Film festival features sexuality from a different point of view 

By Karen Herland

Tom Waugh, Concordia Research Chair in Documentary Film and Sexual Representation. Magnifying glass

Tom Waugh, Concordia Research Chair in Documentary Film and Sexual Representation.

The organizers of the first ever Sex, Labour, Smut Festival decided to hit at least two of the three themes with each of the films screened over the four-day event.

The result was the presentation of 20 films Oct. 16 to 19 selected to challenge traditional representation of subjects that are at best considered taboo or at worst overly determined by moral panic narratives about victimization and redemption.

The festival was programmed by Ezra Winton and Svetla Turnin of Cinema Politica, Tom Waugh, the Concordia Research Chair in Documentary Film and in Sexual Representation, and MFA student and filmmaker, Shannon Harris.

“The festival was incredibly successful, especially since we were competing with two other film festivals and the last of the sunny days,” said Harris. Some would argue the subject matter was the big draw, but those looking for naughty movies were likely disappointed.

“Ezra’s the main programmer for Cinema Politica and screens hundreds of new documentaries every year,” said Waugh. Most of them take a voyeuristic, heterosexual male perspective on pornography, sexuality and sex work. “The ones that do occupy the attention of the mainstream are very problematic from the point of view of agency and diversity.”

As an example, Waugh points out the two major titles to come out of the National Film Board dealing with pornography are Not a Love Story and Give Me Your Soul. “Just the title of that last film alone provides an indication of how really problematic it is.”

In response, the Sex, Labour, Smut Festival presented classics like the 25-year-old Hookers on Davie, along with the more recent Live Nude Girls Unite!, about strip club workers who unionize. The opening party featured some 90-year-old stag films that Waugh found.

Harris, who did research on sex trade workers in Mexico as an undergraduate has been interested in the subject for a while. “Both fiction and documentaries present a very narrow view of sex trade workers. There is more than just being victimized and being exploited.”

Many of the films presented, such as Tales of the Night Fairies about efforts to organize sex workers in India, offered a very different perspective. It was a perspective some filmgoers found challenging. “The stereotypes and morality are really entrenched,” said Harris.

Waugh’s colleague, Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema Studies Chair Marielle Nitoslawska, introduced her film Bad Girl on Oct. 16 by talking about how difficult it was to get the film shown precisely because it presented female filmmakers depicting alternative, and often graphic, images of sexuality.

Other filmmakers like Mirha-Soleil Ross were also on hand to introduce their work. Ross’s safe sex advocacy material uses porn conventions with educational intent.

At other points, it was the films themselves that were challenged. Trish Salah’s introduction of Be Like Others questioned the agenda of the filmmakers. “It was fabulous to look at the film in this context,” said Harris. “I wish there had been more speakers and more time for discussion.”


Concordia University