"Something of a minor miracle."
This enthralling movie is something of a minor miracle, tackling some very weighty subjects with an ease and humor that belies the importance of its concerns. It's an unparalleled depiction of a collective at work; a vehicle for airing issues about sex and porn and representation and body image and consumption and filmmaking; and an inspiring portrait of a really smart, lovely, unlikely group of people pushing themselves way out into the unknown. And it just might start a little revolution: May a thousand porn collectives bloom! [Tod Booth, SF Indie]
"A playful, sexy and smart little movie."
Cumming to a consenus
The perverted revolutionaries behind the D.I.Y. documentary Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective explain why they want to become the Fugazi of erotic filmmaking.
"When people ask if the East Van Porn Collective is a real thing or if it's a fiction, we're not being disingenuous when we say we're not entirely clear on that ourselves," says Professor University. "It was like a massive conflating of reality and fiction until we were just kind of living it. Whichever it was, it was happening."
Professor University is the nom de porn of a Vancouver man, who, along with the also pseudonymous JD Superstar, Monster, nerdgirl, Mr. Pants, Hugh Jorgen and Muffy LaRue, is behind Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective, a playful, sexy and smart little movie that's a little bit documentary, a little bit fiction film and a whole lot of ambiguous in--between.
The film documents the formation of the titular collective, a group of idealistic Vancouverites who set out to create what one of them calls a "homemade grassroots pervert revolution" by producing sexy movies that appeal to their own desires and sensibilities. Indie porn, if you will--at one point in the film, Mr. Pants says that he'd like he and his collaborators to become "the Fugazi of porn."
And they do, producing, over the course of Made in Secret, a low--budget movie called BikeSexual. Or, at least, we think they do-the viewer gets a few tantalizing glances and lots of behind--the--scenes drama, and if you didn't know any better, you'd likely think you were watching a straight--up documentary about the East Van Porn Collective.
Fact, fake or fiction?
But it's not quite as simple as that. Made in Secret was made by a collective, and it's composed of the same people you see onscreen making BikeSexual. So is it a real documentary about people making a real porno movie, or a fake documentary about people pretending to make a porno movie? Or is it both?
"It started with a story that I was writing about this fictional porn collective," says Professor University, speaking on a conference call with the Mirror, Monster and JD Superstar. "I was talking to Monster about it, and she got really excited about the idea and started encouraging me to either a) do it, or b) make it a movie instead of a story. And then things sort of spiralled out of control from there."
Word got out through their circle of like--minded friends, and, according to JD Superstar, "it seemed like a bunch of us just came together and started having meetings and discussions. And then it sort of became clear what it was-that it was actually a film project. Not that we were really recruiting an East Van Porn Collective, but working on a project dealing with specific issues that we wanted to look at."
And yet, it seems that the deeper the group got into the project, the more complicated things got.
"I think we started off being like, 'We want to make a film about a porn collective,'" says Monster. "And then we kind of just started being the porn collective. We were all talking about ourselves as the East Van Porn Collective, and there was a lot of post--modern confusion. We were like, 'Are we talking about the collective or the meta--collective or the meta--meta--collective, which one is it and why are we doing this?'"
JD Superstar adds: "We were really living in a very strange reality during that whole period, with the movie within the movie within the movie. I don't think anyone was really clear at the end of that. We didn't do a good job of distinguishing it, which may have worked out really well for the film, actually."
The film's multiple levels of reality, though, do beg the question: Were they actually making real explicit pornography or was it all staged for the documentary cameras?
"We decided very early on that we never wanted to go through the movie scene by scene and say, 'This is real, this isn't.'" Professor University says. "I'm hesitant to say anything definitive about anything in particular in the movie, but we have come to the understanding that we'll openly say yes, 'We made sexy films in the process of making Made in Secret."
"Penises have appeared onscreen," Monster interjects.
"I think one scene we can talk about is the shower scene," JD Superstar adds, referring to a sequence where the crew films her masturbating. "That was bona fide, actualized, really happening, and I think that was great."
"To me that scene seems pretty definitive," Professor University says. "Well, she has her clothes off..."
"She has her hand in her crotch," Monster says, definitively.
