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Who would have known that one of the biggest directors of the alternative erotic film industry lives and works in Amsterdam? E&M visited her, and tells you all about her films and career. And guess what? She’s always looking for new actors!

It’s a known fact that most of us grew up in a world where sex was a taboo, and where porn was the only sneak-peak available to that wonderful world of sex that we all thought was real. But then you grow older, and realise that although it’s entertaining, porn doesn’t exactly tell you the truth, does it? Is there something wrong? Is there something missing?

But what?

Jennifer Lyon Bell thought the same thing as we did, and decided to become an erotic film director to change the offer available. She honestly wanted to change the world, and her first step was to identify the missing piece on the porn industry:

true emotions!

Now E&M knows there is an alternative to mainstream porn. And we went all the way to the Netherlands to interview the award winning and world alternative erotic film celebrity Jennifer Lyon Bell to give you this exclusive interview. Please, enjoy!

E&M: How does an American end up in Amsterdam, directing porn movies?

Jennifer Lyon Bell (JLB): Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the world and I really wanted to live here. I was about to move here and I realised that it would be a great way to make a job change and to do what I really always wanted to do: direct erotic films! I immediately enrolled in a masters program in film and television theory in the University of Amsterdam, and I was honest with them about my intention:  and they took me seriously! I made a blueprint for myself of how I think erotic film works and then I used that to start making them.

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Jennifer Lyon Bell, explicit erotic film director, posing next to the canals of Amsterdam.
E&M: When did you first want to become an erotic film director?

JLB: Even before college I had seen some porn movies and I thought they were arousing but I was surprisingly disappointed by how unsexy they were to me compared to the fun things that my friends and me were doing in our private lives. Most of us were even still virgins back then but we were having a lot of fun! I didn’t feel like that type of fun was being translated into the screen by porn movies. I had it in the back of my mind that I would really love to see something more sparky and engaging. In high school as well people came to me with private sex questions because I was known to be a relaxed and open person when it came to talking about sexuality. It just struck me that sex was really important to a lot of people, and that it was a major force in their lives! There wasn’t much sex education and the fact was that a lot of people were feeling confused or lonely…

E&M: And then what happened?

JLB:I went to college and discovered sex positive feminism and realised there was an explanation for why, particularly with my women friends, sex had this unacknowledged and healing power in their lives. It was so important that something positive had to be done with that energy! Learning more about sex positive feminism and realising that was what I had been all along helped me crystallise my interest in someday making erotic and pornographic films that would be more true to the sexuality that I’m familiar with, and more in a language that women could understand.

‘It just struck me that sex was really important to a lot of people, and that it was a major force in their lives!’

E&M: How do you describe your films?

JLB: What I do is pretty unusual. I make explicit erotic films that try to show sexuality in a more emotional and realistic way, and for me that means I really like the idea of watching people have sex, but only if I care about them and if they are not strangers to me. Throughout the film, either fiction or documentary, I’ll introduce you to those people so that you care about what they’re going through and understand why they are interested in having sex with each other. That makes sex much more sexy and much more believable…

E&M: Are there other things that make your films different from other porn films?

JLB: Well, I’m looking for male and female performers who have a lot of charisma and have specifically a lot of connection between each other, as well as a spontaneous way of expressing their sexuality. It can be obviously very fulfilling working with people who are used to the porn industry and know what to expect, but because porn has become so cliché many times I have enjoyed working with performers who have no set expectations for how to express themselves sexually. So far I mostly worked with amateurs – regular people who want to explore their sexuality.

E&M: What about the plot? How is the plot in your films different from other porn films?

JLB: Well, for instance in my film Matinée there is a lot of plot, but it’s all condensed into 10 minutes – the moment they first have sex. In these 10 minutes you get to know the characters a little bit, which is plenty! When I watch mainstream porn, and there is mainstream porn I like, I feel I don’t have any sense of who the people are…

E&M: Any other example in other films?

JLB: Headshot, another film of mine, is a good example of how it doesn’t take too long to get to know people because it takes less than three minutes before they start having a blowjob! But because of the way the camera is used and the conversation, you learn a lot about them in a very short period of time! Some people actually say that I make slow sex films or slow porn, but I don’t think it’s always so slow … It’s more that I want you to have a sense of who the people are before they start having sex, but that can take two minutes (laughter). I try to surprise the viewer so that you know that people will have sex eventually, but you don’t know exactly how or when it is going to happen, and that will make you definitely more interested in the movie.

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A still image of one of Jennifer’s films, Skin. Like. Sun. / Des Jours Plus Belles Que La Nuit (2009) | Photo published with author’s permission; all rights reserved
E&M: You said before that you do erotic films for people who like film? Where can we see that?

JLB: I try to have an interesting aesthetic experience for the viewer. I feel if you like films and if you enjoy going to the cinema, you shouldn’t necessarily have to change your aesthetic preferences just because you want to see sex as well. It would be nice to have the same kind of variety in your choices for erotic and porn films as you do for going to the cinema, and that hasn’t been the case until more recently.

E&M: What is the creative process of writing an erotic film?

JLB: It’s surprisingly intimate writing a sex film because you are looking at all the possibilities of stories and concepts, and saying this is what I personally find the sexiest thing. And it’s a very personal statement to make and it’s hard not to feel exposed by that. So I have to have faith that if something turns me on that will turn on other people as well.

