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Montreal’s Smut Fest is unashamedly provocative

Film festival aims to educate and turn you on

FANTASY AND ECONOMICS. The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Porn screens on Sun, Oct 18 as part of the Smut Festival. Every image in the film comes from gay erotic videos produced in Eastern Europe.

Montreal’s Sex, Labour, Smut Film & Video Festival is hoping attendees come to hear things straight from the whore’s mouth this weekend. Twenty films are being presented and the opening night features a performance by Montreal klezmer-rap band SoCalled.

Xtra.ca spoke to Smut Festival’s Tom Waugh about his role as programmer. “It’s an exciting collaboration between teacher and student initiative,” says Waugh of his involvement in the fest. Waugh is also the film studies graduate progam director at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia and the director of the Concordia HIV/AIDS Project.

The films all meet at least two of three criteria: sex, labour and smut. “There is a wealth of topics on these subjects. But we need films that analyze and listen the protagonists of these unfolding issues,” says Waugh. “As programmers and fans of political cinema, we have all noticed a boom in documentaries that explore the pornography industry and prostitution. Yet many of these films perpetuate gendered, sexist, voyeuristic-male-hetero-fantasy representations of the confluence of sex and labour.”

Many films, such as Mirha Soleil Ross’ Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore, are intense looks at the experiences of sex workers, examining their lives and oppression based on sex, gender, sexuality and class. “We are absolutely insisting on the diversity of these films,” says Waugh. “We hope that this will provide a voice [to those] that are otherwise not heard, such as hustlers or other voices that are not heard before.”

Despite Waugh’s academic background and the Smut Festival’s political mandate, Waugh isn’t asking attendees to do any homework. “No required reading, just watching movies and having fun,” says Waugh with a chortle.

Ezra Winton is part of the student group that got the Smut Festival off the ground. As founder and programmer of Cinema Politica — a series of political documentary screenings that has expanded to Europe, South America, Asia and across Canada — Winton says he just wants filmgoers to gain some understanding about sex work in its current state.

“We’re hoping that [people] get a new perspective on sex work and pornography — not just one perspective but several,” he says. “We’re especially hoping for non-homophobic, non hetero-normative and non moral-panic perspectives. That’s a lot of nons!”

The festival’s films serve as a means for self-expression, too. “We’re also showing pieces where the sex workers and the people in the films are afforded more agency, of which they are not in so many other documentaries that we’ve seen. They speak for themselves, they tell their own stories,” he adds.

And though the credo is to “turn on” audience members, “We’re not asking people to get too dirty in the theatre,” says Winton. “But we are hoping that people get pleasure from seeing the films.”

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One of Tom Waugh’s festival picks: A Hundred Stories About My Grandmother, a film never before shown in Montreal, featuring 100 interviews with male sex workers.

One of Ezra Winton’s festival picks: Tales of the Night Faeries, about Calcutta sex workers who organize for self-empowerment.

Sex, Labour, Smut Film & Video Festival runs from Fri, Oct 16 to Sun, Oct 18. Opening night admission is $5. All other events at the festival are by donation. Visit the website, Cinemapolitica.org/smutfestival, for full programming schedule.