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The first Amateur Erotic Film Competition

San Francisco- After Theresa Sparks [pictured] spent an hour watching amateur sex flicks in a darkened conference room Monday afternoon, the president of Good Vibrations, the erotica retail chain in San Francisco, wasn’t sure what to think. Sparks pressed a palm into her chin and considered the appropriate words. Some of the short films, sent in by Bay Area residents and shot mostly in the comfort of their own homes, made for pleasurable viewing.

Others, she mused, could have gone further.

“It turned out,” Sparks said, “they were a little more artsy than porny.”

Sparks, along with a few other Good Vibrations executives, had gathered to take a look at the finalists for the first Amateur Erotic Film Competition, which opened Thursday at the Castro Theatre. For the past two months, the company has solicited tapes from budding adult filmmakers with only two rules: no underage performers and no small animals. About 20 entries arrived, which were winnowed down to eight by a panel of judges that included local sex-perts and one adult movie publicist.

“At first, we were a little bit scared of what we’d get,” said Barbara Garcilaso de la Vega, the event’s producer. “But, I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised.”

The event marks San Francisco’s entry into a national experiment with amateur sex film festivals. In Boston, an adult store sponsored the You Oughta Be in Pictures competition, and in Seattle, an alternative weekly newspaper recently hosted its second annual Hump! contest, which also relies on locals to send in homemade films. In both cases, the one-night screenings conclude with a festive destruction of the tapes to ensure the pornographic evidence doesn’t spread across the Internet.

But the Good Vibrations-sponsored festival differs slightly because the entrants signed waivers to share future copyrights with the company. Sparks, who said she was inspired to start a local event after viewing the Boston festival, said the filmmakers will retain rights to seek distribution on their own. Yet the waiver is partly responsible for attracting fewer of the raw “watch-me-have-sex tapes,” as Garcilaso de la Vega described them, and more attempts at bona fide erotic cinema.

Dana Harris, an editor who covers the adult entertainment industry for Variety, said the rise of DIY, or do-it-yourself, erotic filmmaking can be viewed as a sign of the merging of pop and porn culture.

“We’re living in a time where there are girls who aspire to be a porn star,” Harris said, referring to a recent “American Idol”-esque contest sponsored by Playboy TV. “On some level, porn has become more acceptable. … But when you see where these festivals are taking place, it’s still not middle America.”

Cory Wees, a 32-year-old Mission District resident who studies filmmaking at San Francisco City College, said he entered his short, “Morphina,” at the last minute. The black-and-white film follows a client, played by Wees, into a dominatrix’s San Francisco apartment. Wees said he hadn’t considered the result if he made it as a finalist: Watching himself, in a movie theater filled with strangers, while he’s on the big screen bent into a compromising position. For good measure, Wees screened the film for his mother, who’d helped him purchase the camera equipment and was curious about her son’s work.

“She was a little shocked,” Wees said. “But she took it in stride. … We’ve crossed that barrier; she knows my work now.”

Joy King, an executive at Wicked Pictures, one of mainstream pornography’s largest distributors, judged the films on the basis of creativity, plot, cinematic quality and erotic content. King said she was impressed with the Bay Area entries and noticed some provincial qualities that differed from the typical amateur work she screens for Wicked, which is based in Southern California.

“For me, it was a breath of fresh air,” said King, who also served as porn star Jenna Jameson’s publicist for five years. “I was impressed to see what people in the Bay Area determined what was ‘sexy.’ … There wasn’t a lot of stuff that would sell in the mainstream porn market, but still, it was interesting and well done.”

King particularly enjoyed a humorous one-man effort that, while set to a soundtrack of Bach and Chopin, explores the dilemmas of cleaning up after a moment of self-gratification. Yet thanks to careful camera angles, viewers never see the act.

“Those are the kinds of films that stood out,” King said. “Funny, and you didn’t even see anything.”

Other finalists were more serious in tone and explicit in details. Tallulah Sulis, a 25-year-old Glen Park resident, entered “The Divine Nectar,” which she shot and produced with her partner, Davin Skonberg, 35. The short is an advocacy on the powers of female ejaculation. In one scene, a woman who likens the experience to a baptism predicts that after more females develop this ability, “It’s going to be a whole different culture.”

Sulis said the festival is the first step in her goal to distribute the full-length, 40-minute instructional film worldwide.

“It’s the perfect opportunity,” she said, “to see it up there on the big screen and see how people receive it.”

“We’re doing this to have fun,” Sparks said after the lights went up in the conference room, adding that the festival is also a good vehicle for Good Vibrations’ name recognition. “But we also think it’s a good thing that people are out there, showing their works, and we can bring them together.”


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