CineKink, the New York-based “kinky film festival” (now in its eighth year), kicks off its national tour with a stop in Las Vegas this weekend. Earlier this week I spoke by phone with CineKink founder Lisa Vandever about sex and cinema, ethical non-monogamy and why the fest's steamy lineup has a little something for almost everyone.
Where did the idea for a kinky film festival come from?
CineKink combines two of my passions. I have a film degree and had moved to New York in 1996 to break into film. At the same time, I also became involved with the S&M crowd in New York. I got involved with a group that was trying to put together a film series. I worked with them in shaping that for a couple of years and really loved it because it was two of my interests coming together. I loved the charge of seeing people represented on screen in a positive way. It’s very rare for people to have their sexuality validated in that way.
How has the festival changed and evolved over the past eight years?
Originally, CineKink had more of an S&M bent, and while that it still our core, the festival has also expanded to include films that depict a range of sex positive representations. In our current moral climate, I think that what counts as kink can be anything that falls outside our normal stories of what sex should be: a man, a woman and monogamy forever. Kink can be anything that explores different ways of being sexual—whether that’s non-monogamy, bisexuality, or different expressions of gender. I’m interested in always coming back to what makes people feel good and to create a space for conversations about sex. My favorite thing is to throw in a bunch of short films about different topics. There’s a film called Piss that’s screening in Vegas as part of the “Best of CineKink” lineup. It’s a film about a woman who really, really wants her boyfriend to pee on her. But he is a feminist scholar and is hung up on, “I can’t pee on my girlfriend because that is misogyny.” So the film is about how they come to terms with her desires.
You describe CineKink as a sex positive film festival. What does this mean?
The question that often comes up when I say “sex positive” is, “Well, is there a sex negative?” I feel like much of our culture is sex negative. For me, sex negativity is any depiction of sexuality that makes people feel badly about the choices that are depicted. A common thing that happens in films—and this is true especially in S&M movies—is that it’s okay to play around with depictions of S&M because they are very scintillating, people being tied up, a little whipping and such, but by the end, someone either has to be dead or has to renounce their choice as crazy. In opposition to this, sex positivity is taking a positive stance on people’s sexual desires and being accepting of those desires without judgment. Sex positivity really brings an intelligence and smartness to sex. Unless someone is being abused or hurt, any consensual sexual activity is okay.
When you evaluate submissions for CineKink, what qualities do you look for?
Like any film festival, I’m looking for films with quality. On top of that, I’m also looking for sex positive criteria because we do get a lot of submissions where people don’t quite understand what that consists of. For example, there was a submission about a couple that was about to be married. The man was into a particular kind of sex, so you see him exploring that on the side. I had some ethical problems with that, because it is non-consensual—he is cheating on a partner and she doesn’t know. And it was also mocking his fetish and making it seem like it was a big joke, like, “Isn’t it gross that he is into that?”
What is ethical non-monogamy?
There are a lot of Hollywood stories about cheating, but it’s what I see as non-ethical non-monogamy. The consent part is very important. In other words, if you are part of a couple and you want to open that up and bring in other partners, you don’t do that without telling your original partner what is going on. And you should also let the other people in on what is going on, too, including that you are already involved with someone. It is such a cliché, but it really comes down to communicating and being open and honest.
What are some films that audiences can look forward to during CineKink Las Vegas?
We really try to program films that speak to different tastes. So we are starting things off on Friday with a lineup called “Pride and Predilections.” This includes some pieces about different types of sexuality and different fetishes. There is a cute documentary about chains—like wallet chains in the lesbian community and how this “codes” different kinds of sexuality. On Friday night there is a really sexy program called “Life, Love, and Lust,” which includes films by Erika Lust. She is filmmaker who comes up a lot when I talk about sex positive pornography. She’s based in Spain and does really gorgeous work. I point to Friday as date night, if people want to have a titillating evening with some nice short films. On Saturday we have the “Best of CineKink,” which is an obvious go-to, because it is called the “Best of.” That has the film Piss, which is paired with a piece from Denmark called Cactus, which won our best Dramatic Short this year. We finish things off on Sunday with Kink Crusaders, a documentary about the Mr. Leather contest. It examines the gay male leather subculture and how it developed.
Last year was the first time that CineKink came to Vegas and the turnout was rather small. Why did you decide to come back?
While it was a small turnout, it was a very enthusiastic crowd. The people I met last year were very encouraging about having us back. And there was a really great communal feel among those of us who had travelled to Vegas from other places, filmmakers and such. Plus, Las Vegas is an easy city to come to. We felt very welcomed. Some cities are like, “Another film festival? Okay, fine.” But people in Vegas seemed genuinely excited to have us here and we liked that. And once Theatre 7 came on the scene, our return became all the easier. They're doing wonderful things for the Las Vegas film community, and I'm very happy to be working with them.
What would you say to someone who is curious about checking out CineKink, but might be slightly intimidated by the festival’s name?
I know it can be scary to think about going to the kinky film festival, but you’re basically going to watch a film in a nice, ordinary theater. You are not going into a dungeon or a sex club. It is just a theater. You can go in and have a little popcorn and a soda. The thing people always remark on is how ordinary and friendly everyone seems. I know sometimes people are expecting scary men in raincoats, but generally they aren’t there. People regularly say to me, “Oh, these are people just like me.”