For our first DISPATCH interview we spoke to one of the most interesting female filmmakers of the moment; feminist pornographer Erika Lust. After discovering in her early teens that pornography was more often than not degrading and sexist Lust decided to take action. She began creating pornography from a new perspective that acknowledged the female gaze and that also engaged with ethical pornography practices. In this debut DISPATCH interview we chatted to Lust about feminism, aesthetics and the internet.
DISPATCH: How would you define pornography? And how would you define feminist
EL: Pornography is a very wide term that covers a lot of ground, so I think it's better here to be more specific. Mainstream porn made by middle class white men is what I have the most issues with. In mainstream pornography the focus is on men's pleasure. Women are being used to satisfy others, but not themselves. It's a fact that women are completely underrepresented, especially as screenwriters and directors. There are also less female viewers, but only because they don't want to deal with cheap and chauvinistic mainstream porn. I want to break through this vicious circle.
The concept of feminism is simple for me: its about equality. So for my films and other feminist films. it's about treating everyone involved like human beings, being attentive to their needs, requests and emotions, compensating them fairly and providing a good working environment with good working conditions. I also think it's important to be ethical about what signals you're sending out with your stories – that you make consent come through, not showing irresponsible scenes or anything to do with coercion etc.
DISPATCH: Why did you decide to make feminist pornography?
Although I studied Political Science at the University of Lund I have always been sort of a movie freak and the cinephile in me finally drove me to study filmmaking when I came to Barcelona over fifteen years ago. I started out working at different production houses and taking courses in filmmaking. Already in my early teens I had sort of a "WTF is this?!" experience with mainstream porn, the same as you. After studying Linda Williams' work Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of The Visible I felt that we needed an alternative to the degrading mainstream porn gaze, and I wanted to create that alternative. So I started to direct adult movies that I would like myself and that I thought other women and men looking for something more fresh, sensual and ethical would also like. I went on to direct four feature length movies before starting my most successful audiovisual project to date, the entirely crowd-sourced XConfessions.com, based on the fantasies submitted to the site. I make films that are part of the new genre of adult cinema. I create erotica with a narrative. I give context to the characters, locals, story and above all, the sex. I create an environment which satisfies the viewer with realistic interpretations of real fantasies. Plus I did my TEDx Vienna Talk as I strongly believe porn is where are children are turning to for sex education. So we have to make sure we are giving them options, being open with them and allowing them to make good choices on what they watch so they don´t view sex, sexuality and gender in the warped light of the mainstream.
DISPATCH: In your opinion, how does feminist pornography benefit the feminist
movement? How do you think it makes a meaningful contribution to the cause?
EL: Now that can depend on the type of feminists your referring too. As there are many anti-porn feminists who believe any type of porn will always perpetuate negative images of women, showing them as sexually objectified. Whereas, sex-positive feminists, like myself, see pornography as another outlet in which women can use to become sexually liberated and take control of their bodies and sexuality, to express themselves how they want to as consensual sexual beings. We have the power to make our own films, to portray our own voices in an industry rules by men, just as we are doing in the workplace, in politics, and in music. Just as Linda Williams stated in her book Hardcore, pornography is a discourse on our sexuality and gender, and that means it has the power to liberates, educate and inspire. So it's our responsibility to make our voices heard, equally to men.
DISPATCH: On your website the opening line in the about section is; “Let’s make a porno. But let’s make it different! Let’s make an indie film.” Do you think the indie aesthetic used in your films changes where you are able to exhibit your films?
EL: I think it can do, but I also feel my films are very different from other pornography as I pay so much attention to the cinematic aspect. I refer to my films as independent adult cinema as I feel this is a more realistic name for them. This also comes down to the fact that there is still a lot of negative connotations around the word porn in society - cheap, ugly, chauvinistic, violent, objectifying... which of course does not relate to my work at all. So referring to them as indie or independent adult cinema, it places it in a different light, enabling me to show my work at festivals like Chicago International Film festival, for example. But I'm hoping this will change and that the word porn won't always be viewed so negatively.
DISPATCH: How, in your opinion, has the Internet and online distribution influenced your practice and helped expand your audience/s?
EL: Hugely! Especially as an independent company. I am completely online with everything I do. My current and most successful project to date XConfessions.com is completely online. The platform allows users to sign up and confess their stories to me, where others can read and comment on them (it's an amazing community!) and I can pick 2 a month to release online to be streamed of downloaded. I make the most of my sales through downloads rather than DVD's in my store. And XConfessions is the most popular. I also have a B2B platform (https://www.erikalustb2b.com/en/) which allows re-sellers to offer my films as downloads very easily in their own online platforms. Then social media plays a huge part as well, making it easy for me to interact with my followers and share updates with them instantly. Lastly there is the media coverage I've received. When me and my team come up with new ways to promote we are always thinking about how to utilize the internet to reach further audiences. For example the power of YouTubers and social media personalities is huge now, TV is online for the next generation. The audiovisual is where the traffic is. So we have to think how we can use that to our advantage.
Erika Lust's TEDx Vienna talk can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9LaQtfpP_8
Erika Lust's work can be found at: http://erikalust.com/
All images from: http://erikalust.com/ and http://xconfessions.com/