Erotic Film With Feminist Aims Wins Award Despite Ban

// 2 September 2009

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Matinee_1.jpg The film Matinée, directed by Jennifer Lyon Bell, has been given the “Best Short Film” prize by an official jury at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2009. The August 26 scheduled screening was halted by the OFLC (Australia’s Office of Film and Literature Classification) banning it from the festival and, interestingly, it was the only R-Rated film in the festival to receive such treatment:

The OFLC cited “sexual content” as the reason. Matinée includes an erotic, explicit sex scene between the film’s two main characters, Mariah and Daniel. Matinée is the story of a reserved stage actress who decides to improvise her onstage lovescene in a bold attempt to inject creativity into the play. Their improvisation evolves into actual sex onstage in front of a live audience. Matinée’s themes involve trust, ambition, and creative risk…(Blue Artichoke Films Press Release)

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) are said to have opposed the ban and seriously considered defying it. They have also pointed out that the OFLC has “historically privileged violent and misogynistic representations of explicit sex over the type of unabashed female sexual pleasure shown in Matinée”.

I’ve not seen any of Jennifer Lyon-Bell’s films myself yet but I certainly like what I’ve read about her approach on the Blue Artichoke Films website’s About page:

Jennifer’s mission to create better sex film is an integral part of her feminist sexual expression. She believes that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. And that creating beautiful, hot films that turn women on is possible, safe, and necessary…

…Part of our appeal to modern women is that our stories and situations aren’t bound up in monogamous romance. Pop culture is rife with messages for women that sex is only awesome once they’ve found True Love. Love is lovely, but we think that hot, meaningful sex can also happen between total strangers…

…It’s of the utmost concern to us that the actors and (particularly) actresses we work with be knowledgeable, thoughtful, and enthusiastic about doing films with us. Jennifer meets personally with every actor and actress even before allowing them to audition, so that she can be sure they have like-minded motivations and understand what the risks might be. Also, everyone on the cast and crew is encouraged to ask questions. We think that’s the only way to create a safe space for people to experiment sexually.”

Matinée was released May 1 and the next screening will take place at the Strasbourg International Film Festival in France in early September. Along with the MUFF award, the film has also won the CineKink/NYC film festival’s jury award for “Best Narrative Film”, an Honorable Mention at the 2009 Feminist Porn Awards and was selected for the number 4 spot in the “5 Best Sex Films For Women” in the July 2009 German edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. Jennifer Lyon Bell’s letter to the OFLC and open letter to the press can be found on the Blue Artichoke Films website.

Meanwhile, The Local has news on the Swedish government helping to finance a Swedish feminist porn film. Mia Engberg’s film, Dirty Diaries, shows a selection of women using mobile phones to film their faces as they masturbate. While I think this particular use of female images could possibly be critiqued, I also think the responses Engberg talks about when explaining the thinking behind the film are very telling:

The film was put onto the internet and provoked a strong reaction. A lot of the reactions were negative, with comments like: “Damn, they’re ugly. Could they not at least have put on some make-up.” I found the comments interesting. They showed that we’re still living with the age-old belief that a woman and her sexuality should please the beholder above all else.

Photograph of scene from Matinée supplied by

Addendum: cross-posted at the Feminists Against Censorship blog.

Comments From You

A Swedish Reader // Posted 3 September 2009 at 10:38 am

Yes, we the Swedish tax payers had to finance a goddamned porno movie. Apparently things immediately becomes feminist, when women make them? I’d rather have to money go to finance sex education and women’s shelters.

Laura // Posted 3 September 2009 at 6:22 pm

I really like the sound of Jennifer’s approach to making erotica; I do think it is possible to make women friendly porn/erotica and, indeed, to have a feminist agenda in doing so: the reaction to the depiction of independent female sexuality in both her film and the Swedish one shows that images of female sexuality not designed in line with typically misogynistic depictions of women in porn have the power to challenge the mainstream and, potentially, help women break free of the misogynistic demands on our sexuality.

Kath // Posted 4 September 2009 at 4:22 pm

“creating beautiful, hot films that turn women on is possible, safe, and necessary… ”

Necessary? I don’t think so..

Sabre // Posted 4 September 2009 at 6:24 pm

“creating beautiful, hot films that turn women on is possible, safe, and necessary… ”

Damn right it’s necessary! My sexual imagination is stifled by the blandness and misogyny of mainstream porn. It’s like eating junk food when when what I need is a good nutritious meal!

Varla // Posted 5 September 2009 at 12:06 am

For me it IS necessary because I want our culture to have representations of female sexuality from women and especially women who are thinking about what they are trying to achieve.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

Kath // Posted 5 September 2009 at 11:30 am

Sabre, if your sexual imagination is stifled by mainstream porn, I suggest you stop looking at porn and actually use your imagination a bit more.

Kath // Posted 5 September 2009 at 11:52 am

Regarding the mobile phone videos, surely the point of pornography *is* to please the viewer. If the point was about the pleasure of the women taking part then there would be no need to make a movie in the first place (just to make clear, I’m not saying that justifies comments like “they’re ugly” or should be wearing makeup – obviously there’s a whole other issue there). By making this film, what you’re actually saying is that there is no value in female pleasure unless it’s for an audience.

Lara // Posted 7 September 2009 at 1:55 pm

Positive sexual representations of women are lacking in mainstream film and pornography. I think this is something to be embraced and I would love to be able to see more female-friendly porn. It’s not enough to say ‘use your imagination a bit more’ Kath. You can’t regulate someone else’s sexual fantasies like that.

Kath // Posted 16 September 2009 at 9:40 pm

“It’s not enough to say ‘use your imagination a bit more’ Kath. You can’t regulate someone else’s sexual fantasies like that.”

You should stick to your arguments as to why you think this kind of porn is a good thing (they are reasonably persuasive). Don’t tell me something is okay because someone has decided they “need” it. Am I to accept misogynistic internet porn because some men say they “need” it?

Daniela Vincenti // Posted 17 September 2009 at 1:15 pm

Dear Kath,

I think I can understand your thoughts here and you might want to read my posts on the Filament blog earlier this month that were generally anti-porn.

I won’t go into all the details again here but it will suffice to say that I find the commodification of sexual gratification (as occurs in prostitution and to a lesser extent when consuming porn) quite demeaning to both the seller and the buyer.

The attitude of the Swedish government seems a bit schizophrenic to me. There is a blanket ban on prostitution whilst they are funding a film in which women presumably get paid for masturbating on camera for other viewers to get off.

Finally I don’t really think that hot sex between total strangers is a really positive social value to promote. I mean, you would not want your teen son or daughter to get this idea from a sex education class so why try to spread this message?

Kath // Posted 17 September 2009 at 6:43 pm

Hi Daniela. Thanks for your comment. I have been following the other threads and I agree with some of what you say. I do think that the commodification and purchase of sex (including porn) is not a good thing. I do include female-oriented porn in this even though the system is such that it is mainly women who are degraded by pornography (ie although I dislike all porn I think that misogynistic porn depicting women for men’s consumption is more of a problem because of the power imbalance between women and men). I won’t be buying Filament magazine but I would save my campaigning energy for “lads mags” which offend me much more. However (unpaid for) hot sex with strangers is another matter. I have enjoyed plenty of it in my time and would feel hypocritical denying it to others. Not saying I would *promote* it in sex ed, but I think the overall message of sex ed should be how to practise safe sex and the importance of respecting yourself and your partner, whether you’ve known them 5 minutes or 10 years. However, just to bring in something from the polyamory thread, I think it’s possible to have that attitude to sex when you’re unattached but still feel it is something more special when you’re with someone you love.

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