Ironic Porn

During Darryl's Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival Saturday night, it slowly dawned on me just how many damn talented filmmakers, actors and animators are positively wasting away in the world beyond the festival.

The sad truth is that creative thinkers frequently have to toil for 'the man' to get by, as I learned from the snatches of conversation I managed to grab from the pornographers before the screening. And after watching the films, it was frankly depressing to think of these minds returning to their quotidian tasks, relegated to some cubical in the GTA.

That said, any evening that begins with condoms and lube is alright in my book.

Upon entering Revival, a goodie bag containing said goodies was handed to me by an enthusiastic and scantily clad young lady. The bag also contained a mini-CD (which I've just discovered plays 'romantic' jazz) and a Do Not Disturb door hangar (beats the sock/scrunchy thing, for sure). What can I say? I'm a sucker for presents. (I'm not the only believer in swag - Darryl and his partner in crime Jill gave away all kinds of dirty fun toys and shirts and whatnot to audience members, including an mp3 player dildo. Yes, that's all one object).


Before the screening began, I made my way upstairs to the smaller bar where some of the pornographers were loitering for the convenience of media peeps like myself. I grabbed a few for a quick chat.

Bruce Simpson, a jovial and good-natured gent, and creator of the excellent Lobby (see reviews below), spoke with me first. He works as an animator for kids shows, and finds the festival is an excuse for people who work in film and tv (Darryl knows quite a few, evidently) "to make stuff that's fun."

The ideas for his pornos come to him sometimes months before the festival, but because of that whole 'day job' thing, it's difficult to find time for the actual execution and he frequently ends up working night and day to complete his piece the week of the deadline.

Another filmmaker, Sam Agro, director of Yoga Ho, has been working in film and TV for years as a storyboard artist, and though he didn't complain of time constraints, he did find the absence of cash problematic (something any budding filmmaker can relate to).

Though he notes Darryl's "great respect for the cheap and dirty," and has seen festival attendance and submissions skyrocket over the years (the fest's been around officially for 6), he hopes that "somebody in TV will pick up the idea and give some of us a budget."

The energetic and talkative Neil Hollands (director of the first faux-porn shown at Darryl's house back in the day) seemed to see the most potential in the festival from an ideological standpoint.

He explains that pornography "was dark and underground" until its recent proliferation on the internet. The "dirty side of porn becomes mainstream" as we become accustomed to it, and realize that "everyone's doing it anyway." So much so that Wal-Mart sells vibrators and pornographers donate proceeds from films to starving kids.

Neil values the festival for its inventiveness; the HL&P isn't "about eroticism at all." The audience, he notes, will "laugh, get laid," ("Really?" I interrupt at this point, "Oh, yeah," he says. Which I suppose explains the condoms,) see a good reel of something "a little bit different." He sees life in Toronto as "such a homogenized experience" that anything novel (like the festival) is something to be wholeheartedly embraced.

The jubilant actress Anna Huh echoes Neil's praise; "There's nothing else like it," she says of the festival. In the broader film business "everybody wants to be general," she complains, noting the sameness that arises from the endless attempt to achieve mass appeal.

Anna says that her performances for the mock-porn at Darryl's "is more myself," - for the commercials she usually acts in, she has to put on a "normal facade."

Kirby Ferguson, director of MILF Hotline and probably the youngest pornographer I spoke with (and the only one costumed with a skinny porn-director 'stache), believes that the HL&P films "could be dirtier," and should push boundaries even further. Though he certainly wasn't trying to dis the fest, he did wish the films were "more outrageous," though "not prurient," - Kirby is more interested in the commentary the films have the potential to provide.

He says his website, goodiebag.tv, has "things you can't [have] in regular media," (with titles like 'Gang Bang: The Musical' you know he's not kidding).

I tried to talk to some of the audience during the intermission to get a different perspective on the screening. Were they interested in social commentary? Hoping for a money shot?

While I did catch a few words with the winner of the aforementioned mp3 player dildo, they, like most conversations in a crowded bar, are difficult to recapture. My impression was that the crowd was enjoying themselves, though there was a bit of that not-yet-drunk-enough tension as people clung a little too closely to the folks they arrived with.

A good number had taken the opportunity to dress in costume (girls fairly uniformly as hos of one stripe or another, guys as skeevy 70s pornographers, though one dude was in a cute sailor ensemble).


I did learn, however, that it's totally pointless to try and carry on an interview-like conversation with anyone who's had over two drinks.

By and large, the films were less pornographic and more generally about how sex and sexuality is dealt with, individually and societally; the overall tone was mocking, which is perhaps what separates these films from actual porn.

Real porn is (arguably) exploitative and designed to titillate and arouse - they're really only about sex in its simplest incarnation, free of any real human context.

The films at HL&P use the conventions of porn to laugh at the various habits, impressions, taboos, and all the baggage that comes along with real sex and sexuality, which is a far more complicated proposition. The filmmakers, free from the rules and risks of their day jobs, revel in the freedom to present irony without self-censorship.

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