The Berlin Porn Festival: Alternative Smut for the Silver Screen

By Alex Bakst

Ever get the feeling that traditional hardcore is just plain boring? Then alt porn may be the genre for you. Goths, punks and skaters have emerged out of the Internet and into the cinema in Berlin's first ever porn film festival.

It's 10 p.m. on a Thursday, and at first glance there is nothing unusual about the scene on Kantstrasse 54 in Berlin's Charlottenburg district. A group of young Americans stands outside the Kant Kino, an art-house cinema just around the corner from a busy shopping area. One girl has a pierced eyebrow, another sports a purple Mohawk. A mother passes by pushing her baby carriage.

A normal Thursday night. Except for what comes next. The audience inside the cinema has gathered to watch the two girls' latest work on the silver screen -- feature-length, down-and-dirty, hardcore pornography.

This is Vivid-Alt porn night at Berlin's First Porn Film Festival. Eon McKai and his motley crew of directors and actresses -- his "girls" -- are here to show off their talents. McKai, a California film school graduate and avowed Internet geek, has come to Berlin as the poster boy of alternative pornography -- a new-century genre for all those who find mainstream porn passé.

Goths, punks and skaters

The emphasis is on subcultures. If you've ever wanted to see pierced Goths, tattooed punks or street-smart skaters get it on, alt porn is for you. After all, the silicon-enhanced Jenna Jameson aesthetic that is so typical of conventional smut has become stale -- at least in the minds of alt porn producers. "Everything is so formulaic and contrived now," says Eon McKai, who has been producing XXX rated movies since he graduated from the California Institute of the Arts in 2004.

Jürgen Brüning, organizer of the first-ever PORNfilmfestivalBERLIN -- which started on Wednesday and runs through the weekend -- echoed this inherent distrust of "the industry" in a speech to an opening-night audience during a screening of I.K.U., a cyberpunk porn directed by Shu Lea Cheang that has greatly influenced the alt porn scene. "We are required to show you this commercial trailer for contractual reasons," Brüning apologized before showing a commercial for his main sponsor, Blue Movie. "At least it will be interesting to compare alternative porn with the industry and its stereotypical representation of women."

Indeed, alt porn -- which had its birth on the Internet -- seems eager to revolutionize the sex genre. Indie porn productions are generally considered to be more woman-friendly, and various alt porn Web sites have documented large amounts of female subscribers -- sometimes as much as 40 percent, unheard of for a standard smut site. Cheang herself aims at a higher goal: She says she doesn't make her movies for masturbation; she makes them "for collective orgasm."

The genre got its start with GothicSluts.com in 1999, and received a boost with the creation of the softcore indie porn platform SuicideGirls.com in 2001, a site which now gets some 1 million hits per day. Almost universal broadband access and social networking sites like MySpace have only accelerated enlargement. "There is this new kind of Internet celebrity," McKai told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "and because MySpace is a casual forum, it's a great channel" for the kind of content that the young filmmaker produces.

Indeed, McKai argues that alt porn is currently experiencing a Web-based revival.

Porn will always be porn

Despite alt porn films' higher production values and inclusion of an actual story line, most of the alt films on display at Berlin's Porn Film Festival remain true to their explicit roots. It's still porn after all, and most of the sex scenes follow the same logic as conventional porn flicks: first foreplay, then intercourse (in its many variations), then orgasm -- fade to black.

And, no matter how embracing Berlin might be of subcultures -- not only did Berlin invent the Love Parade, but Mayor Klaus Wowereit even wrote an official welcome for a leather and fetish festival last year -- seeing porn in the cinema caught some off guard. "It's not exactly something you're used to seeing in Europe, but it wasn't really so bad," one visitor said. Another said that she was "a little overwhelmed" at the end of the day.

With porn stars present, though, it was also a time to learn a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Lukas P., who was also in the audience, said "it was cool to see that porn stars are also just people." Indeed, having just witnessed the 20-year-old Charlotte Stokely perform on the big screen, seeing her fully dressed comes as something of a shock. She's polite enough to stay in character though. "A lot of the stuff we do on camera, I also do with my boyfriend," she explains, before including a number of salacious details.

Given the over-abundance of conventional pornography on the market, alt porn fills an important niche -- those bored by hum-drum humping -- in the porn industry. As such, it should come as no surprise that the big labels also regard it as a highly profitable enterprise. Indeed, some of the movement's more ambitious players are willing to walk that fine line between commercial profitability and loyalty to the hard alternative core.

Eon McKai is one of those people. "We're big sell-outs," he told the audience on Thursday night, "because we get paid to make smut films." When he made first contact with Vivid in 2004, McKai says he thought he was dealing with "the biggest, lamest label" ever. Seven meetings later, the corporate giant put the young producer in charge of his own imprint, Vivid-Alt. College loans, he confides, were coming due.

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from Under the Scope section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2006
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: Porn with an Alternative Twist

European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

One Million Erasmus Babies

ASEM Summit Paralyses Milan


Facebook
Twitter