Raw! Uncut! Video! At Perth's Revelation Film Festival – Ryan A. White On Protecting Queer Kink History

Documentary 'Raw! Uncut! Video!' will screen as part of this year's Revelation Perth International Film Festival, chronicling the rise and fall of a homegrown gay porn studio.

'Raw! Uncut! Video!'

'Raw! Uncut! Video!' tells the story of how Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry, who met in 1979 at Harvey Milk's birthday party, left San Francisco in the rise of the AIDS epidemic to begin a new venture – turning a rural ranch in Sonoma County into a safe-sex porn studio.

Championing sex-positivity and offering new possibilities in an age of plague, Palm Drive Video would cast rugged, non-professional models to explore their fantasies on screen – as well as exploring a wild array of queer kinks.

Ryan A. White and Alex Clausen tell the story of a couple who helped to battle a devastating health crisis by promoting kinky sex and providing a safe space to celebrate it. The film aims to underscore the importance of kink communities and their role in validating people within the queer community and making them aware of the many ways to be sexually expressive without putting others in danger.

Here, Co-Director Ryan A. White tells us more ahead of 'Raw! Uncut! Video!''s screening at Revelation Perth International Film Festival.

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Ryan A. White and Alex Clausen


What inspired you to create something surrounding this story?
My creative partner, Alex Clausen, and I are both very interested in uncovering and preserving lesser-known queer histories. We both came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the height of the North American AIDS crisis. The fear and rampant homophobia of that period very much shaped our formative years. Recently, a lot of attention has been given to various forms of activism that arose out of the initial wave of the AIDS epidemic. Yet, folks rarely talk about how integral leather and kink communities were to providing care for people who were dying, raising awareness about safe sexual practices, and providing a much needed sense of hope. At that time, there was so much messaging about abstinence and repressing one’s sexuality in order to avoid contracting HIV. But, for many people, our erotic lives and sexual desires are a critical component of our identities. So, to simply say: “Don’t have sex anymore, repress that part of yourself if you want to live” was quite devastating. It was really important to have members of kink communities (such as Palm Drive Video) offer alternatives and remind people that there are a HUGE variety of ways that people can be sexual that won’t put you in as much danger. A lot of fetish scenarios don’t require an exchange of bodily fluids, so they are much safer. Kink allowed queer folks to keep expanding their sexual identities during that really devastating era of plague. Exploring the historical importance of sexual experimentation and looking at this very different form of AIDS activism was what inspired us to make 'Raw! Uncut! Video!'.

How did you come across the story?
A few years back, Alex and I made a short film called 'Cruising Elsewhere' (2016) about a former gay cruising spot on the Russian River in Northern California. We interviewed Jack Fritscher for that project and afterwards we became friendly with him and his husband, Mark. Since we were interested in documenting the queer history of the region, we asked Jack and Mark if they had any photos of LGBTQ+ folks who had lived in the area. And, they were like: “Oh yeah, we used to make porn videos with local dudes. Here are some DVDs, take them home and use what you want”. They handed us a stack of Palm Drive DVDs with titles like Toilet Cigar Butt and Cheesiest Uncut Cock in West Texas. We were a bit flabbergasted at first – I mean, we thought they might have an old photo or two, but we weren’t quite prepared for dick-cheese porn! Once we watched the films, we called each other up and said: “Uhhhhh, I think there might be a story here!”

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And why do you think the topics and themes throughout the documentary are important?
Exploring the uniqueness of one’s own sexuality can be a really empowering experience for a lot of people. It’s so easy to get stuck only thinking about things in a certain way, but often it can be really productive to step back and look at all the other possibilities that may be out there. Palm Drive Video wanted to inspire people to be more creative sexually. Sex didn’t have to be dangerous or deadly in the face of AIDS, you just had to think about it differently. That could be as simple as focusing on solo acts – and the majority of Palm Drive’s videos were solos. But, they also wanted to communicate that it could be exciting to tie someone up, or use household items as sex toys, or f... a mud puddle! It’s also critical to celebrate our differences, sexual and otherwise. A lot of people aren’t going to be into using a garden hose as a sex toy, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with that desire. We need to get to a point where we can respect each other, in all aspects of our lives. And, if someone enjoys experimenting safely and consensually, and that makes them happy, then that is their business. Queer folks still experience a lot of oppression and sexual stigma from the world at large, and as an extremely diverse community, we need to support each other and stop judging one another. We’ve got to be able to say: you know, that’s not what I’m into, but it’s awesome that you are!

