Pornotopia survives “erogenous zoning”
The decision, handed down by the Court on Sept. 12, 2013, concluded that screening adult films one weekend a year doesn't qualify the Guild Cinema as an “adult amusement” establishment. The fest is free to resume and Henley's record will be expunged. ACLU-NM Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives said, “Although the holding was not directly under the First Amendment, the court gave the ordinance a constitutional construction, and it's a genuine victory for free speech in Albuquerque and New Mexico. And it's very important that we force the government to demonstrate that they have a compelling interest, that they have an important reason to restrict any speech.”
The fest's moniker—a portmanteau of “porn” and “utopia”—is emblematic of its intention to highlight the best of the porn world, said [Self Serve co-owner] Matie Fricker.
The curatorial vision of Pornotopia—showcasing realistic and sex-positive depictions of sexual pleasure—belongs to Self Serve and the community, said Henley, but he supports its vision and intent. He said the idea that it's illegal to show any film—regardless of content or context—in present-day America is disturbing. “I wasn't crazy about having a petty misdemeanor on my record. I could handle a $500 fine,” Henley said. “And I was able to go on and show a bunch of movies.”
While Henley dealt with a tarnished police record and fine, Self Serve co-owners Molly Adler and Matie Fricker faced a three-year stall of the festival, which is a central component of their business plan. The sex educators and entrepreneurs did extensive research before deciding to found Self Serve in Albuquerque. They ultimately selected the Nob Hill neighborhood in particular because of its demographics and funky, socially progressive vibe.
Curating an alternative adult film festival celebrating realistic and inclusive depictions of sexual pleasure is a key facet of Self Serve's mission, said Fricker. She cites the problematic nature of mainstream pornography—including racism, sexual violence that reinforces rape culture and a lack of diverse depictions of the human form—that makes our nation's primary form of sex education a work in progress. Paraphrasing sex educator/eco-sexual Annie Sprinkle, Fricker said the answer to bad porn isn't no porn; it's more porn and better porn.
Prior to the inaugural fest in 2008, Adler and Fricker met with City officials several times over the course of a year in an attempt to resolve concerns in advance. In retail, businesses whose inventories contain at least 25 percent adult stock, specifically items designed to stimulate specified erogenous zones and simulate sexual acts, must be zoned for adult amusement. One problem is that—unlike zoning codes for adult retail—there is no measurement standard for adult performance, including the screening of films. The only possible solution was to host the fest in an adult amusement-zoned establishment. But Fricker said that option wasn't viable because the fest's sex-positive ideal hinged on being hosted in a venue where people would feel comfortable.
The fest's moniker—a portmanteau of “porn” and “utopia”—is emblematic of its intention to highlight the best of the porn world, said Fricker. Viewing committees comprised of Albuquerque residents spent months exhaustively watching porn, and they selected standout scenes. A single film was cited in the City's complaint; Couch Surfers: Trans Men in Action triggered censure by inspectors. Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm, wherein Sprinkle has a five-minute orgasm, was screened prior to Couch Surfers and passed muster, said Fricker.
In the future, Ives said the City will have to show that it is only limiting speech that causes negative effects. “The city has already said, in oral argument in the briefing in this case, that with occasional presentation of adult fare, they're never going to be able to prove secondary effects,” said Ives. “So I believe going forward, we know that they won't be able to prosecute people for that.”
Awaiting the decision, Fricker said she was braced for another loss. Henley expected the Court to rule favorably, but he said he couldn't have predicted the level of consensus. As Fricker and Henley discuss the situation, their concern for their neighbors is readily apparent. “If my [Nob Hill] neighbors had come to me at any point and said, ‘We don't want this,’ I wouldn't have liked it, but it would have put me in a weird position,” said Henley. But that never happened. One of Self Serve's fest goals is invigorating pre-holiday sales in Nob Hill by presenting a unique cultural experience. “The experience of sitting in a movie theater and watching people have sex and experience pleasure is out-of-this-world, out-of-your-skin different,” said Fricker.
As excited as Fricker is about the Court's redemptive reversal, her focus is the future. Within hours of the decision, she began receiving texts from committee members. Amid congratulations, she said one message stood out: “We've got the whole fest ready to go, right here.” The 2010 fest-that-never-was will screen at this year's Pornotopia at the Guild Cinema on Friday, Nov. 1.