot in collaboration with Pornhub, the three-day festival's aim was not necessarily to depict sex to arouse, but to allow sex to live comfortably onscreen alongside the quotidian and grotesque, and as the logical companion to emotional intimacy – a subtly revolutionary concept. “Even as sexual experimentation has become a right of passage for most healthy adults, putting sexuality on the silver screen and in the context of high art has remained illusive [sic],” the show guide reads. “The New York City Porn Film Festival puts to rest our personal taboos of sexploitation and celebrates the art of pornography.”

Filmmaker Travis Mathews' ongoing series In Their Room, for example, allows for the natural integration of sex without it becoming the focal point. For the project, Mathews follows (and films) gay men going about a “typical” day in their room. “Sometimes sex happens. But not always,” he explained Sunday night on a panel discussion. 

Commercial porn, by contrast, survives on unambiguity. Sex will happen. It never will not.

Another filmmaker on the same panel as Mathews, Julian Curico, also did not define his work as porn based on the inclusion of sex. “It's about intimacy,” he said of his own work. “I don't always see it as porn, but I don't have a problem if other people see it as porn. It can be powerful to just use 'porn' as a word to describe stuff outside of what's appropriate.”

Curico had been tapped to create an ident for the festival – an all-man splosh fest – that he is now in the process of expanding into a larger project. For the initial filming, Curico pelted three naked men with plain yogurt and captured their reactions, which ranged from erotic to ridiculous. “I want to experiment with different textures of goo,” Curico explained.

The repurposing (or reclaiming) of the word porn to encompass non-masturbatory content could potentially inspire a wider range of filmmakers to experiment with “real sex” in “real film,” but it's unlikely that the aesthetic will ever supplant the demand for the good ol' gooey, raunchy, rose bud-inducing stuff. The two conceptions of porn scratch very different itches.   

The lack of traditional raunch seemed to confuse attendees who were drawn to festival for the same reason the protestors eschewed it: the promise of porn porn. 

A guy wearing sunglasses inside the theatre the entire time (to maintain anonymity) approached me outside. He took off his shades and explained his predicament. A friend had gifted him a weekend pass, imaging a more traditional porn fest. I.e, the kind where penis-in-vagina trumps penis-in-demon-mouth every time. “This was a bit artsy fartsy,” the Queens native said.

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The festival's anti-categorical, anti-commercial programming didn't resonate with everyone, but it offered a refreshing counterpoint the traditional fap material cranked out by Porn Valley.

Which is not to say that the xxx establishment is entirely to blame for its hackneyed, even “safe” content. After covering the adult entertainment for almost two years, I have found that the industry has its hands tied in many ways.

Hyper-scrutinized by conservative critics, producers are afraid of getting nailed for a slew of things, including failing to use condoms in shoots (now technically required by law in L.A. County), being accused of on-set STD transmission, and improperly documenting models' ages. Fear of prosecution and social persecution, coupled with the need to make money, has shaped the type of content that can safely and profitably be produced.

The art world, free of the intense scrutiny and commercial expectations, is uniquely poised to pursue the strange, edgy, emotional, wrong content that Porn Valley no longer can or wants to make.