The Hump! Film Festival is in its 15th year, and for the past five, it has delivered a cornucopia of sometimes sexy, frequently kinky, and always creative short homemade films to towns throughout the United States. Held in the Pacific Northwest for its first ten years, Hump! grew legs and began touring movie theaters across the nation in 2015. The development was cause for celebration among supporters, many of whom had made pilgrimages to Seattle or Portland for the weeklong festival.
A crucial and non-negotiable aspect of Hump! is the relative anonymity it affords the films’ stars. Because many of the works screened don't have names attached to them, this policy allows and empowers ordinary people who normally don't participate in erotica to produce sensual shorts for public consumption.
Hump! was founded by famed sex advice columnist and Savage Lovecast host Dan Savage. The festival was conceived while Savage was writing for the Stranger — the media outlet that first published his syndicated column, "Savage Love" — and bantering with a colleague about creating an amateur porn film festival in Seattle.
“The publisher of the Stranger at the time, Tim Keck, didn’t think anyone would make films to be screened in the same city that they lived in," Savage says. "And even if people did submit films, no one would come to watch them in a movie theater sitting next to a stranger in the dark like their grandparents had to. And he was wrong."
After placing an ad in the paper, Savage was inundated with submissions and swiftly vindicated: The first few screenings sold out. “It was never going to be like when you watch porn at home on your computer, where you just watch what works for you," he says. "When you come to Hump!, it’s not about masturbation; it’s about seeing what works for other people and celebrating those differences — and that’s what’s magical about Hump! You have straight guys watching gay guys have sex; you have gay guys watching cunnilingus; you have vanilla people watching kink porn; you have cis-gendered people watching porn made by trans people about their own sexuality.”
The mélange of sexual kinks on display at Hump! coheres with Savage's no-size-fits-all philosophy, which he has imparted through his Twitter feed, his long-running column, podcasts, best-selling books, and even a TV show. By applying his experience and insight into queer culture to a larger framework — straight, gay, or otherwise — Savage has spent several decades saving relationships and expanding audiences' understanding of human sexuality.
Because of the live nature of film screenings, Hump! allows Savage to forge an intimate connection with festivalgoers that might not be possible through his other ventures.
“When you sit in the audience, especially when it’s a big, sold-out crowd, you see people’s interest waver as they pinpoint ‘that’s not me’ or ‘that’s not my thing’ or ‘that’s not the body I’m attracted to,'" he says. "All they see are the differences. Then there’s a point about a third of the way into the screening where suddenly everyone starts to see what’s the same, what we have in common: desire, sense of humor, passion, connection. And it is beautiful when it happens.”
Although he has programmed Hump! for many years, Savage is quick to point out that much of the curation is audience-driven. As submissions grew with the festival’s popularity, he found many participants tried to cater to what they thought the audience wanted. As a result, entrants often made the closest approximations to commercial porn as they could.
Audience members, who can vote for their favorite entries, were quick to deter that practice, however, because the award for best film was consistently given to works that erred on the side of personal and unique. An illustrative example is 2012’s winner, Go Ahead, Pee!: In the film, a woman in a gray leotard jumps on a trampoline while a voiceover calmly chants, “Go ahead and pee,” to which the protagonist finally obliges.
The work of pride initiatives, activists, and public figures such as Savage has helped educate the public about queer culture and its myriad manifestations, but with Hump!, Savage is expanding people's understanding of the many ways someone can be so-called straight.
Though the sex and relationship guru has toured Hump! throughout the nation, it landed in the Magic City for the first time only four years ago. “I’ve been to Miami a couple of times and had a good time, though I’m not a beach person or a nightlife person,” he says. “So as a visitor, a lot of what Miami has to recommend for tourists kind of flies past me.”
Despite his indifference to Miami's offerings, the Magic City has proved to be a perfect fit for the festival. It's been hosted by O Cinema for the past four years, first at its Wynwood location and now at its South Beach spot.
“When the opportunity to collaborate and present the festival in Miami arose, we were an eager partner,” O Cinema codirector Kareem Tabsch says. "[Hump!] is sex-positive cinema that is crucial to our cultural landscape in creating a platform for representation that is inclusive of all body types, gender expressions, sexuality, abilities, ages, color, and more. We're proud to host it for the fifth year running.”
Finding venues willing and able to house the erotic festival in other cities has occasionally been a challenge for Hump! Though audience demand has remained consistent, theaters have found themselves bound by clauses in their leases or management agreements prohibiting the screening of sexually explicit content. Though Savage calls those rules “archaic and ridiculous” — especially because everyone already has an all-access pass to hardcore porn that's just one click away on their phones — this issue has made it difficult to take Hump! to certain communities.
In addition to challenges finding venue partners, Hump! has also contended with social media blackouts on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Despite advertising the festival online in previous years, the team's more recent marketing efforts have been denied on multiple occasions. The issues ostensibly stem from conflicts with the social media sites' respective community guidelines. Instagram's guidelines prohibit nudity regardless of whether it's artistic or explicit.
This wouldn’t be the first time big social media platforms — notorious for purging sexual and nonsexual nude content from their pages — have been called out for censorship or even targeting sex-centric outlets. As reported by the Lexington Online in the article "Let's Talk about Sex (Ed)": The erotic, sex-positive magazine Aurore was flagged for showing a woman holding a bar of soap.
Though Savage concedes Hump! obviously contains sexual content, its creative and humanizing works could be seen as a much-needed antidote to the sometimes unchecked and ethically questionable world of commercial porn.
“When you have these internet social media goliaths acting as gatekeepers, they’re not preventing people from finding porn as much as they’re preventing people from finding good porn, self-produced porn, porn that reimagines erotica, porn created by marginalized communities,” Savage says.
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"A lot of the things that Facebook and Instagram tend to ban — in addition to things like Hump! — are sex education workshops, sex education that is specifically designed to counter some of the negatives of commercial pornography, like the false impression it can give young men about women’s desires," he adds. "There's a lot of really important stuff out there that cannot be advertised, and it’s infuriating.”
For first-timers and veterans submitting their films to the festival, Hump! can be as affirming as any art show: The high of having one's creative expressions received and applauded by friends and strangers is one that's rarely matched. However, the films mean much more to some entrants. By giving filmmakers the chance to revel in and share the sort of sexual content they might have felt deeply ashamed of, Hump! opens the door for participants — whether contributors or viewers — to experience profound personal breakthroughs.
“I’m supergay — eating pussy is not my thing — but I have found myself cheering for a film where pussy is being eaten,” Savage concludes. “And to see all these gay guys hooting and hollering for women experiencing pleasure, how wonderful is that?”