The New Nostalgia of Touch: The Best Adult Erotic Filmmakers to Watch in 2021
The relentless slog of this pandemic has, undeniably, left a lot of us bereft of human physical contact. What seemed manageable to handle for a month or two — no hugging outside of your household pod, no new dates without rigorous measures — is starting to feel like a real and permanent loss.
As an adult erotic filmmaker myself, I’m painfully aware that the adult film industry has of course been terribly hard-hit by the ban on physical contact. In-person shooting of couples and groups has, by necessity, slowed to a sanitary trickle.
I feel very lucky that I finished shooting my erotic film Wild Card before Amsterdam’s lockdown in spring 2020. I was able to cobble together my favorite postproduction crew — editor/colorist/compositor, sound designer, motion graphics designer, composers — and work remotely together over the following months to get it done.
More than just being proud that we got a film finally made in the depths of a pandemic, watching Wild Card now fills me with hope. I concepted it well before the pandemic, but what fills the screen now, I realize, is a love letter to human touch which makes me practically ache with nostalgia.
Like with all my movies, Wild Card is meant to evoke the feeling I love in sex: The excitement and erotic pull of guessing what exactly will happen next because you and your partner are improvising together as you go. It’s been a fun challenge to represent this dynamic through different film forms. Wild Card is my latest “erotic game” movie, in which Bishop Black and Kali Sudhra themselves have no idea what will happen next. I gave them a simple game: Around the room are hidden various playing cards, each with the name of a typically nonsexual body part — elbow, eyelashes. The only instruction is to enjoy yourselves by playing around with that body part as long as it remains fun, then pick another card. What made this film different for me than my others is that I already knew how important it would be to bring out the erotic sensations of very small movements, like eyelashes brushing a cheek. So this was my first experience integrating a high-frame-rate macro lens camera into my shooting — I really wanted the viewer to feel they were practically pressed up against Bishop and Kali in those moments. When we see Kali’s hair, we are inside her hair, even smelling the fragrance of her hair. Combined with the fun and giddy way that Bishop and Kali start out the film together, laughing uncontrollably, the physical and emotional intimacy weave together in such a warm way that I almost didn’t expect it when it shifts into heavy breathing and climax. And now, during the pandemic, it feels surreal and rebellious to be this physically close to someone else; it’s now a privilege.
I was lucky to have a film already shot which I could work on during lockdown. For most filmmakers, crew, and especially performers, 2020 left us stuck in a holding pattern for creating new work. Those of us with footage already “in the can” were fortunate. It was very difficult to assemble a new cast of two or more performers who are already sharing a pandemic pod and thus allowed to kiss and caress and have sex. Adding multiple crew members to the mix was risky and very difficult.
But that didn’t stop us, and film lovers worldwide, from enjoying the films recently made and still well available for sensual enjoyment. Some filmmakers, like myself, host their own platforms for film lovers to visit. And the various erotic film festivals in the USA and Europe —CineKink, P*rn Film Festival Vienna, San Francisco P*rn Film Festival, UNCENSORED Fest, Satyrs and Maenads Athens P*rn Film Festival, London Fetish Film Festival, London P*rn Film Festival — still largely went forth, thanks in large part to the erotic platform PinkLabel.tv, who created an adult-friendly festival interface which they donate to erotic film festivals as a selfless community exercise.
So, as someone who deeply enjoys the wide variety of sexy cinema that’s available with only a little digging, I offer a few of my recent movie picks by filmmakers who have been creating amazing work just prior to the pandemic, who have managed to still create during lockdown, and whom I definitely believe are filmmakers to watch in 2021.
Noel Alejandro – Serodiscordantes and the Bedtime Stories series
Nakedly emotional, dealing with breakups, love, loss, fear of death, and family abandonment, Spanish-born director Noel Alejandro’s films integrate explicitly erotic gay sex scenes into stories that demonstrate that sexuality is powerful enough to heal emotional wounds in a way that nothing else can.
Often sun-drenched in natural light, the gay male characters in Alejandro’s films are close enough to touch — furry bodies, peach fuzz, stubble on their cheeks are all within reach. And unlike a lot of gay adult film, his characters range in age and body type, adding to his films’ sense of realism.
In Serodiscordantes (Serodiscordant), Miguel is having nightly disturbing dreams about his live-in partner Evaristo. Moving into their new apartment, which they joke might be haunted, they start playing with mystical tools for fun — a divining crystal, a Ouija board. Unearthing private secrets, they lift their relationship into a new dimension.
Alejandro recently launched a new short film series, Bedtime Stories, with a similar natural aesthetic and embrace of emotion as his other work. He shot some before the pandemic and others during the lowering of the regulations in Berlin during the summer, leading to five finished films released. He also released the freestanding Under The Rain, an existential expression of what it means for adult film creators to deal with the stigma of making sex films.
Given how much Alejandro’s body of work has revolutionized perceptions of what gay adult film can be, to rave reviews from all over Europe and beyond, he’s certainly a filmmaker to watch.
