SQIFF porngate: 'Queer and feminist porn is drowned out of the conversation by those wishing to pretend it doesn't exist'

Tabloid outrage over porn workshop is social hipocrisy at its worst

comments (1)
Porngate:

Vex Ashley

'We actually held a workshop last year with Marit Ostberg, a queer porn filmmaker based in Berlin,' says Helen Wright, coordinator and co-founder of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival. 'There was no fuss. We had actually expected it but it didn't happen, so this year we weren't prepared for anything and it came as a bit of a shock when the tabloids decided to create a very misleading non-story about our workshop.'

This year, however, the tabloids have decided that the porn making workshop with Vex Ashley is morally outrageous and a waste of Creative Scotland funding. Combining a concern about the dangers of pornography for women and a snide assertion that taxpayers' money is being squandered on filth, The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mirror have heaped coal on the blazing fire of titillation and prurience in the hope of attracting readers. Ignoring the Scottish Queer International Film Festival's extensive programming, the tabloid articles claims that the entire funding budget for four days of films and event had been spent on Vex Ashley's ninety minute workshop.

SQIFF's programme – although it does contain various representations of sex and sexual desire – does more than dwell on hot lesbian action. The £31,512 grant from Creative Scotland supports 30 films, five workshops and two parties, covering subjects from coming out through to trans identity around the world.

'SQIFF was inspired partly by a lack in representation in Scottish film culture of LGBTQ+ people and communities,' Wright continues, 'and partly by an urge to give space to the huge amount of quality queer film-making out there in the world.' With entries from as the USA, the Netherlands as well as Scotland, the festival is a showcase for a diversity of voices and experiences, which are usually ignored.

Francis McKee, director at the CCA which is hosting SQIFF, sees the festival as part of a healthy ecosystem. 'SQIFF are bringing alternative views to a whole series of subjects: queer aesthetics that do not get a mainstream airing, so they need somewhere support to voice those things and explore them.' In particular, Vex Ashley's appearance is not a vicarious thrill: 'The workshop on pornography is to challenge and explore, not give an answer.' he says. By contrast, the mainstream pornography industry encourages exploitation and a particular objectification of women, something that also concerns Wright.

'Generally speaking, alternative/feminist/queer porn features actors who are treated well and fully consulted over what they perform with an emphasis on the importance of their own pleasure, and such work critiques and explores porn film language,' she explains. 'For example, mainstream porn can have a tendency to promote white, skinny, able-bodied, normatively attractive and feminine women as objects of desire. Alternative porn might feature a wider range of women, including those who have larger bodies, disabilities, are not white, and might be butch or masculine-presenting.'

As McKee points out, it is important that ideas like these can be explored in a safe space and the CCA's policy of providing a platform for non-commercial events provides an appropriate venue. Other conversations within SQIFF – including the experience of older men, the challenges of coming out as gay and political engagement from the perspective of a transgender woman – have been obscured in the tabloid rush to the bottom, yet are part of the same intention to unearth hidden experiences, as Wright observes.

'There is a continuity between our aims in the porn we're screening and all the other work, including dramas, documentaries, short films, and web series. In all cases, we are concerned with work which is not shown in more mainstream contexts. The majority of LGBTQ+ film-making is not considered 'universal' enough to appeal to general audiences.'

McKee agrees, pointing out that, in the particular case of SQIFF's erotic selections, there is a critique of conventional representations of desire. 'There must be another way to do this that is ethical, more friendly to women, not about violence to women. If you want to attack what defines mainstream pornography, you have to have a place to discuss it and that isn't going to happen in the mainstream press!'

There is a certain irony in the tabloid outrage: not only does it conflate the pornography that it seems otherwise to enjoy – The Sun's article on SQIFF is accompanied by a video feature on actors first day in porn and links to a variety of approving news-stories about adult performers, but it demonstrates the problems that SQIFF aims to address.

'Queer and feminist porn is drowned out of the conversation by those wishing to pretend it doesn't exist,' Wright concludes. 'You can see this in the way the tabloids covered our workshop because they didn't make any distinction between mainstream porn and what we are showing and promoting, beyond giving our festival name. This seems part of an overall attempt to pretend alternative voices don't exist for the benefit of those who don't want to be challenged in their lives or views. We hope to achieve a space that we have some control over and can make safe and inclusive for LGBTQ+ people: misleading tabloid articles threaten that space and in so doing show why the festival is necessary.'

SQIFF's Porn Filmmaking workshop with Vex Ashley takes places at CCA Glasgow, Fri 30 Sep at 6.30pm and Feminist Porn Night II at 9pm. SQIFF runs 29 Sep to 2 Oct.

SQIFF Feminist Porn Night II

Round Two of SQIFF’s popular Feminist Porn Night features an exciting collection of films from a new generation of feminist pornographers, who continue to challenge sexual stereotypes and reshape norms of mainstream porn. We bring you a selection of groundbreaking work from the UK, USA, and France followed by a discussion…

CCA, Glasgow

Fri 30 Sep

Theatre

£4 £1 booking fee. Free for asylum seekers/unemployed/festival pass holders (£3) / 0141 352 4900

SQIFF Workshop Porn Filmmaking with Vex Ashley

A session led by Vex Ashley, an independent porn producer and performer making work with creative pornography project, Four Chambers. Vex worked as an alt porn model and webcam performer before beginning to make video work in 2013. Self-taught in editing and videography with an emphasis on collaborative DIY practices…

CCA, Glasgow

Fri 30 Sep

Clubroom

Free but ticketed / 0141 352 4900

Comments

1. Moha Mhumble26 Sep 2016, 7:48am Report

are u a porn site???

Post a comment
RSS feed of these comments