Dirty Movies

Dan Savage. Photo by Rachel Robinson

Dan Savage’s HUMP! Film Festival—the “Sundance of amateur porn”—online January 30th through March 6th 2021.


If you’ve ever wanted to be a porn star without the internet presence, consider submitting to the HUMP! Film Festival—it’s the Sundance of amateur porn. Multi-hyphenate media pundit, co-founder of the It Gets Better Project and creator of the term “pegging,” Dan Savage started the HUMP! Film Festival in 2005 while a columnist at Seattle’s Pulitzer-Prize winning alternative newspaper The Stranger

Since its launch sixteen years ago, HUMP! has inspired two feature films—a NYT Critics Pick titled Humpday, and a racier French adaptation. The festival features 5-minute dirty movies, each video certain to serve as an ear-catching conversation starter (“she was reading Mike Huckabee’s book while getting fingered!”). Award categories include Best Sex, Best Kink, Best Humor and Best in Show.

Thanks to Covid, the 2021 HUMP! Film Festival will be breaking from its touring tradition and going fully digital. To get the word on the shift to the small screen, I gave Savage a call.

Tell me about how the festival started back in 2005.

I think we first came up with the idea in 2002. Amateur porn was an aisle in dirty movie stores and video rental places, and [my colleague] and I thought it would be funny to do an amateur porn film festival. No one thought anyone would submit, because it’d be screening in the city where people lived—your neighbors might come! We finally got Tim Keck [founder of The Stranger] to relent and make a call for submissions. It had been a generation since anybody saw a dirty movie like that—sitting next to a stranger in the dark. We wondered if anybody would show up. And it completely sold out. 

I wish we could say that when we conceived of HUMP! we thought of it as this wonderful, humane, art project that allowed people to represent themselves in radical and new ways. That wasn’t what we thought at all, we thought: this would be fun, what could happen? 

What were the first years like? What was the audience reaction?

When we first started doing HUMP! audiences had really never seen anything like it. Some people were angry that every film wasn’t graphic, or explicit or hardcore—because they were promised porn. And other people were offended that HUMP! has sense of humor—because they expected something more artistic and reverent. But most people got it, even though it was something different. It quickly became this celebration of diversity, as cliché an expression as that is. And it took off! 

“There’s this moment when everybody can suddenly see what’s theirs in every film.”

For me, the moment I remember from those first years was when a woman came up to me before the screening and said she hates porn, her friends dragged her here and she’s mad at me—you know, in a playful way. She came up to me after and said she loved it, and the next year she was in it! She went from “I hate porn” to “I’m in a porn festival.” 

I know that you’ve said the films that are more personal and intimate are the most successful… is there any pattern to the film that wins the audience over?

From the very first year, films that conveyed the conventions of mainstream pornography didn’t win awards. [The winners were] the films that were really personal, and really unique and gave you a look into the life of someone or a community of people that you hadn’t had an authentic glimpse of.

One year we had a film called Go Ahead, Pee! It was just a woman in a grey leotard jumping on a trampoline and this voiceover saying “Go ahead, peeeeee” and you’re watching this going “what the fuck is this?” And then you saw the leotard begin to darken at the crotch. The film ended and the audience burst into applause and cheers. This was a decade into HUMP!—by then, people were getting it: somebody else’s porn might be unrecognizable as even erotica to you.

There’s this moment when everybody can suddenly see what’s theirs in every film. Everything underneath that is the same: sense of humor, vulnerability, desire, intimacy, connection—all of that is the cake. The kink, the sexual orientation, that’s the frosting.

I know there are other porn film festivals in the world, how do you think HUMP! relates to those?

A lot of those are a little more self serious. I curate HUMP!, I like to laugh. I think it’s easier to educate people while they’re laughing, I think that’s one of the main ideas behind my dumb advice column.

So, the 2020 festival had to go online partway through the national tour. How was that? How was the change?

It lost something going online. From the very start, nothing was posted online, you couldn’t buy a DVD—if you weren’t in the theatre you didn’t get to see it. We destroy all copies of the films at the last screening. 

It sounds ceremonial! What’s it been like planning the 2021 Festival?

The offer we make people: you can be a porn star for a weekend—I think fewer people are concerned about that now. In a world where mainstream singers have OnlyFans pages, and more people have swapped dirty text messages; it’s almost like nowadays everybody has got a little bit of something out there. 

Grab your tickets and tune in to the 16th Annual HUMP! Film Festival livestream event, January 30th through March 6th 2021.

Go to: https://btt.boldtypetickets.com/ 109871063/2021-hump-film-festival