On a deeper level, why do you think it’s a story people have received so well in screenings around the world?
I think timing might have had something to do with it. We premiered the film in spring of 2021, when parts of the world were just beginning to open up again after COVID shutdowns. While you certainly cannot make exact comparisons between AIDS and COVID-19 (or Monkey Pox), there is definitely something to learn from a sense of openness and creativity when dealing with global health crises. During COVID everyone has had to rethink human contact and how to deal with social spheres. How can we be together without infecting each other? How can we adapt to this new reality? Those were very similar questions to what Jack and Mark were asking themselves when they were doing Palm Drive Video, so I think the documentary resonates pretty strongly at this particular point in history. When we started working on the documentary, Alex and I very much felt that this was a Bay Area story, and we assumed that Northern California communities would be our primary audience. But, the film has traveled all over the world – from Ukraine to Taiwan to Chile – and it has had incredibly positive reactions from viewers wherever it has been shown. We’ve learned that our community is MUCH bigger than we had originally realised. But, ultimately, I really do believe that the global trauma of the COVID-19 crisis has helped people grasp the themes of the film in much more expansive and broad terms.

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Talk a little bit about sex positivity and the existence of pornography in general – how far do you think we’ve come in that regard (normalising queer kinks etc) and what work do you think still needs to be done?
One thing that I think is really important to realise about pornography is that it has incredible historical value, especially for queer folks. Having a historical archive is absolutely critical for any community to know where they came from and to understand how certain concepts, ideals, and practices evolved to where they are today. But, having an archive is a privilege. Throughout human history very few people have actually had the means to document and archive their own histories. And, until very recently, LGBTQ+ communities typically did not have their stories and histories officially documented and preserved. But, in the 1970s with the rise of gay porn production, there was suddenly a profitable market for queer films – and that meant that more and more filmmakers began making gay movies. Of course there was the sex, but porn filmmakers also went out and filmed in all sorts of ‘real’ places where ‘real’ people and communities gathered, essentially documenting what was going on at that time in the queer world. So, while many people only think of porn in terms of the erotic content (which is super important too!), it’s also necessary to look at those films as some of the only existing records of specific LGBTQ+ histories. We need to make sure to protect those archives though! Porn is generally not valued in society and therefore it is very vulnerable to being destroyed, belittled, or forgotten. You don’t have to watch it, or even like it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not important or worthy of preservation. Archives of sexuality are foundational on a number of levels, not only because they often contain critical information about queer history, but also because they tell us so much about intimate human behaviours at specific periods of time. I really think societies and communities need to be more open-minded about what constitutes history and provide greater support to those that are preserving underrepresented historical archives. We were so lucky to have had access to the Palm Drive Video Archive when we were making 'Raw! Uncut! Video!' – but that only exists because Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry had the time and resources to preserve everything themselves. You have to wonder how many similar bodies of work have ended up in trash heaps over the years because they weren’t valued and considered worthy of being saved.

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What was the most interesting thing you learnt about during the creative process of the documentary?
I’d say that making this documentary really opened my mind – and also made me more accepting of my own unique sexual persona. First, when sifting through the hundreds of hours of Palm Drive Video footage, there was initially a lot of material that was a bit out of my comfort zone. When faced with images of extreme bondage, asphyxiation, sounding… I realised that my sexual tastes had always been pretty vanilla! But, then as the project continued, it all became pretty normalised for me. I saw the joy and excitement in the models’ faces and during interviews I heard folks talk about how personally liberated they were by sexual exploration. After making the film, I understand and respect sexual adventurousness on a really different level than I did when we began the project. And, like I said, the documentary also helped me to embrace my own desires. While we were working on the film, I wrote an article for DRUMMER Magazine about how Palm Drive Video inspired me to be more open about my attraction to larger men, which was something I had kept hidden for a really long time.

In what way/s would you say ‘Raw! Uncut! Video!’ is still relevant today?
I think the preservation and transmission of underrepresented histories is always relevant. There is never just a single historical narrative. It’s always possible to have a fuller picture of what came before, and it is so important to diversify what we know about the past. Because, the more we know about how we got to where we are today, the more empowered we can become. When we have a complex knowledge of history, we have more options for moving forward and overcoming contemporary challenges. So, I would hope that 'Raw! Uncut! Video!' expands viewers' understandings of AIDS activism, the development of kink communities, and sex-positivity movements. Those histories are all very relevant to queer life in 2022, but I really don’t think those topics have been explored thoroughly enough.



What does it mean to have your film screen as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival?
We are so excited that 'Raw! Uncut! Video!' is screening at Revelation Perth International Film Festival! It’s a festival that has been on my radar for a really long time – because year after year they consistently have some of the most interesting and cutting-edge programming of any film festival in the world. Even though I’m based in California, I often check their programme to see what films they have scheduled so I can try to catch those movies a bit closer to home. So, it’s been a long-term goal of mine to have a film screen at Revelation. Argh, we really wish we could come to Perth for the festival!

Is there anything in this vein/field that you’d like to explore next in the form of a documentary?
We’re working on a couple of new documentary projects, and they both continue exploring LGBTQ+ history through the use of porn archives. One of the films is about uncovering the queer history of the California coast, particularly Big Sur, which is where I grew up. The other project is a documentary about gay porn icon Mickey Squires (who appears in 'Raw! Uncut! Video!').

'Raw! Uncut! Video!' screens at Luna Leederville as part of Revelation Perth International Film Festival on 10, 12 and 17 July.

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