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8 Sex Positive Short Films That Exude Sensuality, Kink, and Body Positivity

As mainstream Hollywood lags behind in meaningful explorations of sexuality, these provocative short films embrace the unusual tapestry of human predilections.

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As film festivals pivot to the ever-shifting landscape of distribution and sales, the way we consume independent film is changing more dramatically than anyone could have predicted. Audiences can now experience a wider variety of films online, opening a world of possibilities that will hopefully benefit smaller films. With any luck, the new reality will broaden movie lovers’ horizons enough to include short films, which U.S. audiences can be reluctant to embrace. Most filmmakers begin to craft their voices with shorts, and given the significance of making a strong first impression, the format encourages creative risks. What’s more, younger and emerging filmmakers naturally have a finger on the pulse of more progressive ideas, ensuring a broader range of perspectives.

While mainstream Hollywood struggles to address human sexuality in any meaningful way, these four recently-released short films explore sex and desire with a refreshing playfulness. Whether it’s a feminist genre take on actual bloodlust, or a comedy about an erotic encounter where the two people never touch, these films celebrate the full spectrum of human desire. They’re all available online, though you’ll have to head over to YouTube for the more explicit titles, and each one has its own unique vibe.

“Tangles and Knots”

dir. Renée Marie Petropoulos

Though dealing swimmingly with sexual themes, this daring drama pushes the envelope a bit too far to be considered flat-out sexy. Rather, Australian filmmaker Renée Marie Petropoulos uses sexuality as fertile ground to explore the complex connection between a mother and daughter, and each woman’s complicated relationship to her own sexuality. A quintessential “cool mom” throws a raucous pool party for her wide-eyed teenage daughter, eerily pushing her to flirt with the boys. The older woman saunters in her loose caftan doling out Jello shots, sucking down a cigarette after some boys toss her in the pool with the rest of the teenagers. As her daughter looks on — whether in shame, disgust, or normal teenage angst — an ocean of pain is shared in the glances between the two.

“F*ck You”

dir. Anette Sidor

When a cunning teenager steals a dildo and harness from her local sex shop, she suddenly finds herself empowered beyond the imaginations of her small-minded boyfriend. Emboldened by the high of her new toy, she exudes a new confidence in front of her friends, who seem devoted to conventional gender roles. She quickly grows tired of being shut out of the boys’ games, and poses a unique dare to the young men in her circle. But her confidence is rewarded when her macho lover surprises her in exciting ways.

“Dream World”

dir. Chung Nguyen

This funky little documentary explores the world of custom-order porn, a niche filmmaking enterprise designed by married couple Dan and Rhiannon Humes. Though they began their career in mainstream porn, the duo soon recognized an opening for user-designed content. Customers approach them with fantasies, whether to explore a specific fetish or to revisit an erotic childhood memory, and the Humes then craft them into bespoke porn. The film shows the coupe lugging camera equipment around their California home, interviewing the performers, and recounting customers and requests that stuck with them. Many of the scenarios are surprisingly moving, like the guy who just wants to see a pretty girl call him “honey” and “love.”

“Dirty”

dir. Matthew Puccini

Three films in, and director Mathew Puccini has pretty much covered the gamut of queer experience. With a light touch and a lyrical eye, Puccini’s shorts play like a moving triptych of quietly pivotal moments in the lives of queer men. “The Mess He Made” starred Max Jenkins as a man waiting for the results of an HIV test, and “Lavender” featured Michael Urie as half of a couple who invite a younger third into their longterm relationship. “Dirty” explores the awkwardness of a more universal folly — bottoming for the first time. As always in Puccini’s work, the characters are tender and natural; the images aglow with intimacy.

“Squeegee”

dir. Morgan Krantz

The most erotic film ever made about a window washer, “Squeegee” follows a delightfully weird tryst between a career woman and the scruffy younger man who washes her office windows. The 10-minute short is almost entirely devoid of dialogue, instead relying on a moody jazz score that wouldn’t be out of place in a noir. Lead actress Amy Rutherford embodies her frisky businesswoman with an empowered girlishness, communicating everything from desperate lust to soulful longing with nothing more than a few subtle looks. The glass that separates the two characters is both a literal safety barrier as well as representative of the often murky disconnect between fantasy and reality. Written and directed by Morgan Krantz, “Squeegee” is an entertaining comedic interlude that has a lot to say about the human condition. You’ll never look at window washers the same way again.

“I find sex to be pretty absurd, and I wanted to show that,” Krantz told Short of the Week, which premiered “Squeegee” in late May. “I’ve also been in relationships with people where we both know there is no practical way to really be together. But when you’re having one of these ‘flings,’ I have found that it can actually be easier to express how wild you are about a person… because you both know that you can never end up together. So that’s the glass between these two characters.”

“Ambrosia”

dir. Peter Spark

Lithe and full of longing, a young Italian embraces his provocative drag persona in this short and sensual documentary. Vincenzo is a young queer artist from Naples, Italy who performs cabaret-style drag at La Boum, Milan’s premiere gay club. His soul-searching voiceover narrates visually sumptuous footage of his performances, interspersed with more traditional community scenes of life in Naples. Whether he’s going by Vincenzo, Ambrosia, or Vincenzo D’Ambrosia, the film celebrates his shifting identity as he explains that the very act of naming himself is both confusing and empowering. While he appears confident and beautiful onstage, behind the scenes Ambrosia bounces between concerns about being pretty or feminine enough and feeling like he’s letting down his family every time he puts on a heel. Director Peter Spark expertly crafts this glittery dance between art and artist, allowing the harshness of Ambrosia’s inner monologue to exist side by side in beautiful contrast with his enthralling stage persona.

“Deep Tissue”

dir. Meredith Alloway

A young woman anxiously awaits a special visitor in a quaint roadside motel room in this surprising and humorous gore-inflected genre morsel. When her young and lanky massage therapist arrives, he isn’t exactly one for small talk, immediately putting her even more edge. Writer/director Meredith Alloway takes center stage as the eager client; she’s natural and open opposite a deliciously creepy Peter Vack. Following a string of TV roles in shows like “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Homeland,” Vack distinguished himself as a filmmaker with the highly controversial “Assholes,” which premiered at SXSW in 2017, prompting IndieWire’s David Ehrlich to call it “one of the most disgusting movies ever made.”  While “Deep Tissue” is more provocative than disgusting, the final reveal is in line with Vack’s own filmmaking philosophy. Keep ’em on their toes, and they’ll eat it right up. You can watch “Deep Tissue” via The Future of Film Is Female.

“Under Covers”

dir. Michaela Olsen

Quirky and unnervingly erotic, this whimsical stop-motion animation celebrates all kinds of bodies and predilections. The film debuted as part of Sundance Film Festival’s 2018 Midnight Shorts Program, and premiered online as a Vimeo Staff Pick last year. The films spies on different creatures in bed, from lesbian nuns to gender-blending lovers. Animator Michaela Olsen wanted to show “the lives people lead behind closed doors,” and while her intricately crafted figures aren’t all people, each character channels a unique persona even in their brief scenes. “I wanted to play on the idea of seeing every detail of the characters’ worlds and secrets,” Olsen told Vimeo. “They’re opening up their world to you as a viewer and showing you their true selves.”

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