HUMP! Festival’s Level Up ! Feminist porn and a video game

Level UP Level UP

Check out yesterday’s article for an introduction to the HUMP Festival, a film festival with over 20 pornographic film shorts made by and starring people who are not normally in the industry. Sinj spoke to Amory Jane and Jenna of the film short Level UP.

Sinj Karan (SK): How many of you have acted before or been in front of the camera? How does a non-actor work through the realization that they are being watched?

Amory Jane (AJ): Most of us are not actors, but many of us have performed as storytellers, musicians, and models. I think that helped us feel a bit more comfortable about being watched. Being supportive and encouraging with one another was really what helped us all work through the realization that thousands of people would be seeing us naked and having sex though.

Jenna (J): I was really impressed with the way in which Amory Jane and the rest of the actors communicated with each other. They had a discussion about boundaries and comfort levels beforehand, and had check-ins throughout the filming. It was a very nurturing environment.

SK: The premise of the film is very interesting and I enjoyed the feminist discourse of the film. While the film does it subtly, is it meant to be a commentary about how sexuality plays out in society in general (woman’s passive role vis-a-vis the man) or is it also a critique of the porn industry that applies these social stereotypes?

AJ: We came at the film from multiple perspectives, but mostly it just started off with us wanting to find a way to incorporate our feminist views and love of classic video games. It is not a critique of the porn industry, but does attempt to show things we would love to see more of in movies: women as heroes/in charge of their own sexuality, cis men showing affection and exploring sexuality with each other, and an awareness of patriarchy/kyriarchy and how it impacts the ways we have sex and experience desire in our society.

J: I agree with Amory Jane completely. Personally, I really love how organically this all came together. We all brainstormed over some delicious whiskey cocktails Amory made, and went around the room just discussing ideas to find one everyone liked and felt excited about. “Level Up” basically started with my idea to do a progressive level, real-life, sex RPG with a “big bad” to conquer at the end, and Amory’s idea to make these levels mean something much more significant – fighting the patriarchy in a positive, empowering way, that even saves the men who had fallen victim to society’s expectations and conditioning. The rest of the team contributed some amazing (and hilarious) ideas, too, and all the details came together in a result we’re all very happy with. Plus, it was just a lot of fun.

SK: What inspired you to participate in a festival like Hump? Does any one of you have personal prejudices towards pornography or being identified as porn stars? Did anyone have to work through that hangup before participating in this?

AJ: I can only speak for myself on this one, but I was excited to participate in HUMP! and have no problem being identified as a porn star. Then again, I am a sex educator and making porn actually gives me more “street cred,” so I recognize that I am probably not in the same position as other people who have starred in a HUMP! film.

J: Honestly, we’re all friends and we wanted to have fun but also make something meaningful. We wanted to create a film that makes you think, laugh, and super horny. And remind you that one of the best parts about sex is the ability to laugh. Never stop laughing.

I personally decided to stay solely behind the scenes for “Level Up” after playing a role in the previous year’s “Humparoke” (which ran in the 2014 festival and the 2015 tour) because I felt that I had personally achieved what I had wanted to for being on screen. I had to overcome some serious, life-long body insecurity issues and let myself be vulnerable – not to mention play a part I had zero familiarity or comfort with (playing a dominatrix when I’m naturally very submissive). A few years ago, I had trouble even sleeping naked next to a partner. Now, I walk around the house naked with the blinds open. The experience was incredibly empowering. Seeing my barely-covered boobs take up a cinema widescreen was scary at first, and then sexy, so I totally understand why people enjoy being on screen. But I prefer to be behind the camera, filming, directing, producing, and editing. The creative piece is what keeps me interested, and the fact that it’s porn just makes it more fun.

SK: I found it very interesting that while the length of the film is this feminist play on men and their illogical (oftentimes misogynistic) approach to women and their sexuality, the film resolves all this with an orgy? Can you or the writer/director explain the thought process behind this?