Candy Flip and Theo Meow/Meow Meow – The Sad Girls of the Mountains
Only a few minutes into The Sad Girls of the Mountains (Die traurigen Mädchen aus den Bergen), I had the deliciously disoriented feeling of having pretty much no idea what I had gotten myself into. Sad Girls is a black comedy feminist mockumentary eviscerating the patriarchy, activism, public attitudes towards sex work, and the dangerous salaciousness of hip magazines like Vice.
Directed by Candy Flip and Theo Meow of the Berlin-based Meow Meow collective, Sad Girls was the 2020 opening film of the virtual San Francisco Porn Film Festival and has racked up multiple best film awards.
Documentarist Hendrik of “Gonzo” magazine excitedly undertakes a journey with his camerawoman to find the secretive Sad Girls — a collective of well-bred anti-capitalist feminist performers who have hidden themselves in the mountains to create wildly successful porn that highlights their depression and weeping — so that they can fund weapons for their heroines, the Kurdish female militia. Radical Tess, ex-anorexic Lara, witty Selma, and quiet Momo allow Hendrik (played with subtly realistic perfection) into their sphere for a price, whereupon he proclaims himself a feminist while subtly chipping away at their feminist micro-utopia. Successfully working in so many filmmaking modes, it will be very interesting to see what’s next for Flip, Meow, and the Meow Meow collective.
Successfully working in so many filmmaking modes, it will be ver interesting to see what’s next for Flip, Meow and the Meow Meow collective.
Finn Peaks, Katy Bit, Theo Meow, Candy Flip and Jo Pollux
In 2020, Meow and Flip joined with three other Berlin filmmaker friends — Finn Peaks, Katy Bit and Jo Pollux — to release the lush feature Urban Smut. Directed by the five shortly before the pandemic, they had time to finish postproduction in Berlin during COVID isolation. Urban Smut is everything you’d want a Berlin erotic film to be: Rich but raw, transforming abandoned urban spaces (a dusty old warehouse, a skyscraper rooftop, a brick cruising darkroom) into cinematic, dramatically lit stages for scenes of full-body wrestling, dynamic power play and the aching desire to connect with others. Their independently-created Urban Smut shorts Blue Hour, Fluchtpunkt, Fremde Zone, Passage, and Werkhalle 9 all combine “rough and playful, straight and queer” sex with each filmmaker’s slightly surreal erotic vision of Berlin.
The five fellow filmmakers then went on to join with ten more Berlin filmmaker friends to create a fundraiser for sex workers in need — a very successful and still-ongoing fundraiser, as it turns out. Sex In Times of Corona, a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun demonstrating how to have sex during lockdown, was created by Finn Peaks, Katy Bit, Theo Meow, Candy Flip, Jo Pollux, Doxytocine, Binx, Johnny Jane, Doloris Maria, Toni Karat, Manon Praline, Hyenaz, Harvey, Frau Dark, and spir@lena. Running the gamut of quirky ways to stay safe while enjoying sexual satisfaction, these independently created creative films kept cast and crew safe on set while generating much-needed income for community in need.
AORTA films – W/hole
New York-based AORTA films, headed by creative director Mahx Capacity, has built a solid reputation over the last years for its juicy, fleshy, chemistry-filled queer explorations of ”lusty, opulent, glorious f*ckery.”
So AORTA’s now-multi-award-winning W/hole had a high bar to meet, not least because it was made specifically in collaboration with performance company the A.O. Movement Collective.
W/hole is indeed kind of magical. Ten surprising and lyrical scenes, some explicitly erotic and some more experimental/conceptual, cross over and through dance, performance art and spoken-word poetry. It’s a decadent exploration of queer sensual pleasure involving everything from BDSM needle play to describing the delicious feeling of cleaning one’s own ear with a Q-Tip. W/hole dips into sadness at times but surfaces with pure joy and celebration.
Even the explicit scenes are tender: In one, a loamy, flower-strewn forest floor is reminiscent of an A Midsummer Night’s Dream scene gone baroque, complete with symbolic fairies — plain-suited helpers, hidden in the foliage, nearly transfixed by the ripe sex in front of them, who occasionally rouse themselves to lean in to spritz the lovers with moistness from small silver spray bottles.
AORTA films was very fortunate to have come off of a full push of shooting days with a collective group of performers shortly before the pandemic hit, providing them with enough material to spend the lockdown time fleshing out five films. They also had previous material they could rework into four new films. They then shot seven additional projects during a low-COVID-rate time period in Brooklyn NY with a skeleton two-person crew, COVID-podded performers and full COVID precautions. And they also took steps into a couple of new directions, including animation — which might not, they say, have happened if not for the creative constraints of the pandemic pushing them in new directions. Keep an eye on the AORTA site for updates on their newest films.
Looking across all the filmmakers, it’s heartening to see that erotic filmmaking is still thriving even in these arid COVID-19 times. Not so long from now it won’t be such a jolt to see bodies pressed close together: Sweat, breath, flesh. I can’t help fantasizing about new performers and new storylines that I can weave together for Blue Artichoke Films when our whole team is allowed in the same room again. And perhaps this strange chapter in history will change my creative relationship to erotic human contact more than I expect; what exactly will I turn out to have missed most of all? But in the meantime, until we can all reclaim touch again in person, watching erotic film can be our bridge.
Jennifer Lyon Bell is the founder and creative director of Blue Artichoke Films.