Sex and spaghetti
To a certain extent, the collective's motivation arose from their disenchantment with the state of mainstream porn. "I personally felt very drawn to sexually explicit movies, or pictures, or stories, or whatever else, since adolescence," says Professor University. "I felt like they would offer me something, but they never did. I was always repelled by what I found and I would walk away going, 'Ugh, that is so gross, that's so not what I'm looking for.'"
"I think in some ways porn arises out of this idea that sex is separate from everything else in life," Monster says. "That we can make movies about anything, except sex, and put them in the normal section of video stores, but if you want to make a movie with sex in it, it goes in the little room."
With that in mind, they decided to change the perspective a little.
"Something that we wanted to do in BikeSexual is try and make a really sexy movie that avoided the money shot, and try to explore things from a bunch of different angles," says JD Superstar.
Although you never actually see BikeSexual itself, it's easy to tell that it is, as one character refers to it, a "pansexual romp," with every orientation represented and lots of playful sexiness revolving around bike repairs, skateboarding and rolling around in the mud.
"It's just about integrating sex back into art and real life," Monster says. "It's like some things are great, like spaghetti and oral sex and really nice shoes. Lots of things are good and sex is one of them, but that doesn't mean we can't have any spaghetti in our movie!"
Or, for that matter, a subtle, funny meditation on collectivization and collaborative art. The collective itself is as much a subject of Made in Secret as the sex is, as all decisions made by the BikeSexual/Made in Secret filmmakers were arrived at through a process called consensus.
"Basically the idea is that a group of people, usually a smaller group of people, commit to seeking out solutions to problems and decisions, that everybody feels good about and everyone is in support of," says Professor University. "It means that where a lot of groups would vote, or someone would make an executive decision, we wouldn't. We keep talking about it until a solution emerges that everyone feels good about." Of course, as anyone who's ever been involved in that kind of process knows, it isn't always easy, and a key element of Made in Secret's plot has to do with the fact that collective decision--making can be incredibly difficult and frustrating, as a conflict over just who is allowed to see BikeSexual threatens to split the group apart.
"My overall feeling," Professor University says, "is that film is such an inherently collaborative form that it just makes sense to embrace that and formalize that."
JD Superstar: "The hope that that generated, and that idea of positive community--building, and that we actually really did pull this off, had a big impact on me and I think are the greatest things I've taken out of this project. We really did work on making it an experience that worked for everyone and we actually succeeded, and I think I'm probably the most proud of that." [Mark Slutsky, The Montreal Mirror
"These people are heroes."
Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective is one of those gems that are easy to miss if you aren't careful, but it's exactly the kind of film the festival exists to show. It features brave intelligent queer people exploring complex issues of social responsibility and group dynamics on a very local scale. Bored with the porn options on offer, a group of friends -- straight and gay -- create a collective to make their own films for the private consumption of the group. This film documents the process.
Don't let the ropey video quality initially put you off; this will quickly mesmerise you. These people are heroes and their work is inspirational. [Diva Magazine]
"A wet dream rolled in granola."
I have been vaguely imagining--hoping that someone out there will act on the idea--that there should be films in which the main characters enact their dramas and overcome their conflicts and, as a background detail, just happen to ride bikes. It's one of my (many) bike--cultural fantasies.
That this subtle element should appear in a film which also explores sexuality, community, communication, and the collaborative process seems like a wet dream rolled in granola. Except that it's real, and was spawned close to home.
Made in Secret, The Story of the East Van Porn Collective is a low--fi ouroboros of a film. It was made over the course of three years by a group of friends who had their own cultural fantasies: they wanted to watch the movies of, or document the existence of, an anarcho--feminist porn collective. I gather that an 'anarcho--feminist porn collective' is group of self--governing individuals fearlessly following their curiousity, doing what interests and excites them (in this case making sexy movies) and using egalitarian processes to work co--operatively and protect the core values of mutuality and respect.
But no such group existed, or could be found in East Vancouver, so the collective formed itself for the purpose of creating and documenting the process it wished existed.
For this feature the EVPC employ the device of a documentary filmmaker following the collective's process of planning and shooting of a pan--sexual romp, entitled, Bikesexual. The genre--bending Made in Secret parts the curtain of consumerist, patriarchal, exploitive objectification and takes back participation as the key element of culture. It is hopeful to witness a group of smart, courageous cultural pioneers struggling with humour and humanity to gently dissolve the boundaries that truly restrict us -- those we place on ourselves. The film is far from an intellectual exercise (though they do have a lot of meetings) but an open--ended document of experiential immersion. The EVPC have succeeded in characterizing and translating real drama to the screen.
