Erotic Film With Feminist Aims Wins Award Despite Ban

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.