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Sex and the (Park) City: Considering An Atypically Sexual Sundance Film Festival

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 26, 2013 at 12:52PM

Sex and the Sundance Film Festival is not a new equation. In fact, sex and this Sundance Film Festival isn't a new equation. It's been a talking point since before the festival even started.
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Travis Mathews and James Franco's "Interior. Leather Bar."
Travis Mathews and James Franco's "Interior. Leather Bar."

In a cameo role as Hugh Hefner, "Lovelace" also features James Franco (who also starred as Ginsberg in "Howl"). But it's by far Franco's least substantial contribution to sex at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. In something of a parallel to Hefner (but in a much more progressive way), Franco admirably was a sort of celebrity spokesperson for sex positivity at Sundance, bringing two films to the festival as a producer ("Kink") and co-director ("Interior. Leather Bar"), and giving them loads of deserved attention.

Collectively, these two projects are perhaps the cornerstones of sexual representation at Sundance this year. "Kink" -- produced by Franco and directed by Christina Voros -- is a documentary that looks at the world inside the San Francisco armory that houses the porn production facilities of BDSM (short for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism) website kink.com. Though it features multiple scenes of explicit sex itself, "Kink" mainly works to break through the misconceptions facing both BDSM in general and the way the porn associated with it is produced.

"The subject matter of these videos was pretty extreme," James Franco told Indiewire during Sundance. "I watch a certain kind of pornography, but this was much more extreme than the kind of pornography than I watch. And the dynamic within the video -- the sort of sadomasochistic dynamics within the video -- were so different from what was happening behind the scenes. There it felt like everybody is on the same team and everybody is working together."

"Kink"
"Kink"

"Interior. Leather Bar," meanwhile, is a project Franco co-directed with Travis Mathews ("I Want Your Love"). A blend of documentary and fiction, the film is about the two of them trying to remake the 40 minutes of explicit S&M material apparently cut from William Friedkin's 1980 film "Cruising" to avoid an X rating. While that in itself is an interesting concept (and part of the film is indeed a deliciously hardcore recreation of just that), the film extends well beyond it to discuss representations of queer sex in both Hollywood and society in general.

"As a filmmaker and a creative person I'm always interesting in questioning or examining areas or topics that create fissures or make us question how we are living," Franco said. "Is it by choice? What do we believe in? Is it because that's exactly how we want to live and that's what's making us happy? Or is that something that is sort of handed down in various ways of pop culture school, advertisers, everything. That's one of main reasons I was also interested in these subjects... I wanted to use real sex. But not in a pornographic way but in a way that helped talk about ideas or help tell a story."

And Franco's mission is perhaps the best way to summarize the relationship the 2013 Sundance Film Festival had to sex. Whether real or simulated, in documentary or in narrative. At its best it was used to indeed talk about ideas or to help tell a story. And most of it has already sold to US distributors, meaning this discussion won't necessarily live in the Park City bubble that was the last 11 days, and might just start some conversations elsewhere.  And while it might be tempting for those conversations to be more of the "so why is James Franco doing all these sex movies anyway" variety, it's a way, way more interesting conversation to look at what Franco (and Mathews and Voros and Passon and Fidell and Garcia and Gordon-Levitt) are doing instead of why.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco , Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Concussion, Two Mothers, The Lifeguard, Lovelace, Kink







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