Indeed the film has garnered rave reviews from festivals and film journals from San Francisco to London, England. It's only now being shown on the Collective's own turf as a part of the Vancouver Queer Film Fest.
"We've had such amazing receptions at festivals around the world, but we're even more excited to finally be able to share it with folks back home." ----evpc
Among the many compelling elements of this collective offering is its ability to play on our most sensitive taboo--not sex--but intimacy. The players (they appear not to be actors in the traditional sense--but they are playing at something) share compassion; affection; vulnerability; consensus decisionmaking and analysis of the socio/political resonances of the most personal acts.
Sometimes after watching a film, one is left with a feeling of separateness created, perhaps, by the attempt to encapsulate a human experience in a dramatic framework. Sometimes life feels like a movie as we overlay a million appropriated perceptions onto our own lives and try to understand experiences through inherited social filters. That's where Made in Secret reany gets naked (and may inspire viewers to do the same). I think what the EVPC were seeking--and what they invite us to do--is to participate fully, in the moment, nakedly, in our own lives, our own relationships and encounters, in our communities and out in the street. [Amy Walker, Momentum Magazine]
"A complicated, brilliant, multi-layered piece of film."
Best porn that isn't really porn: Made In Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective is a "documentary" about anarcho-feminist porn collective that wanted to make porn they actually liked. Only the collective didn't really exist until they started making the documentary and realized they needed a collective to document and there was no porn except for the porn they had to make in order to make the documentary about them making porn. Yes, it's a complicated, brilliant, multi-layered piece of film that has you questioning your beliefs about sex, porn, representation and whether one can really make such a thing as "smart" porn. [Josey Vogels, My Messy Bedroom]
"Plays by no rules but its own."
Shy Porn Stars: Challenging the Banalities of Mainstream Slot Shots
It's the sort of Main Street diner where eastside bohemians worry into their coffees. Mr Pants, Monster and Professor University crowd their plush booth with vegan breakfasts. They don't look like porn stars. But in East Van--a zone that's rapidly becoming the do--it--yourself porn hub of Western Canada--the rules that make porn a mainstream arena are beginning to break down.
Things to remember when making your first mainstream porn: pay the girls more; distribute widely; don't forget the money shot.
Things to remember about the East Van Porn Collective (EVPC): everyone gets paid the same (zero); they don't distribute their porn at all; and "money shot" is not in their vocabulary.
Made in Secret--the genre--fucking docu--drama the EVPC released instead of hardcore porn (shy porn stars?)--is the collective's first full--length film to be publicly screened.
It plays by no rules but its own.
The film is an aggressive response to the banalities of mainstream porn ("shot after shot of slot after slot" as their manifesto laments) and also a critique of other art forms--like the documentary mode that it inhabits.
"I have no idea what's real anymore," says Professor University. But if that's the case, he has no one to blame but himself. Porn names (even geeky ones like Professor University) keep EVPC members slightly removed from the real world, just the way they like it. The intimate details of their lives are always just barely out of bounds in Made in Secret.
Professor University and the six other members of the EVPC deliberately set out--in a BlairWitch Project way--to create a documentary that isn't really. As the collective on screen works together to create its latest homemade porn--an all--you--can--eat queer video they call BikeSexual--the audience begins to suspect foul play. How much of this is real? And how much is a carefully choreographed critique of the porn industry?
For starters, is there really an East Van Porn Collective? Are there really boys and girls rolling around nude in East Van basement suites? Mr. Pants is an imp in his dodge: to answer that, he says, "would ruin the fun."
But Professor University, lapsing from the collective's regular stance for a moment, allows himself to become partially transparent: "There was a group of friends... but there wasn't a group. We wanted to make a movie about it. Now a group does exist."
In other words, they had to invent the subject of their documentary in order to film it. It's just the sort of time--travel paradox that would rile people up on Star Trek. The documentary--filmed with the candid, easy qualities of a home movie--toys mercilessly with its audience on a cerebral level. It seeks to shake out the easy rules we fix to genres (in this case, porn and documentary).
