Lisa Vandever, a New Jersey-based writer and producer, is the organizing force behind CineKink, a one-of-its-kind film festival exploring various forms of alternative sexuality. At CineKink, you’ll see films you’ve not only never heard of, you very likely will only catch them in special venues such as this—not because they’re not wonderful, but because they deal with topics such as BDSM, transsexual sex and all manner of kink, major movie chains are not exactly lining up to show these kinds of works. The festival’s self-billing as “the really alternative film festival” holds true, and features films such as Mango Kiss, all about roleplaying, Headspace, exploring the Los Angeles BDSM scene, Alternatoons including Superfag, Spanky, Spanky and Christ! (A Tale of the Passion of the Christs), as well as Alice in Footland, about "an erotic wonderland of fetishism," Dominatrix Waitrix (which I think deserves some sort of "best title" award), the shorts Mistress Bar-Bee’s Playhouse, with a transvestite hero, Happy Tears: A Vintage Vignette, which recreates a 1940's flagellation novel, Crossing, in which “a gangster stumbles upon the thrills and perils of cross-dressing” and much more. Drawing from a cross-section of various segments of the kinky, gender and queer communities, the films will entertain, shock, titillate and just may open some minds to the myriad alternative possibilities out there.
How did you get the idea for CineKink and why did you start it?
CineKink grew out of the work I did co-founding and programming the New York S/M Film Festival. The original intent was to bring together like-minded people to watch a few movies together. That grew into celebrating kink-positive film and its makers - of really appreciating depictions that don't fall back on cliches and stock characters. And, hopefully, creating a venue that would encourage more such works.
Do you have a background in film?
I studied film in college and - in a blatant attempt to make myself even more unmarketable - grad school. Following that, I spent a good deal of time in public television, as a programmer and producer. Since moving to New York I've worked in independent film, primarily in development and producing.
How many submissions did you receive and how did you go about selecting the films?
We're still a fairly small, curated festival. This year there were about 50-60 entries. From that, we look first at the film's quality. Does it tell its story well? Is it compelling? Is it well crafted? From there, we mix and match works for the best flow overall and a good balance.
What are some of the highlights of this year's festival?
I've very excited about the premiere of Elizabeth Elson's documentary Born in a Barn, a look at ponyplay that really gets to the core of the fetish. There's also a great gender-bender mob movie, Crossing, about a gangster who discovers a taste for cross-dressing. And with the elections coming up, there's a program of shorts Strange Bedfellows, that's a perfect mix of sex, art and politics.
How has CineKink grown in the last two years? What goals or plans do you have for it in the future?
We're drawing in press and films from all over, there's more a sense of us being a "destination" festival - for a particular type of film, at least. The plan is to keep making CineKink NYC stronger, but to also take the festival on the road. There are several cities that have expressed interest—even Australia—and I think there could be quite a demand for these films.
Your organization focuses not just on BDSM, but also on "roleplay, swinging, polyamory and non-monogamy, and gender bending," which to some might seem like disparate topics. What joins all of these together for you?
For me it all hinges on that aspect of being "alternative," of being other than the mainstream. The who, what and how we're supposed to love and relate is such an engrained concept in our society, that any deviance from that is what brings all those groups together.
Along the same lines, CineKink brings together various members and
organizations of the kinky community, including gay, straight, sex workers, etc. that often seem to meet and congregate amongst themselves. Is that an important part of your mission?
That definitely is a big part of our mission. It's so common for the
various groups to want to segregate themselves—which might make sense in a play situation. But a film can let you into somebody else's world, give you a view into what makes them tick and-aside from all the differences in body parts, functions and the occasional squick—how alike we really are.
You have an awards ceremony to close out the weekend-how do you decide which ones will win? What makes a quality kinky film?
The awards for the feature-length works are determined by the audiences, who rank those films after the screenings. For the shorter works we pretty much re-apply the standards used to select them for the program in the first place-just a little more rigorously on this round. A quality kinky film is a quality film that happens to be kinky.
You're raising money for the documentary Public Voyeur: Barbara v. Ashcroft, about local photographer Barbara Nitke's obscenity case against Attorney General John Ashcroft. Can you tell me more about the documentary and what you're trying to do with it?
The documentary is first a profile of Barbara and her amazing photography work. She has the uncanny ability to photograph a couple engaged in what might seem to be the most unusual and extreme sexual activity-and somehow capture that moment of sheer relatedness between them. That's the true story for me and that's what I want to bring to a wider audience with the documentary.
Building from that, Barbara's lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act takes that same critical issue, the drive for freedom of expression–even sexual expression-and places it squarely onto a societal tableau.
Aside from the documentary and lawsuit, how does politics fit into the festival? Is it inherently political to be out about being kinky?
I definitely think so. The more we're silent about being kinky, the easier it is to disparage us, to discriminate against us-to even fear us. We remain in people's minds as that creepy serial killer guy that shows up on Law and Order-instead of their bank teller or insurance agent.
What's the best part of the festival for you?
Bringing the films and filmmakers together with the audiences. I especially love the buzz and mingling that goes on in the lobby between screenings. It's like one great party for me.
What does the forecast look like for alternative sexuality films making it into mainstream theaters in the near future? Will we be seeing more Secretarys?
I wouldn't predict a big surge of alternative sexuality on the mainstream screen. It's tough enough getting a non-kink feature film made these days, that the understandable temptation for producers is to play it safe. That's why it's so important to recognize and support those few works that do make it to the light of day-and that's a reason behind the CineKink Tribute, an annual award that honors extraordinary depiction of kink in mainstream film or television.
The festival has always been held in New York, although submissions come in from around the world. Do you think New Yorkers are more open-minded about sex and more open to alternative modes of sexual practice?
There's likely a bit more open-mindedness in New York, but I think the real difference is in opportunity and proximity. I'm sure-from personal recollection-that the same interests and desires can be found elsewhere. They just may be a bit harder to fulfill.
CineKink films will be shown at Anthology Film Archives from Friday, October 22nd through Sunday, October 24th at various times. See the CineKink website for details and the full schedule.
-- Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel