Dan Savage’s Amateur Porn Festival Is Back, Airborne Phalluses and All

The HUMP! Festival screens at three locations in the Bay Area this year. It’s almost as if we’re, like, really huge fans of kinky sex or something.

Like a cannon pointed straight at the giant rainbow flag above Harvey Milk Plaza, the drone-mounted dildo drifts slowly over the Castro, an airborne hard-on caught in the camera’s gaze as the entire contraption floats in the direction of the phallic edifices downtown.

This is just one part of “Dildrone,” a short film that’s one of 21 entries in Dan Savage’s 13th annual amateur porn festival, HUMP!. (It’s also the runner-up for Best Humor, incidentally.) 

Having screened at the Victoria Theatre for years, HUMP!’s annual reappearance just before Noise Pop is a great purgative for midwinter bed death and a hilarious opportunity to squirm before the screen while consuming pornography the way our grandparents did: surrounded by strangers, in the dark. It’ll be there, like usual, from Jan. 17-27, with Savage himself presenting the films during the first four nights of that run. But this year, HUMP! has tripled its indecent exposure to include two additional venues, Berkeley’s Ashby Stage (Jan. 31-Feb. 3) and Oakland’s Starline Social Club (Feb. 8-10).

“There’s a lot of demand, and the Bay Area, of course, is the Jerusalem of the sex-positivity movement, so it makes sense we would make a long pilgrimage there,” Savage tells SF Weekly. “We’re going to save people on BART fares. We’ll bring it to you wherever you are.”

13th Annual HUMP! Trailer from HUMP! Film Festival on Vimeo.

After more than a dozen years, it’s apparently still possible to surprise the mildly jaded professionals who assemble this particular festival. This is only the second year that “animated ritualistic demon porn” has made the cut. Entries are many, and the bar is high. Keeping a film under five minutes in length is tricky, although the definition of “amateur” is left ambiguous. Professional porn star Buck Angel has entered a HUMP! film, for instance, but the advances in technology that have given virtually everyone a high-quality film-production studio in their pocket mean we’re far beyond the days when people drunkenly recorded grainy video on a Motorola Razr.

“We created HUMP! in response to the amateur porn genre-movement-phenomenon,” Savage says. “The films are often really creative and often quite funny and able to mix humor and sex in a way that a lot of self-serious porn can’t quite manage. And it’s just a really fun, celebratory event about sexual diversity and gender diversity — and it’s a really good time.”

One of the main thrusts — if you will — behind HUMP! is to get people to sit through things they would never click on if they were browsing through the enormous wealth of erotica the internet offers. The audience’s reactions follow a particular rhythm, Savage says, even among people who’ve attended many previous HUMP!s.

“This thing happens where the first three or four films you have straight guys watching hardcore gay porn,” he says, “and cisgender people watching porn made by transgender people about and for themselves — not for the cis consumer — and you have vanilla people watching hardcore kink porn. At first, everyone’s thrown back in their seats, and all they can see is what’s not for them, what’s not their preferred sex acts, their preferred sex partners, their preferred kinks.

“Sometimes, they have the wind knocked out of them,” he adds. “About halfway through, you don’t see that anymore, everybody’s cheering and laughing and even if something comes up that blew my mind, it doesn’t shock the audience anymore.” 


This year, that path to un-shockability includes a coffee shop fantasy that turns into a moody striptease, a lot of fucking as the shadows grow long in Utah’s Monument Valley, and “Turiya” (described as “A Depeche Mode video on Quaaludes. Get ready for gender-bending, mind-warping, double-sided dildo magic”).

Heavy, sure, but there’s always something sweet. “Connection,” the coffeehouse short, is this year’s Best in Show — an honor bestowed by voting audiences in Seattle, Portland, and Olympia, since tabulating hundreds of thousands of ballots from theaters nationwide would be onerous — and it doesn’t have any explicit sex at all.

“Some of them are erotica, some of them are animation, some are storytelling, sometimes there’s a comedy or two,” Savage says. “It just runs the gamut. I sometimes call HUMP! the ‘porn festival for people who hate porn,’ because the usual objection to porn is that it’s dehumanizing — and the porn at HUMP! is very deeply humanizing.”

And since it’s a competition, filmmakers win cash prizes. The $5,000 Best in Show award got bumped up to $10,000 this year, Savage notes, and all filmmakers get a percentage of the ticket sales from every stop on the tour. 

“It’s in the thousands of dollars,” he says. “We’ve had some folks make a film in their van, and then say they bought a van with their proceeds.”

People reinvest their dividends in all manner of ways, including one Portland art collective that sunk it back into their work and a college student who used his winnings to defray part of his tuition. But it’s less about the money than about the universality of the human sexual experience.

“There’s this moment where the audience tips from only seeing what’s different to suddenly seeing everything’s the same, everything that we share: desire, lust, vulnerability, a sense of humor, passion, all of that,” Savage says.

That could be a woebegone guy playing an accordion in his apartment and lamenting his love life, or it could be meta-porn based around the time-worn trope of the pizza delivery guy.

“Where would you see that, if you’re cruising around Pornhub looking for something to jack off to?” Savage asks. “You probably aren’t going to find that. And if you are, you’re not going to click on it. But it was really great — and if you came to HUMP!, you got to see it.”

HUMP!, Jan. 17-Feb. 10, at the Victoria Theatre, Ashby Stage, and Starline Social Club. $25; humpfilmfest.com

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