Grounded by the Pandemic, Dan Savage's HUMP! Film Festival Pivots to Virtual Format

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COURTESY OF HUMP!
  • Courtesy of HUMP!
Nearly 20 years ago, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, the former editor of the alt-weekly The Stranger, conceived of HUMP!, a film festival designed to challenge his Pacific Northwest readers to "get their hands dirty" and create "good, old-fashioned homemade porn."

The results ran the gamut, representing straight, gay and transgender porn, all of it made by amateurs.



“The idea [for the festival] first occurred to me and a co-worker; we thought that it would be funny to do a call for submissions for amateur porn and have a film festival that could screen amateur porn in a theater,” Savage says via phone. Grounded by the pandemic, this year’s HUMP! festival has pivoted to a virtual format and will remain online until March 6. “There was a lot of resistance at [The Stranger] at the time. No one thought that anyone in Seattle would create an amateur porn video to be screened for an audience in Seattle. Finally, the publisher relented and at least let us do a call for submissions to see what we got. We got so much great stuff that we booked a theater. Then, the question became would people come and sit in the dark next to strangers like their grandparents used to and watch pornography. The screening sold out. The answer to both questions — would people make the movies and would people come to watch them — was yes.”

Initially, HUMP!'s annual screenings were limited to the Seattle area; it then expanded to Portland and Vancouver and San Francisco. Eventually, HUMP! turned into a traveling fest and regularly included a Cleveland stop at the Capitol Theatre when it went on tour.



“The problem is that when it was first touring, it was just Portland and Seattle filmmakers, and those are extremely white places,” says Savage. “We’re so delighted that, as HUMP! has toured year after year, we started to get submissions from all over the world, and it’s so much more diverse now than it was then. It’s a better reflection of the fact that it’s not just white people who enjoy having sex and enjoy showing off.”

Savage admits that the festival has “lost something” this year by going online only.

“There was a real energy when audiences would cheer and clap, and mostly straight audiences would even vote for best in show for a queer film,” he says. “Mostly vanilla audiences would lose their minds for a really kinky film. You kind of lost that. There are people around the world who have heard about [HUMP!], and it didn’t tour to their city, so those people can see it now. That’s been great, but we’re anxious to get back into theaters. There’s nothing like watching these films wash over you when you’re part of an audience.”

Another byproduct of this year’s virtual format is that the live action intro Savage usually records with the help of a film crew became animated for safety’s sake.

“I couldn’t get a film crew together to do live action,” he says. “The animator, Clyde Petersen, who made it is terrific and is working on an animated feature-length piece about gay sex culture. It was safe for me to go to a studio to do the voiceover and him to work on the animation.”

With the pandemic limiting social interaction, Savage received fewer entries this year. That said, he still looked at some 120 submissions before picking the 20 or so films that made the final cut.

“There’s a whole genre of HUMP! films that we call SFM, which stands for Solo Female Masturbation,” he says. “We get a lot of those every year and tend to favor the ones made by the woman who’s masturbating in it. Some of them are made by a couple, and the guy’s not brave enough to be in it and is just showing off his girlfriend. That can be good and some girlfriends want to be shown off. Because there were a lot of people at home, we got a lot of solo masturbation films. A lot more of them were made by the person who is in it. One of my favorite films from this year is Awaken. It’s a SFM made by the person who is in it, and it’s great.”

Savage doesn’t like to pick favorites, but he says there are many highlights to this year’s festival.

Mes Chéris, the film that’s about a transman talking about the top surgery he is about to have to remove his breasts,” he says. “It’s gorgeous and so moving. The film is an homage and a parting gift that he’s giving himself. He allows himself to love his breasts. It’s not typical for the experience of most trans men, who often have conflicted feelings about their breasts. To see someone who feels so differently is great. People were sobbing. I was sobbing when we watched it in the jury room. That one is really great. When it comes to the really DIY films, I thought Final eXXXams: A Quarantine Love Story is really great. Lengua, the one with the beef tongue, is really challenging. Mother’s Day with the breast milk is great. The 20 that make it in are all favorites. They’re all films that we loved.”

HUMP! features porn that takes people out of their comfort zones, but Savage clearly wants viewers to be respectful, even if a short movie exposes to them to a completely different lifestyle. “You can embrace the discomfort or close your eyes,” he says in the pre-recorded intro.

“There’s research that shows that people who watch pornography are more tolerant,” he says. “It’s hard to say whether people who come to porn are more open-minded or if it makes people more open-minded, but what you see in HUMP! isn’t typical pornography. HUMP! is curated for you. You’ll watch stuff that isn’t about your turn-ons and doesn’t feature the kind of gender suppression that you perform or think is hot. You just see what’s different. A few films in, you see what you have in common. That’s passion and desire and vulnerability. What you have in common is much greater, and I think that’s the secret message at the heart of HUMP! By the end of HUMP!, you can see the similarities and what of you is in every film.”

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