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Feminist porn: In the end the Germans somehow win

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Who says that porn has to mean domination by women, unlikely scenarios, and terrible working conditions? In Fribourg-en-Brisgau, a young start-up is determined to prove the opposite. Its first film, Retour(return), was directed by a woman and provides plenty of leeway for improvisation by the actors during its sex scenes. Exhilarating?

The coffee shop Pow at Fribourg-en-Brisgau is full to the point of overflowing. The garden chairs have been brought in for reinforcement, cushions set down on the floor and window sills transformed into improvised seats. Latecomers will have to stay outside. The reason behind the crowd in this German city isn't the arrival of some famous speaker, but the release of a new pornographic film. Two members of the team are already there, waiting under the curious eyes of the public for everyone to find their place. The ambience doesn't give off the glacial atmosphere that one imagines reigning in cinemas where people talk, drink a beer, and laugh.

"I realized that for many porn is a gateway into sexuality, and that young people are trying to reproduce what they've seen in their first sexual encounter."

Perhaps what it comes down to is that the film isn't vulgar, with a scenario reduced to the holy trinity of fellatio-penetration-ejaculation. The star of the evening is called Retour, the first-born of the Fribourg start-up Feuer.zeug. Their pitch? To offer pornographic films for feminist, ethical adults. A few steps away from the Black Forest, Fribourg is a city known for its alternative scene. No wonder, then, that some in it are looking to film quality porn, and that their productions are capable of attracting a hundred people on a weekday night.

Positive and diverse sexuality

Feuer.zeug was founded in 2016 by two friends, Leon and Kira. Leon studies media science and politics, Kira political science, sociology, and economics, both in Fribourg. Leon's roommate happens to be a good friend of Kira'sl that's how the two accomplices met. During a bouldering session, Leon spoke to Kira about a survey he'd conducted during his studies on teenagers, concerning the image of men and women portrayed by pornography. "I realised that for many porn is a gateway into sexuality, and that youth are trying to reproduce what they've seen in their first sexual encounter," he says. Unrealistic representation, additional pressure—the results of his study threw the young man into a panic. Together with Kira, they decided to create their own pornographic film. The idea—show another kind of sexuality, more realistic than mainstream pornography. Leon is in charge of production, while Kira handles marketing and management. Along with them, a dozen people work for Feuer.zeug - mainly friends and acquaintances of the two founders.

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Leon et Kira © feuer.zeug

But in fact, what exactly do they mean by feminist porn? "We wanted to address, and represent, all genres and all sexualities. And show something other than just a penis and vagina!" says Oliwia, the artistic director of the team. "That means for example making the desires of the woman the foreground. In addition, the scenes are developed with sexologists in order to not transmit a harmful image of sexuality," explains Leon. "Nonetheless, their films aren't there to educate and they don't consider themselves pedagogues," says Kira.

Consent, or nothing

At the level of production as well, Feuer.zeug is attempting be feminist and ethical. Women occupy an important place with the film being directed by a woman and the majority of the team female. For Leon, a good working atmosphere is indispensable. "We make sure everyone feels good", says Kira. For example, during sex scenes, only the director and the cameramen are present with the actors, so that their intimacy is respected as much as possible.

The notion of consent is indivisible to the values advocated by Feuer.zeug. "During the filming of intimate scenes, we only have two conditions—intercourse must be consensual and protected. The rest, it's the actors who make the decisions," asserts Kira. "It's very exciting for us because the actors offer us a slice of lived sexuality."

"The actors are integrated throughout the creative process. We've put together numerous versions, which we send to them, and they give us their take in return," explains Leon. "The final version has been sealed with their approval."

Germany is good enough ground for feminist porn. According to a study funded by Pornhub, the country is the seventh-largest consumer of pornographic films in the world. Berlin, for that matter, hosts one of the largest festivals devoted to the genre every year, the Berlin Porn Film Festival. The Social Democratic Party of Germany even proposed in 2018 that the state fund feminist porn, so that young people aren't left alone to the stereotypical and occasionally offensive images of mainstream porn. In this context, one understands better how two students like Kira and Leon have been able to launch themselves shamelessly into the production of pornography.

"We want to show something other than just a penis and vagina"

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Retour ©feuer.zeug

The plot of the film is that of an encounter between a driver and a hitchhiker who fall under one another's spell. "Retour is a story that could be true, once you get to know the characters," says Leon. "We wanted to make a film with artistic sensibilities, telling a story through the framework, the music, etc," he says.

During the screening, laughter erupts regularly from the public. "A positive reaction," rejoices Leon. The story is indeed not devoid of humour, but it might also come from the fact that watching pornography in the company of dozens of other people is a rather strange situation.

The discussion which begins at the end of the film is quite lively. One man deplores the fact that the director did not further push the actors because he finds the result "very timid". A woman says she hasn't experienced eroticism. Other people however find the sexual tension between the two protagonists is palpable. "Eroticism is something very individual," comments Leon. "Arousal depends on what the actors want to show and on what one personally finds a turn-on," adds Kira.

The feedback from the audience allows the team of Feuer.zeug to know what they can improve on for their next film if there is one. "We are a small collective, our first object was to produce a film," Leon puts into perspective. "Will there be a second? The ideas and the motivation are there, in any event!" The production costs of Retour, estimated at around 1000 euros, are already covered. These costs are very low because all the team, including the actors, worked for free. The budget of the next will be much higher. "To produce an ethical film is quite expensive," he adds. "Because it means guaranteeing decent wages."

"We'll see if what we earn from the first film will allow us to produce a second," concludes Kira. "We can also appeal to investors, but we have to ask ourselves up to what point do we accept external influences?"

In the interim, the film was presented at Porn Film Festival_in Vienna, it can be purchased on _Art House Vienna, and a second screening took place at Café Pow May 6th. If the road to a second film is still long, Retour is far from having said its last word.


Watch bande-annonce de Retour

All photos : (cc) Feuer.zeug

Translated from Porno féministe : à la fin c’est toujours l’Allemagne qui gagne