You may know Dan Savage from his syndicated sex-advice column Savage Love. Or you may be familiar with his It Gets Better project aimed at preventing suicide in LGBT young people. But he's also the creator of the Pacific Northwest's beloved amateur dirty film festival, HUMP!, bringing you five-minute movies running the gamut of sexual styles and preferences since 2005. We caught up with him ahead of this weekend's Portland screenings to talk about sexting, porn, and why it's OK to like vanilla sex.
Why did you create HUMP!?
We did it to have fun. We thought it would be a good creative sex positive use of people’s creative energies.
There are other porn film festivals out there, but I like to think HUMP! is unique and really a reflection of the sex cultures in Seattle and Portland but also their creative cultures.
People I know who don’t like porn will say that porn is deeply dehumanizing, and what you find at HUMP! year after year is deeply humanizing porn. It’s just often really touching.
How has the material you receive changed in the years since you first launched HUMP! in 2005?
In the first few years we got many submissions that were aping the look and feel and tropes of mainstream porn—but that wasn’t the stuff audiences responded to. But eventually with the audience ballot, the stuff that was more mainstream-seeming got weeded out.
Audiences would vote for a short, really weird, off-the-wall film with terrible production values, and it would win over films with high production values but really no soul. It’s really those films that share who they are with audiences that people respond to in a big way.
Are there films that stand out for you?
I remember films from the beginning of the festival that I’d love to see again, but we have no way of finding them! We destroy the copies after the film festival is over. Unless the filmmaker is known to us personally or gets back in touch, we’re never going to see them again.
I really loved the winner of last year’s festival—it may be one of my favorite of all time, called Glory Hole. It was this middle-aged gay couple talking about the night they met. They met under really sleazy circumstances, and a great relationship flowed from it. They were both open to treating people they met, even in a glory hole, like human beings and not treating them like flashlights or boxes of Kleenex. It was a beautiful film, and that it illustrated so beautifully something I’m constantly saying in my column also helps!
Have changes in technology upped the bar for film production in HUMP!?
There is a rise in quality, and people can make really good films on their phones now.
I remember a film eight or nine years ago, that was just somebody sitting in a restaurant and tearing up a napkin and manipulating it and folding it up until it looked just like a vulva, and then sliding it over one of those phallic salt shakers that look like a penis, and that was the end of the film. It was this brief, pussy origami salt shaker action. But the film quality was really terrible.
And we still get films that are grainy and films with not the greatest equipment, but we don’t get as many truly hard-to-watch films—and I don’t mean hard-to-watch in the ‘Ew, gross’ way, I mean hard-to-watch in the ‘What’s going on? It’s so muddy and murky’ way. So thank you, Apple, for making our porn festival better!
Have you noticed any trends developing in terms of people’s sexual proclivities?
These days I sometimes hear from people who have no kinks, and who feel self-conscious. They feel boring. They feel like they’re doing sex wrong because they’re not kinky, they’re just vanilla. It’s a sad reversal in a way, because it used to be kinky people who felt like there was something wrong with them. And the point of sex positivity, the point of people owning their sexuality, isn’t for folks to feel like they’re doing it wrong if they don’t hew to some arbitrary standard imposed by others. If vanilla’s what you’re into and vanilla is what makes you and your partner happy, then vanilla is awesome! You shouldn’t feel self-conscious about that.
Have there been other trends you’ve noted over the years that have come and gone?
One of the things that happens year after year, which amazes us, is there’ll be something in the water, and we’ll get a lot of films about X – whatever it is.
A few years ago, we got five James Bond parodies in one year, and we hadn’t asked for James Bond parodies! And a couple of years ago we had a whole bunch of films where fruit and vegetables were employed strategically near vulvas—people were mashing papayas and bananas into vulvas, and lapping them up— and it was just like wow, was there a sale at fruit and veg stands this week that everybody was making their HUMP! videos?
One year we got seven or eight submissions with pegging in them, but this year I don’t really think we had an overwhelming genre. And this year is exceptional in that way, perhaps.
In the decade since you started the festival there have been a lot of changes in hook-up culture, with the arrival of Grindr and Tinder, among other things. How much does that feed into people’s sexual expression, and does that translate into the films they make?
I think people are ever more comfortable with technology being incorporated into their sexuality and mediating it.
Twelve years ago when we first announced the first HUMP!, people were less comfortable putting themselves out there in front of a camera. And now, almost the majority of relationships and certainly the overwhelming majority of hookups, start with you putting yourself in front of a camera. Increasingly, people are really at ease with that.
A generation of people now in their mid-twenties—prime HUMP! years—grew up sexting. That was a part of flirting, and so they are less paranoid about there being a dirty picture of them somewhere out there online, or a short dirty video of them somewhere out there. Not that we put anything online, but that’s a fear for people when they send off film—what if it gets out? What if it leaks? And I think that people in their twenties, even into their early thirties, are not as paranoid about that, because everyone has lost control of individual sexts or short videos that they sent to lovers back in the day.
There are upsides and downsides, though. You’re never off. I don’t know if I could have survived my teens and twenties and even my thirties if every where I went, every party, every bar, every assignation, every stupid moment there were cameraman in every corner of the room uploading everything to their Instagram accounts and their Facebook pages.
But, if you live in a culture where you can’t live anything down, if everything is going to follow you, then so does everyone else. They also live in a culture where everything is going to follow THEM for the rest of their lives and hopefully that will instill in each of us a little more compassion for the foibles and unforced errors of others.
HUMP! screens at Revolution Hall in Portland on November 6–7 and 13–14 before heading off on a national tour.
Showtimes and tickets at www.humpportland.com