Thirteen years ago, Seattle sex advice columnist Dan Savage decided to start an amateur pornography film festival in Seattle. The idea was that filmmakers could be porn stars for just one weekend, in one theater, before returning to their regular lives as regular people. Now, the festival has spread to cities across the country and involves $15,000 in cash prizes and mountains of submission tapes. More notably, though, Hump! is known for its diversity, inclusivity, fun and humor, as audiences experience a group of five-minute films that push boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and ultimately bring everybody together in the name of sex, desire and love. We chatted with Savage about Hump! ahead of the festival opening at the Roxy this weekend.
I just watched this year's films, and I really enjoyed them, but I felt like I'd be scared to watch pornography in a theater!
Dan Savage: You've got to see them with an audience. When we first started Hump!, one of the questions we asked was: Would people come to a movie theater and sit in the dark next to strangers and watch pornography, the way their grandparents used to do? And the answer to that question is, yes! People don't come to Hump! to sit with their coats in their laps and masturbate like it's an old timey porn theater.
It's a different experience than if you were sitting at home on your computer watching porn for your own pleasure. It's more like a porn erotica comedy horror short film festival. My favorite dynamic is that at first, people are kind of knocked back in their seats, because it's straight people watching gay porn, and gay guys watching lesbian cunnilingus, and cis people watching trans porn, and vanilla people watching kink porn. It's kind of overwhelming and shocking, because at first what they perceive is what's different. Then about a third of the way through the festival, you realize no one is flinching, no one is quiet anymore. Everyone is cheering. Everyone is laughing and clapping. There's this moment when everyone in the audience flips from only being able to see what's different to perceiving everything that is exactly the same.
How did Hump! come into existence?
DS: A coworker of mine started joking one day about having an amateur porn film festival, and just doing a call for submission in the paper and to wait and see what we got in the mail. We weren't trolling people. We were trying to create a festival where people could have porn screened and it wouldn't go online. It would just be in the movie theater, just for the weekend. It is a way to be a porn star for a weekend instead of being a porn star for eternity. People really took to it and loved it. It was the alchemy of the audience meeting the film. A room with a couple hundred people watching these films together and celebrating together. That's where the magic happened.
Many of the films are funny. What's the relationship between sex and comedy?
DS: Think about sex as a build up of tension, and then a release in orgasm. Humor and laughter replicate that tension and release. For the first few years at Hump!, we had a lot of people stay within the conventions of commercial pornography, and audiences didn't really take to those films. You can get that crap anywhere. It was the films that were much more personal and much more unique, and the ones that utilized humor, that the audience really loves.
And sex is embarrassing. Sex implicates and indicts us all. In the back of our minds, we all have insecurities. We feel ridiculous in pursuit of it, we look ridiculous doing it, and 10 minutes later, we're ready to do it all again. You have to laugh. That's one of the times you get this we're-all-in-this-together feeling at Hump!.
What's your advice for people who want to consume porn responsibly and ethically?
DS: If you're going to watch commercial porn, you should pay for it instead of ripping it off. I would direct people to Violet Blue and Tristan Taormino. They write about and critique porn that is produced ethically and responsibly. You'll find everything you want there. It's not like feminist porn can't be intense or kinky or have eroticized power dynamics.
Also, with the democratization of porn, you can make the porn you want to see in the world. You can write erotica, or you can film porn with your friends and lovers.
What advice would you give to someone heading to Hump! this weekend?
DS: Come with friends and come with lovers. Don't come with your parents, or at least don't sit near them. Don't get too drunk—some people feel they have to steel their nerves with alcohol before going to a porn festival, but you don't have to. It's a celebration of sexual diversity. If you can't look at two men having sex or a trans person having sex or kinky sex without having to telegraph your disgust to everyone around you, it's maybe not the film festival for you.
What's your most compact, universal relationship advice that you can give to everyone out there?
DS: Don't take each other for granted. Make an effort. The two terms that I've added to the lexicon are "the price of admission" and "GGG" and I think they're really important. "The price of admission" means that at a certain point, you have to accept your partner for who they are and you have to stop trying to change them. You have to ask yourself about the things that drive you crazy about them or gets you upset: Is this the price of admission that I'm willing to pay? If it isn't, then you go. If it is the price you're willing to pay, you pay it and shut the fuck up. You don't continue to complain about it for 30 years.
GGG means Good, Giving, Game. Good means that you work on your skills. Giving means that sometimes you give pleasure without the expectation of receiving pleasure in immediate return in that moment or day. Game means you're up for anything within reason. Of course you can have boundaries and limits, but err on the side of being a person your partner can turn to and see adventure and possibility and yes.
The Hump! Film Festival plays at the Roxy Fri., Oct. 20, at 7:30 and 9:30 PM and Sat., Oct. 21, at 7 PM and 9 PM. $20.