SXSW Film Festival Documentary Review: PORNOCRACY

Porn is an ever-evolving, multi-pronged entity.  At one time exclusively the paper-bagged domain of skeezy weirdos in trenchcoats, it's now become so pervasive in modern society that each and every one of us carries access to the largest library of pornography ever amassed by mankind in our very pockets.  All it takes is a few keystrokes to find the most extreme, depraved, and straight up nasty sex videos available on the net, and for that reason, I feel obliged to assure you that I'm writing this review with both hands. 

Apparently, 100 billion porn videos are streamed worldwide every month, and - I don't think I need to point out - that's a staggering amount of stag films.  Streaming has drastically changed the way the porn industry operates, leading to the proliferation of "tube" sites that offer millions upon millions of videos for free.  The traffic making its way to these hubs of debauchery is through the roof, but the porn producers claim they're only taking home a pitiful share of the profits, so who is really making the money out of these titanic websites?

French feminist/pornographer Ovidie sets out to investigate in PORNOCRACY, a documentary film on the schedule at SXSW.  Ovidie is both a veteran performer and director, giving her a relatively unique view of the industry.  This is not her first documentary, but appears to be her first feature, and her strong, somewhat sour demeanor makes her a perfect guide into the shady, labyrinthine world of the porn elite. 

Ovidie speaks with a bevy of performers and producers, and the concerns are the same across the board; the people involved in production of porn are not receiving the benefits being reaped by the people at the top.  The streaming sites have made it difficult to monetize the product, since they're giving the product away for free and, much of the time, illegally.  They have little regard for copyright, and mostly operate out of tax havens where laws are lax, or authorities turn a blind eye. 

The first half of the film amounts to a lot of whining.  Yes, we know you don't make as much money as you'd like, but it's difficult for me personally to feel sorry for these people.  They're all involved in exploitation, or exploitation of themselves.  If you don't like it, move on.  And this is porn we're talking about, not struggling farmers or charity.  The cat's out of the bag when it comes to streaming, and very little can be done to stop the juggernaut.  However, these portions of the film do set the scene, which is necessary to lead into the meat of the investigation. 

PORNOCRACY kicks into gear when we first meet Fabian Thylmann, porn magnate and owner of Manwin (now renamed to Mindgeek) - a multinational porn conglomerate that gobbled up streaming hubs left and right over the past decade.  Thylmann is ostensibly the king of internet depravity.  You know that streaming website you logged onto the last time you got off? He owns that.  You know that other porn streaming website that specializes in your preferred fetish? You'd better believe he owns that too.  He owns 'em all.  Or at least it seems he does, if he's not actually just a front for something more sinister. 

Delving into Manwin/Mindgeek's shadiness is where PORNOCRACY is at its most compelling. The giant network of shell businesses with empty offices and offshore facilities for tax avoidance is fascinating and needs to be cleaned and aired out like dirty sheets after shooting a coprophilia scene.  I want to know why they can get away with what amounts to large scale money laundering!  There's a significant story here, and it unsurprisingly alludes to corruption in the government and authorities across international borders. 

It's a shame that PORNOCRACY never quite runs as far as it could, nor does it truly offer a solution to the problems.  It doesn't look at the root causes of performer exploitation, or why Manwin/Mindgeek can get away with what they do.  The only remedy offered is by one of the porn producers interviewed early in the film, and it's to block the streaming sites. 

Block. The. Streaming. Sites!

And that's why the dinosaurs of not only the porn industry, but all media industries are about to go extinct.  This is not just about porn.  As a matter of fact, porn always sets the standard for new formats.  VHS won over Betamax because the porn industry chose the former. HD-DVD lost to Blu-ray because, you guessed it, the porn industry chose the latter. This is a lesson for all media production industries.  They need to adapt.  They need to fight the pirates and criminal streaming conglomerates at their own game.  They need to be smarter, and give people what they want for reasonable prices.  There are other, better ways of doing things, and until those methods are realized, the criminals will continue to thrive.  I would have liked to see PORNOCRACY give more airtime to solutions rather than so much "Woe is me".

Now, you'll have to excuse me... I, uh... have something to do in the other room. 

NonSequitur