E&M: How does the casting process work?

JLB: The casting is always different! In Headshot I remembered that at the cast party for another film the hair stylist guy had said he would love to make a film with me. So when I came up with the concept for this film (Headshot) I immediately though of him! I just had to cast the female performer with him. But for instance in Matine there was a full script already written before and I had to find individuals who would fit specifically those roles…

‘It took some time for society to catch up and realise that it wasn’t just a few women who wanted to watch porn, it’s actually a lot of women who want to watch it!’

E&M: You’ve mentioned women and feminism. Do you exclude men as audience?

JLB: Not at all! In truth I started to make films for what I saw were people like me, and I thought they would primarily be straight women. But what I discovered is that there are a lot of men, who may or may not watch mainstream porn, who are eager for an alternative. They may want more plot, more chemistry between performers, or just something different because porn has become very cliché.

E&M: What is the difference between making an erotic film in the Netherlands and in the U.S.A.?

JLB: There are a lot of creative professionals in Amsterdam who are very open minded and who don’t see a barrier between mainstream film making and erotic film making, whether you call it porn or something else. They are open to the grey area between porn and mainstream art film, which is very freeing for me!

I actually don’t have any experience in the U.S.A., but from what I heard you are basically forced to decide in which side of the fence you are: mainstream or porn. In the Netherlands specifically and I suspect in a lot of countries in Europe that distinction is less institutionalised, and as an artist I appreciate that.

E&M: And do the audiences differ between these two areas?

JLB: I think that essentially there is a huge difference between attitudes in the big cities and attitudes in the smaller towns. Even in Amsterdam, the attitudes are radically different just a few miles outside from the city. But I have to say that people in the Netherlands are very open to sexual art, and there is a strong history of sex education, and that makes people more sexually comfortable and open…

E&M: Is it hard to be a female director in the porn world?

JLB: It’s hard to get into the porn industry as a woman. For example, Candida Royalle was for a long time – 30 years – the only woman who was making porn for straight women and couples, and I really respected her work and looked up to her. I thought it would be wonderful to follow in her footsteps someday.  She triumphed but it was a hard road, and it took time for society to catch up and realise that it wasn’t just a few women who wanted to watch porn, it’s a lot of women who want to watch porn (laughter)!

E&M: What other projects are you working on?

JLB: I am working on two projects right now. One is a documentary that I have been making for almost four years, where I am following the real-life coming out story of a young Dutch feminist who turns out to be submissive. She came to be because she realised it might be possible to be a feminist and to be submissive at the same time, and she wanted to explore that issue on camera. At the same time she wanted to find a BDSM partner who could also be a life partner, and fulfil a need she realised she had had for a long time. It’s a classic documentary, but with BDSM and sex in it.

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Another still image of Skin. Like. Sun. / Des Jours Plus Belles Que La Nuit (2009) | Photo published with author’s permission; all rights reserved
E&M: What other projects are you working on?

JLB: I discovered that BDSM is very often misunderstood, and that it is in fact very delicate and particular. And there has to be a close connection between you and the person you do it with! It is definitely harder to find a wonderful BDSM partner than it is to find a great sex partner, and it was a much bigger job than we thought (laughter). Still, it has been a very exciting journey, and hopefully the film will be very interesting and sexy even for people who are not into BDSM. It will also show you the liberating potential of being true and honest to yourself about who you are from an erotic perspective, and how much it can help you grow as a person.

E&M: And the second project?

JLB: The second film I am working on, which should be finished this year, is called Silver Shoes, a fiction film that explores the erotic power of clothing … Even in a basic everyday sense clothing has an erotic power that we don’t necessarily talk about, unless it is things like fishnet stockings or high heels, but there are a lot of different things that hold this erotic power as well…

E&M: Would you like to leave the E&M readers a last message?

JLB: There is a lot of discussion of sexuality in the media that is very focused on the negative things surrounding pornography.  I think it is important to realise that sex film – whether you call that porn or erotic film -, is incredible diverse, it can be very creative, inspirational, and educational and you don’t have to let other people make up your mind for you what porn should be.

 

Some facts about Jennifer Lyon bell, her films, and the industry:

  • Condoms are always used in her movies, although there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule about it. Nevertheless, it’s always really important for her to send a good message with each film ‘that the practices used on set are safe for the individuals involved’.
  • Most Europeans consume largely American porn, which mainly comes from San Fernando Valley in California, United States of America.
  • She’s part of a small worldwide movement that started spontaneously around 2006 with the first film festivals on sexual themes. Directors and artists from the alternative erotic film, feminist, progressive or artistic pornography had a sense of community for the first time.
  • The key areas for this movement are Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, San Francisco, New York, Barcelona, and Melbourne in Australia. 
  • In the Netherlands this movement is known as ‘porna’, a concept developed by the Dutch TV channel Dusk!, and it stands for female eroticism and pornography.
  • She’s an activist around sex positive feminism, gives lectures and teaches workshops. She runs the Blue Artichoke films label, that produces explicit erotic films especially for women. You can check her Vimeo channel as well. 
  • If you’re interested in participating in one of her movies, just go here.

Cover photo: still image of Matinée (2009) | Photo published with author’s permission; all rights reserved

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