AJ: What we had originally planned for the film was for it to start with my character (Player 1) to be talking with someone online about an orgy fantasy, but she gets shamed and harassed for expressing that desire (which was a true story for me). After being bummed out about getting shamed, she starts playing a video game and gets transported into a world where she gets to defeat cat callers, slut-shamers, and body-shamers — all tools of the patriarchy. When those tools form together as a three-headed patriarchy monster, Player 1 knows that women must join together to fight their oppressors, which is why she calls in the fairy. They combine powers, beat the boss level, and are rewarded with an interesting outcome. Free of oppressive patriarchy, the three men stop being villains and turn toward each other. While I want to say that was a beautifully symbolic and subtle hint at men helping each other work through toxic masculinity, the truth is that we just wanted to watch hot guys make out with each other. The orgy was a way of celebrating victory but also allowed us to make the joke about “fucking the patriarchy.” If we would have had time to include the intro to the film, viewers would also have known that it was actually Player 1’s ultimate fantasy to have an orgy. This means that not only did she defeat the patriarchy in the game, she defeated shame and gave herself permission to seek pleasure and go after her fantasies.

J: My only concern about sharing the level of detail Amory gave is that I don’t want to give everything away before people see the film. I personally would like for people to see it and come to their own conclusions so it has a more personal meaning for them (which I’d also be very curious to learn about). But I do think that her quote of “While I want to say that was a beautifully symbolic and subtle hint at men helping each other work through toxic masculinity, the truth is that we just wanted to watch hot guys make out with each other” is pretty right on. Let’s save the “fuck the patriarchy” joke for the viewers to see first-hand, please :)

SK: Was making this fun? Any personal anecdotes, stories to share? Any particular goof ups on set that you’d like to share?

AJ: Making the was film great, especially the unscripted orgy, which was very natural and all done without direction/interruption from the camera crew. That allowed us to be authentic and have fun with each other without worrying about our “performance.” I also have a really nice memory of all of the actors eating together after filming and then sleeping in the yurt (where we filmed the orgy) together as a way of providing aftercare for each other. It was definitely a really special weekend.

J: While we were filming the yurt orgy, I put on some music in the background to make people feel more comfortable and “in the mood.” Problem was, I only had Spotify to work with, so in those 2-3 hours it took to film, I had to go through quite a few different radio stations to maintain the mood. I tried artists related to Sneaker Pimps, Hooverphonic, etc, but every once in a while you’d hear a gargled, mid-blow-job, “PLEASE CHANGE IT” which sounded more like “PLURS CHURNGS IT” and it would crack me up, every time.

SK: What in your opinion does an initiative/festival like HUMP accomplish?

J: Growing up in middle-class, ticky-tacky, American suburbia, I was fed the same heaping spoonful of bullshit that many like me have been fed – that porn is just wrong, shameful, and dirty. I think one of the amazing parts about HUMP! is that it makes adjectives like “dirty” a positive thing. It helps de-shame porn and the entire sexual experience, which I think is incredibly important. Dan Savage and HUMP! are so revered because of what they represent and constantly work toward – sexual revolution and sex positivity.

One of the reasons we have created – and continue to create – films for HUMP! is because of the desire to be part of that revolution, this amazing movement toward sexual liberation.

Dan Savage explains this better than I ever could, but I’d like to emphasize that HUMP! is absolutely for everyone. It’s a unique opportunity to not only mentally explore your own sexual boundaries, but to be exposed to sexual kinks and arenas you’ve probably never even thought about. And whether or not it turns out to be “your thing,” it’s still worth experiencing. It’s a lesson in acceptance, though you wouldn’t even realize it, because it’s so much fun. You’re in a packed theater, surrounded by people who are all in the same boat. I’ve never been to a HUMP! screening where I felt judged or self-conscious.

HUMP comes to Montreal at the Cinema du Parc with screenings on April 15 at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. and April 16 at 6:45 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Tickets $18 and can be found HERE.