With HUMP! Film Festival, Dan Savage Wants to Titillate and Enlighten You
We're all the same, regardless of the sex.
Photo by Kelly O & Jen Wick
"Hi! My name is Harold. I'm 31 years young, just a normal American guy."
Harold wears a striped polo shirt buttoned to the top and his hair in a long, John Oliver-esque shag. Speaking with the mild-mannered lilt of a suburban dad, he describes his hobbies: gardening, hula-hooping, eating pizza. Harold is boring.
"But there's one thing a lot of people say is interesting that I do," he confesses. "I collect cum."
Harold is the main character in The Collector, a short comedic film about, well, sperm collection. After his pronouncement, the camera pans across shelves full of jars, bottles, cups, beer growlers, and even a Nalgene bottle, each containing a milky liquid and labeled with a name: Daniel Day Lewis, Hillary Clinton, the Seahawks. Harold, like any dedicated collector, tells a story about each as he shows them off.
"This little guy? Obama. Um, not Barack. This guy, Jeff.
"State of Delaware. The whole thing. I mean, it's a small state, but it's still a state in the union."
"Lance Armstrong. Actually, if you were to drink this, it's pretty much pure speed."
The Collector is one of 22 short films included in this year's HUMP! Film Festival, which will screen at O Cinema Wynwood this weekend as part of a nationwide tour. The festival, started in 2005 by columnist Dan Savage, aims to expose audiences to unconventional porn created by amateur filmmakers. The Collector is one of this year's tamer works; there's no nudity and no sex acts onscreen (unless you count an accidental bukkake moment). But there is one thing The Collector has in common with HUMP!'s more explicit films: Even if you consider yourself an X-rated connoisseur, you've probably never seen porn like this.
"When you watch pornography, you only watch what you want to watch," Savage explains. "You only click on what you want to see, what works for you. And when you come to HUMP!, you're going to watch porn that, if you were sitting home alone masturbating, you wouldn't click on."
Expanding audiences' sexual horizons has been Savage's life's work. He began his career in 1991, writing a relationship-advice column for the Seattle alternative newspaper the Stranger. Savage's unique blend of sexual acceptance and no-bullshit attitude quickly made the column a hit; Savage Love was syndicated in publications across the country (including New Times). In 2002, he launched a companion podcast, Savage Lovecast, to address more of audiences' sexual questions and concerns. He has written and spoken about important mainstream issues, such as vaccines, STDs, and gay marriage, as well as decidedly un-mainstream topics, like how best to support your partner in his messy fetish for popping balloons full of whipped cream.
In the past 25 years, Savage has brought an open-minded sexual morality into the mainstream, one in which no act is sinful as long as everyone is having fun. He's the reason pegging is called pegging; he's the reason the word "santorum" no longer refers solely to a Republican senator from Pennsylvania. (Google those terms at your own peril.) Savage has had his share of critics, and not just among sexually stifled conservatives. Liberal readers have objected to his use of the word "retarded"; in her book Shrill, former Stranger writer Lindy West recalls her feud with Savage over his zero-tolerance stance on obesity. Still, in the past two decades, there's still no writer who's had more of an effect on the way culture views sex than Dan Savage.
With HUMP!, Savage took his mission to the next level: Rather than merely reading about or discussing other people's sex lives, HUMP! audiences witness them directly. In 2005, he placed an ad in the Stranger soliciting amateur porn submissions.
"The question was, 'Would we get anything? Would people submit amateur porn in a city where it would be screened in a theater for people who they might run into at the coffee shop?'?" Savage recalls. "And the answer was yes, people would do that, because we got a ton of really great and interesting and fun and crazy porn. Then we booked a theater, and the question became, 'Would people come and sit in the dark at a movie theater next to strangers to watch pornography the way their grandparents used to?' And the answer to that was also yes, because the whole thing sold-out."
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Savage admits that even he was surprised at the response to that first Seattle festival. He credits HUMP!'s strict rules — filmmakers' names and other identifying information is never disclosed, no copies of the films are made or sold, and theaters are monitored closely for bootlegging — for giving wannabe porn producers the freedom to create.
"If you ever wanted to be a porn star for a weekend without having to be a porn star for eternity on the internet, here's your chance," Savage says. "There are people out there who really love to show off a little but don't want their grandchildren to be watching that video someday."
Freed from long-term consequences, the filmmakers place their diverse sexualities and kinks on full display. This year's HUMP! audiences will see straight porn, lesbian porn, gay porn, and bi porn. They'll see blowjobs and hand jobs and masturbation and anal. In Cake Boss, they'll watch a man clad in only an apron spread chocolate frosting across a woman's naked ass. In Hysterical Bullshit, a woman reads Mike Huckabee's book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy while her partner, hiding under the table, brings her to orgasm. I Fist a Grrl parodies Katy Perry's debut single in a music video featuring a rainbow of genders, an overload of glitter, and one highly unconventional insertion of a stick of cherry ChapStick.
The goal, Savage says, is to push viewers outside their comfort zones — a goal that extends to himself. He admits that Blown, one of this year's selections showing trans men giving one another blowjobs, was "challenging for [him] to watch but important to have at the festival."
"Seeing how testosterone can transform someone's genitals without any sort of terrible surgery, and their feelings about [that] and their attitude toward what's possible for them — I think that was a film that was hard for some people to watch but important for some people to watch," he explains. "I think it's important for people to understand bodies and how they work and how people enjoy them."
HUMP! still has work to do in terms of racial diversity. Savage says that a common criticism of the fest is its whiteness, and he hopes that bringing screenings to places such as Miami will result in more submissions featuring people of color. Though he insists "HUMP! is not a social justice art project," he can't deny the political message embedded in every screening — especially because one of HUMP!'s suggested props for this year's filmmakers was Huckabee's book.
"I'm hyper-conscious of politics. It's been true about my column forever," he says. "My attitude is, I will leave politics and politicians alone when politicians leave sex alone, but they won't. So I like people who are sexually active and aware and part of the sex-positive community and doing porn to also be conscious of the effect that politics and politicians can have on us." He recalls a conversation he had with a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race. "[She said], 'Well, I don't think about politicians.' I looked at her and said, 'Politicians think about you. You don't have the luxury of not thinking about them.'?"
Still, Savage doesn't think HUMP! will convert any hard-core conservatives: "I don't think Huckabee supporters come to porn festivals to think twice about their politics." But even among the sexually enlightened, the writer says he's witnessed an important shift in perception at each screening he's attended.
"At first, you see people thrown back in their seats, like, 'Oh my God, what am I watching?' You see the gay guys freaking out about cunnilingus, and the straight guys — not all of them, but a large percentage — freaking out about gay butt-fucking, and vanilla people freaking out about kink. And then, about a third of the way through, that stops, and everyone is laughing and cheering and clapping for each film.
"What's happening is that first, as people watch, all they see is what's not their thing, what's different. That's not the kind of sex I like, not the kind of bodies I'm attracted to, not the kind of gender expression I'm comfortable with," Savage says. "And at a certain point, everyone starts to see what's the same, the bedrock stuff that's underneath the thin veneer of differences: desire, lust, vulnerability, a sense of humor, passion, all that stuff... Suddenly, they realize, No, they're like me, and we're the same."
HUMP! Film Festival
Friday, September 16, through Sunday, September 18, at O Cinema Wynwood, NW 29th St., Miami. Showtimes are 7 and 9 p.m. daily. Call 305-571-9970 or visit humpfilmfest.com or o-cinema.org. Tickets cost $20.
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