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Meet award-winning filmmaker and provocateur Erika Lust, who’s returning to Berlin for one night only to spice up the Berlinale with a screening of erotic films from her groundbreaking series XConfessions. Read on for Culture Trip’s exclusive interview with the artist whose work invites her audience to share their anonymous sexual fantasies, which are brought to life in captivating, sexual films.
In a partnership with the Berlin Film Society, the screening at Babylon Berlin will feature films directed by Erika Lust and guest directors, including Berlin’s own Goodyn Green. The screening and Q&A promise to bring sex-positive, feminist erotica and provoking conversations to Berlin’s International Film Festival.
You studied political science. How did this inform your move into making new wave erotic cinema?
I did not begin shooting adult films as a way of engaging in politics but of course, it’s a perfect medium to dig into political issues having to do with sexual revolution or politically incorrect sexual fantasies based on class and race. The film Refugee’s Welcome, for example, which was directed by Bruce LaBruce for XConfessions, seeks to humanise asylum seekers who are often lumped into numbers in the media and considered too serious as a subject. As Bruce said, ‘because it’s porn, it becomes a politically incorrect treatment of a politically correct subject’. It’s a strong political statement and sheds necessary light on racism and a huge current humanitarian problem. Porn is not ‘only porn’, it’s a discourse on sexuality, thus it’s political. My studies provided me and equipped me with the language, the tools and knowledge to effectively describe what I had thought about porn, sexism and other matters about gender to create an alternative discourse.
In the XConfessions series, you create erotic short films inspired by real-life, anonymous fantasies. When did you start making these films and what inspired you to connect so intimately with your audience?
XConfessions is a project that I created in 2013. After making my first movie, The Good Girl, I realised I wasn’t the only one that wanted something different. People began writing to me to compliment the other four films that followed, Five Hot Stories For Her, Barcelona Sex Project, Life Love Lust and Cabaret Desire, and they began sending me their fantasies asking me to turn them into films. That is how the idea of XConfessions came to life in July 2013! It was a crowd-sourced project since its origin. It’s a site where users watch short films based on their own anonymous sexual confessions and stories. With XConfessions, I know the films are going to be innovative and diverse because it’s not just from my imagination. And thanks to the success of my worldwide open call to guest directors, XConfessions is growing. From July 2018, we will be increasing the number of short films we produce from two per month to one per week.
Where do you draw the line with these?
I am trying to show an alternative discourse to mainstream porn and create adult cinema that has the power to liberate. Therefore, I will draw the line at any confessions that simulate coercion, pederasty or fantasies of abuse. There is no depiction of aggressive violent sex or rape scenes in my films. I will also not contribute to wider social inequalities through categorization of performers or scenes based on age, ethnicity or body type. There is no reduction of the performer to their primal feature (that being their size, age, ethnicity etc.).
XConfessions is rich with diversity—from the characters to fantasies. How important do you think diversity is in overcoming the noise and monotonous storylines of mainstream porn, particularly in an increasingly aggressive and violent industry?
Mainstream porn has the tendency to alienate its viewers, so inclusivity is key in my cinema. I try to work with different races, ages, body types… as this depicts the diversity found in real life. XConfessions offers a visual expression of real sex, real orgasms, real women’s pleasure and female sexuality, which is not abundantly available on the mainstream market. The most obvious problem with mainstream porn is that it is misogynistic. It perpetuates the idea that women are readily available for sex without question and it normalizes degrading or violent behaviour towards women. It’s important to understand that porn has the power to liberate! It doesn’t have to be a negative part of our society.
What conversations would you like to still see happen more often?
I’m glad that we are moving away from the conversation of whether porn is good or bad for society so that we can now tackle the heftier discourse surrounding content and production process. Nowadays, there is real noise coming from the ethical and feminist adult cinema movement that encourages an ethical production process both in what we produce and how we produce it. However, I think we’re still missing a meaningful analysis of the way women are represented in pornography as a whole—what it means for women collectively in terms of achieving gender equality and the message we are sending out.
This is your second time screening in Berlin. How have you found that the mainstream attitude to erotic cinema differs here?
There is an incredible indie scene in Berlin, which is part of the emerging ethical adult cinema movement trying to change the industry from within. The approach to sexuality is really refreshing and open. My films will be appreciated for all that they are: not just good erotic cinema but as part of the growing movement towards true and free sexual expression and equality for all genders; a feminist discourse on sexuality and gender roles.
Your films have been extremely well-received in Berlin in the past. How does the city play a part in these screenings for you?
I love screening in Berlin. At past screenings, I have really enjoyed the openness, the energy and the engagement from the audience. It’s a diverse city with lots of artists, creativity and the alternative scene is really well developed. The freedom that Berlin offers for everyone involved in the industry is very special and we always feel very welcome there.
How do you meet your collaborators? And what makes you want to work with Berlin’s own Goodyn Green?
In October 2015, I did a worldwide open call for female film directors to get more women behind the camera and into a male-dominated porn industry. The adult industry has a dearth of women in charge. By putting more women behind the camera we can show the female gaze, celebrate female sexuality and present more realistic expectations about sex for all genders. The process has been so beautiful and successful that I decided I want to keep this as an ongoing project, and so, the second wave of my open call is now open. Working with Goodyn Green was brilliant. I love that her feminist values are printed all over her work. I loved her first feature film Shutter and it felt like an ode to queer sexuality. She directed her first film for XConfessions, The Toilet Line, which captured the alternative porn vibe of Berlin—I loved it!
In Berlin, a new platform has emerged—Pornceptual—that presents pornography as queer, diverse and inclusive. As a pioneer of feminist, inclusive pornography how does it feel to see more of these platforms emerging?
It’s great to see these platforms emerging! Porn is a discourse on sexuality, an expression of sexual fantasy and desire and a medium. We have accepted only one kind of discourse for too many years. The medium of pornography has space for many different perspectives on sexuality. It has the capacity to introduce audiences to perspectives outside of what they are used to and to give a voice to those watching who themselves do not receive any real recognition within porn, for lack of fitting into the white, hetero, male-dominated canon. It is vital that everyone can see someone they can relate to on a personal level in this medium, just like we are pushing for in all other mediums, like in Hollywood, for example.