But Made in Secret most dramatically confounds our ideas of what makes someone queer. "It's queer because I say it is," says Mr Pants, refusing to elaborate.
E--mailing from the University of Manchester where she's completing her Master's Degree in Gender Studies, JD Superstar has a slightly more nuanced take. "I think the EVPC is queer insofar that it does challenge identity binaries and sexual norms. "Queer is a funny word, though," she continues, "and it's used to refer to a number of different ideas. Lots of the time, it's used as an umbrella term for gay/lesbian/bi/trans. But queer also means that which resists culturally imposed identities..."
Made in Secret features a make--out session between two straight men, for example. Who's more queer?The straight guys that swap spit? Or the lesbian who remains in her comfort zone?
The EVPC has a hard time answering the questions raised by Made in Secret.
All decisions are made by a laborious process of consensus; they have refused to grant interviews until now--too much room for error and misconception. Their speaking out to Xtra West, then, is a call for a broader community (a lattice of porn?).
And also a risk. They've envisioned a utopian world where a collective of like--minded youths from the eastside can make the porn they want on their own terms.
What they've stumbled upon in the meantime is a cutting--edge art movement and a fascinating documentary that may garner more attention than they know what to do with. [Michael Harris, Xtra West]
"A fascinating, refreshing film."
When you get intelligent people working together toward something they believe in, you usually get something interesting regardless of whether they succeed. Another constant in the history of creativity: When people can't find what they're looking for - in song, in museums, on film - and decide they must do it themselves, the end result is at the very least original. So it is with the East Van Porn Collective - "You can't call us that," member Professor University explains, because "'porn' is a word that makes people stop thinking, and that's the opposite of what we wanna do" - a handful of twenty-- and thirtysomethings in Vancouver who make films to turn themselves on both sexually and aesthetically. The documentary following their efforts gets off to a rocky start; not technically, but rather due to the fact that member nerd--girl was not made aware that director One Tiny Whale (his real name is possibly Godfrey Something--or--other, as that's how the subjects refer to and address him throughout the film; it's unclear at first that the documentary itself is part of the movement) would be attending meetings. After an emergency session, a consensus is reached: OTW can shoot everything except for what appears on the collective's tapes. He can shoot them shooting, but he can't shoot what they've shot once it's on screen. It's a good consensus, one of the many the members come to: They rotate jobs on productions, discuss and collaborate on storyboards, make compromises, and maintain free and spirited debate to ensure the integrity of the collective and its work. That work is billed to be from the perspective of an "anarcho--feminist porn collective," and it is, on one level, as notions of gender and identity are at the fore. But it's also from the perspective of activists trying to be actors getting naked, young people making movies while struggling with some of their most intimate emotions. A fascinating, refreshing film. [Shawn Badgley, Austin Chronicle]
"A little bit of utopia does actually exist in the world."
Forget for a second that the word "porn" is in the title -- it's the concept of "collective" that makes this doc extraordinary. Ostensibly a fly--on--the--wall look at the cuddly Vancouver creatives who work together to make "sexy movies" -- i.e., DIY porn -- Made in Secret is more compelling for its depiction of working by consensus instead of by majority rule. It's fun watching the group members plan and film their latest opus (a "pan--sexual romp" dubbed BikeSexual), and everyone involved belies their cutesy nom de porn (Muffy, Mr. Pants, etc.) by being hyperarticulate. One member explains that the goal is to make "positive propaganda against the negative propaganda in the hegemony of porn." But when another member creates a stir by suggesting BikeSexual be shown at an alterna--porn festival -- which would mark the first time one of their films would be shown to a non--EVPC audience -- the ardently fair approach the members take when dealing with conflict illustrates that a little bit of utopia does actually exist in the world. [Cheryl Eddy, SF Bay Guardian]
"A no--budget doc of the highest order."
A no--budget doc of the highest order, Made In Secret proves that there is drama to be found everywhere as long as you look for it. On the surface the film discusses concepts of body image and sexual hegemony, topics every member of EVPC feels strongly about. But what this film does best is use the titillation of porn to suck audiences into an exploration of group dynamic. As the EVPC evolves, they stay true to their mandate of consensus, even when it becomes difficult to achieve. Making a good case for DIY documentary filmmaking, Made in Secret is smart, intimate and, above all, interesting. [Jason Lewis, FFWD Weekly]