INTERVIEW: Lisa Vandever (Founder – Cinekink Film Festival)

Billing itself as “the kinky film festival,” CineKink NYC returns for its tenth annual appearance February 26-March 3, 2013, to be followed by a national showcase tour. Presented by CineKink, an organization dedicated to the recognition and encouragement of sex-positive and kink-friendly depictions in film and television, works featured at CineKink range from documentary to drama, comedy to experimental, mildly spicy to quite explicit – and everything in between

The kink-filled festivities begin Tuesday, February 26th, at 8 PM, with a fundraising kick-off extravaganza to be held at Taj (48 W. 21st Street, NYC), a pansexual celebration that, in addition to music and sexy performances, offers several cinematic gems up on the screen.  The festival then moves to Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue, NYC), Wednesday, February 27 – Saturday, March 2, with several different film and video programs scheduled for each day.

We talked to the festival founder Lisa Vandever about its 10 years of bringing audiences independent expressions of sexuality, how the New York City sexual landscape has changed and the effect of corporate interests on creativity.

The festival is now in its tenth year.  How has the festival grown from its first edition to now?
Its funny, I was just going through some archived photos of the first year and it was very sparse.  The biggest change is how much more quality, relevant content is available.  The festival has also grown in the number of days.  In our first year it was just on a Sunday.  Just to fill out the additional schedule was a real scramble.  Now we also have more of a luxury of selecting quality material.

Why did you decide to organize this type of festival in the first place, as well as keep it going?  Back when you first had the idea, what brought on the interest and determination to organize and continue?
The original impetus was an organization I was working with that was specifically focused on S&M.  I was working in film at the time and got such a creative reward from the experience, when you spend all year developing a film and you get that immediate satisfaction of seeing the audience react.  The thing that has kept me going over the long haul is matching audiences and filmmakers.  Where the filmmaker might have toured other festivals that are not as aligned.  That moment where an audience really understand what they are saying, are laughing at the right parts or moved by the rights scenes is magic.

What kind of events, outside of the specific film screenings, will happen at Cinekink NYC?
We open with a kickoff gala at Taj Lounge.  We will have burlesque performers, erotic body painters, screenings.  It is interesting because, sometimes, a totally different crowd comes to the parties than the screenings.  Of course, our regular screenings start on Wednesday at Anthology Film Archives.  We are also doing a Feminist Porn Panel on Saturday, which looks like will draw a big crowd.  Then Sunday we have our awards celebration and our AfterGlow party.  This is known as a “play” party, held in what is usually a swingers club.  There will be opportunities for people to explore their sexuality in the back or watch more movies in the front.

Who will be featured on the Feminist Porn Panel?
It was put together by Tristan Taormino, who is also writing a book of the same name, ‘The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure‘.  This has been her area of focus for several years.   She will be bringing some other filmmakers like Candida Royalle, a pioneering female adult filmmakers.  There will be a few performers like Kelly Shibari and Sinnamon Love.  We will also have Mireille Miller-Young, an academic talking about sexuality and issues of race.  Our last filmmaker on the panel is Courtney Trouble.

What is your background? Do you have a background in filmmaking or did this festival’s themes and filmmaking just happen to be a good combination?
I moved to New York to break into film.  About the same time I was getting a BDSM group and was exploring my own interests.  This festival is a way to combine two of my passions, the film world and issues of sexuality.

The Anthology Film Archives is the primary venue for the festival’s screening.  Specifically to the content of the festival, how is the program constructed?  How explicit do the films get when playing at such a venue?  Do you have limitations as to what you can show?
They have been great.  That is why we have been there for the past ten years, whereas a lot of the corporate based theaters would offer many stipulations.  We run the gamut in our programming.  There is  section called “Mildly Spicy” focusing on discussions about sex and then we mix in some actual porn.  I like to mix things up.  I find some of the distinctions artificial.  Some of the films may be grouped thematically and some not.

The only thing that is specifically pornographic is the showcase “Bring It” on Saturday.  It is an audience competition. This grew out of trying to show full length porn. Modern day porn is not suited for theatrical releases, although we are showing ‘The Opening of Misty Beethoven‘ which is the pinnacle of adult filmmaking.  I think that in most modern porn, once the sex starts it brings you out of the story.  This film is amazing because it manages to keep all the film elements in place even with the sexually explicit content.

The NYC dates of Cinekink are the kickoff to a national tour. Is this national tour something that happens every year or is this in celebration of the festival’s tenth anniversary?
We have been touring for about five years.  The main event is in New York and then we will go out to other cities.  Sometimes we will go to 2 or 3 cities with a “Best Of Cinekink” program, which is a selection of the award winning short films.  It really depends on city to city and how much of an audience there is, but the main event is in New York City.

How do you gauge the temperature of the sexual landscape in New York City from when you first moved to now?  I come from a background specific to New York City nightlife, where its “heyday” is usually describes as late 80’s to 90’s with the hyper gentrification and corporate focused ideology of the 2000s really hindering the uniqueness of subculture.  How do you find this relates to the culture of sexuality in the area?
For me I feel like the biggest impact we face is the price of real estate, just in terms of keeping a club or social venue open.  I will travel to cities like Atlanta and they have lavish clubs devoted to swinging and sex parties.  It’s funny because everyone there assumes that the scene is incredible in New York, but the truth is it is a dingy little rec room, basically.  In terms of finding a place to get together, even to do film screenings, is so difficult to find willing theaters outside of the corporate interests.

Do you think that places like New York, which should be centers for sub culture, the perpetuation of corporate interest brings an element of subconscious conservatism that directly hinders scenes such as yours?
In some ways there are two things going on.  On one hand you have the internet, which has made things more accessible, which affects the awareness and positivity of sex and kink.  At the same time, you have corporate censorship which many people do not even realize exists.  For example, if you look at the web you will find several video hosting platforms, yet if you read through the terms of service, almost all do not permit pornographic content.  Any time there is money involved at a corporate level there is a fear of doing anything outside of what is “acceptable”.

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