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Watching porn in public: Dan Savage is bringing his dirty movie festival to Austin

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HUMP! film festival
HUMP! will screen at the Marchesa Theater on September 5 at 7:30 and 9:30 pm, and September 6 at 7, 9, and 11 pm. HUMP!/ HUMP! Film Festival

Fans of Dan Savage — whether for his syndicated column in Seattle's The Stranger, his podcast Savage Love or his work on This American Life — have come to expect subversive, thoughtful and sometimes outrageous views on sex, sexuality, gender and everything in between. His uncanny ability to crack open the collective zeitgeist and expound on the truths within has made him an important voice in modern American culture.

In keeping with his mission, Savage and his colleagues at The Stranger began curating the amateur-made porn film festival HUMP! in 2005. "It was kind of a joke, a dare," Savage tells CultureMap. "We got so much great stuff — and interesting —  we thought we had to go through with the festival."

 HUMP! is the film festival for people who hate porn.

 The premise is this: average people craft short movies focused on everything imaginable including straight sex, gay sex, transgender sex, cartoon sex, self sex, funny sex, weird sex, kinky sex, and the list goes on. "The idea was [you can] be a porn star on the weekend," says Savage. The films are then shown in a theater, thus returning what was once a collective experience (watching pornography with other people) back to the public space. 

For nine years, only people who trekked to Seattle — and in later years Portland — were able to view the films. At the end of every festival, The Stranger destroyed all the footage and paperwork in order to protect the creators' identity. That made it particularly difficult when HUMP! began planning its next project: a national film tour. 

"It was a long, arduous process," says Savage. "We had to go out and find filmmakers whose contact info we didn't have. Seattle's a small town, so we could track people through friends of friends and they had to sign new releases." Eventually HUMP! was able to track down about 70 filmmakers willing to let their work go on the national tour. From those, the festival selected 20 shorts and compiled them to create "the sexiest, funnest, most creative dirty movie fest in the world." 

 While the thought of watching people get it on for an hour and 30 minutes may seem uncomfortable, that's exactly what makes it so compelling. 

Without giving too much away, HUMP! ranges from the weird (like the mild yet kinky Pie Sluts) to the hilarious (The Legend of Gabe Harding) to the straight up (no pun intended) I didn't see that coming (Tuff Titties). It's the kind of thing you watch and then talk about for the rest of the week. It's titillating and compelling — and guaranteed to expose you to something you've never seen. 

And on September 5 and 6, you can watch it right here in Austin at the Marchesa Hall & Theater. (The trailer can be viewed here. But be forewarned, if you're at work, or as was my case, visiting your parents, there is nudity.) 

While the thought of watching people (and in one case E.T.) get it on for an hour and 30 minutes may seem uncomfortable, that's exactly what makes it so compelling. "Everyone is shocked at first," he says. "The audience is filled with different people and you have straight guys watching gay porn ... what is really beautiful is they see the similarities." 

Savage says HUMP! pushes viewers outside their sexual comfort zones in a safe way with tantalizing, funny, well-curated erotic films. "We may have different junk and sexual acts that appeal to us, but all of that is the same — no matter the plumbing — the differences are the same, that desire, the vulnerability," Savage muses. 

HUMP! is the festival for people who hate porn. It is a celebration of vulnerability — and ultimately of humanity — a far departure from the bleached, waxed, pristine, often degrading world of commercial pornography. "HUMP! is humanizing," says Savage. "[The films are made] for the creators and you're invited to watch."

You're also invited to submit. Though The Stranger had previously limited entries to folks in the Pacific Northwest, Savage says that the festival is now open to everyone; maybe even a few creative Austinites will consider entering next year. (There is more than $10,000 in prizes up for grabs.) 

Until then, we'll just have to watch.

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HUMP! will screen at the Marchesa Theater on September 5 at 7:30 and 9:30 pm, and September 6 at 7, 9, and 11 pm. Tickets are $20. For more information and to purchase tickets, please go here

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