Dan Savage's Hump! Is the Porn Festival For People Who Hate Porn

Syndicated sex and advice columnist / podcaster, LGBT community activist, and Hump! Film Festival coordinator Dan Savage.
Syndicated sex and advice columnist / podcaster, LGBT community activist, and Hump! Film Festival coordinator Dan Savage.

The topic of pornography does strange things to many people. Plenty of civilians watch pornography but will not admit to it, and while the religious right typically lambasts the adult film industry, it has become passe to learn that some of the most depraved acts are perpetrated by community leaders with solid community credentials [family members of an OC assistant sheriff, thousands of Catholic priests, etc.]. Furthermore, people’s arguments about pornography range from those having to do with the physical and emotional threats of submitting to exploitation to the personal empowerment and freedom that an individual should be able to experience on their own terms.

Author, advocate, and advice columnist Dan Savage circumvents a lot of these issues with his Hump! film festival. Now in its twelfth year, the festival showcases pornographic films that were not created for money nor for any other reason that might inspire the exploitation of individuals. These films were created by private citizens for fun. Some of them demonstrate artful cinematography and / or other traditional cinematic disciplines; some of them are amusing concepts that are executed with the skill levels of the average DIY filmmaker; and some lack much grace in their execution but deliver undeniably honest narratives.

Attendees may be surprised by the eclecticism of the programming, but one thing is certain; the Hump! Film Festival will definitely challenge the layperson’s previous conceptions about pornography. In advance of the festival’s stop at the Art Theatre, in Long Beach this Thursday, March 24, Savage spoke with the Weekly about running a porno film festival.

OC WEEKLY (Scott Feinblatt): There's a great variety in the accompanying music in the films of Hump. To what extent has the quintessential '70s porn music become obsolete?

Dan Savage: [laughs] That music became obsolete pretty quickly at Hump! Early on, the filmmakers would attempt to replicate the tropes and conventions of commercial porn, and sometimes vintage commercial porn, and it really became clear, quickly, that the films that audiences responded to didn't look like or sound like traditional porn or commercial porn or even vintage porn, so that kind of corny music disappeared from Hump! pretty quickly.

There are tons and tons of porno clips and movies available on the Internet, but they're mostly dramatically different in tone from the content of your festival. Why is that?

I think because the films of Hump! are made by people for fun and made with friends and lovers, and they're really personal and each is kind of unique. What differentiates Hump! from the typical porn experience is you sit down at a computer, and you click only on those things that you want to watch (that you want to masturbate to), and at Hump we do the clicking for you! [laughs] And it's about the self-expression of each of the participants and not about the tastes or preferences of the viewer, necessarily. And that creates a really different dynamic.

How many submissions do you get per year, nowadays?

A few hundred...two or three hundred, of which only 26-27 make it into the festival. The Hump! jury days, where we sit in a locked conference room and watch all of the films, are pretty epic! I don't really need to watch porn for the rest of the year after that week.

And, how many submissions were there when the festival first began?

It increased a lot, especially in the last few years as we've opened Hump! up to the whole country and started touring it and started accepting submissions from other cities. The first few years, we would get 30, 40, 50 submissions, and now we get a couple hundred.

To what extent is the Hump! festival a movement to educate people about various sexual attitudes and activities?

Hump!'s primary goals are to entertain and titillate [laughs]; that's first and foremost. Each film at Hump! has to be entertaining and titillating in its own way. There is an educational, I think, and a kind of social justice component to Hump!, but that's ancillary; that's sort of something that is unintentional and happens around the edges but has value. There's a really cool thing that happens when you watch Hump! with an audience, and that's, at first, you just watch people — watch the audience — and all you see are people kind of thrown back in their chairs because they're watching porn they would never choose to watch themselves, at their home while masturbating in front of their computers, and at first all anyone can see are the differences: “That's not my punning; that's not the kind of people I'm attracted to; that's not the sex acts I enjoy,” and about a third of the way through, all those same people who at first could only see the differences, who were kind of having the wind knocked out of them by each film, are laughing and clapping and no longer having the wind knocked out of them, not being thrown back in their seats, because really — and it happens with almost every audience — about a third of the way through, all these people who could only see the differences are tapping into the similarities — the things we all share. The punning may be different; the sex acts may be different; the people you think are attractive may be different, but underneath that, all the rest of it is the same. The lust is the same; the desire is the same; the vulnerability is the same; the sense of humor is the same; the desire to be known and seen is the same, and that's really the kind of a wonderful, magical moment at Hump! But it wasn't the intent when we put the festival together; it was just something that kind of happened of its own accord.

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What are the attendance numbers like for the tour?

Really through the roof! [We’re] selling out in a lot of cities, and if we've been to a city before, word of mouth is selling the tickets for us. We're not having to work as hard anymore. The best advertisement really for Hump! are people who've been to Hump! before, who talk it up and bring friends. And the people that I love best, who come to Hump! or bring people to Hump!, are the people who hate pornography. Usually, when you talk to people who don't like porn, they're people who say it's so dehumanizing, and we've had so many experiences of people coming to Hump! and coming up to us afterwards to say, "I don't like porn. I hate porn; it's so dehumanizing, but my friends dragged me to this and I loved it! I loved Hump!" So, Hump! is the porn festival for people who hate pornography.

Have you received any backlash because of the festival?

Only in one city did we get run out of town. We lost our venue. I think it was Pittsburgh, and, you know, the Streisand paradox — everybody then wanted to see this thing that they were told they weren't allowed to see. And it's hilarious to think that in the days of the Internet, and Internet pornography, that anyone would think they could keep porn out of their town by shutting down a porn festival or a movie theater. You can just walk to the Starbucks a block away and get on your phone and watch all the porn ever made in the world, ever! [laughs] Right there on the street! [Apart from that,] there are legit criticisms of the festival. Sometimes people say it's too white, and that's true. For years most of the submissions came from Seattle and Portland, which are two of the whitest places in the country, so there wasn't a lot of racial diversity involved. But that's changing as the festival becomes a national festival instead of just a Pacific Northwest thing. And there were some years where we had no lesbian porn, and it wasn't because we excluded it; it was because no one made any or submitted any, and we couldn't include it. Hump! is open source; if you want to see it at Hump!, make it for Hump! and send it to us.

You were in Germany when the Berlin wall was torn down...

[laughs] I was!

To what extent do you think experiencing this event has contributed to your interests in cleansing the way between people with different attitudes about sexuality?

Wow, that's a heavy question! I hope that happens, and I've had people come up to me at the festival, who for the first time in their lives watched trans porn or kink porn — or gayboys who sat through what could seem like hours of cunnilingus at Hump! — and, you know, they've sort of been cured of their squeamishness / curiosity, and that's good. Those walls falling are good. I think what you see a lot of at Hump!, and this isn't up on the screen, are people really opening themselves up and [it’s] in this supportive environment, where everything is okay. And people feel okay about that because there's no sense, watching Hump, that anyone up there on the screen was coerced or is doing it for any other reason besides they love it and wanted to do it.

I don't have any other questions for you, but if you wanted to put a plug in or an additional announcement....

[laughs]

Ah! "put a plug in"...no pun intended!

I just hope that everybody who comes to Hump is inspired to think about making a film for Hump! We like to say: "Hump! comes once a year, but only if you come!" So come to Hump!, and then come back and make a video for Hump! next year!

Hump! comes to Long Beach on Thursday, March 24 at the Art Theatre at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $18. For full details, click here.

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Art Theatre of Long Beach

2025 E. 4th St.
Long Beach, CA 90814

562-438-5435

www.arttheatrelongbeach.com

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