Blue Artichoke Films, founded by director Jennifer Lyon Bell, is dedicated to making artistic, unusual erotic films that portray sexuality in an emotionally realistic way. Whether documentary, fiction, or experimental, Blue Artichoke films borrow from traditional film languages and styles to represent sexuality with a fresh perspective.
WHO WE ARE
Forever wishing that all movies had longer and more explicit sex scenes, Harvard graduate Jennifer Lyon Bell decided to mix arthouse cinema with hot explicit sex in her own work. With Blue Artichoke Films, she creates erotic fiction films and documentaries that illuminate the riveting, intimate, and sometimes delightfully awkward side of sex. In short, she’s making the films that she herself would most like to watch. Her films win international awards at both porn festivals and art-film festivals, and have screened in venues from a Dutch LadyFest squat to the London Institute of Contemporary Arts.
JENNIFER LYON BELL
- Sexual energy is healthy and life-affirming.
- Everyone deserves more outlets for sexual energy — in or out of a relationship.
- Sex is better in the context of other enjoyable and interesting emotions.
- Getting turned on is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate reason for anyone to watch a film.
- A good process of working together is just as important as having a good finished film.
We think great erotic movies take the time to really get inside a character using these four elements:
- Relationships: Sex takes place within some kind of relationship, whether the individuals know each other well or not.
- Motivations: Everyone brings their own desires, hopes, and insecurities to every sexual experience.
- Sexual narrative: Subtle power dynamics and shifts between two people give every real-life sexual experience its own unique “story”.
- Sensation: The best part of a real-life sexual experience is being touched. We use cinematic techniques to help you “feel” sensations the characters feel, rather than a vague “turned on” feeling.
Jennifer’s mission to create better sex film is an integral part of her feminist sexual expression. She believes that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. And that creating beautiful, hot films that turn women on is possible, safe, and necessary.
We’re certainly not anti-porn; on the contrary, we think there should be much more good porn available!
Part of our appeal to modern women is that our stories and situations aren’t bound up in monogamous romance. Pop culture is rife with messages for women that sex is only awesome once they’ve found True Love. Love is lovely, but we think that hot, meaningful sex can also happen between total strangers.
There’s one thing that sexfilm made for men consistently fails to give straight women, and that’s footage of good-looking men. So we look for actors who are engaging, cute, and interesting-looking, and when we edit the film, we make sure you really get to know the male characters too — on the outside and the inside.
Lastly, it’s of the utmost concern to us that the actors and (particularly) actresses we work with be knowledgeable, thoughtful, and enthusiastic about doing films with us. Jennifer meets personally with every actor and actress even before allowing them to audition, so that she can be sure they have like-minded motivations and understand what the risks might be. Also, everyone on the cast and crew is encouraged to ask questions. We think that’s the only way to create a safe space for people to experiment sexually.
Jennifer started Blue Artichoke Films because she noticed that straight women couldn’t find appealing erotic films, but while we’re proud that our films have cute men in them, we don’t assume that women are limited by their own gender — or even in their stated sexual orientation — in the characters they respond to sexually.
Even more so, part of the magic of any cinematic experience involves mentally switching back and forth — perspective-taking –between any two different characters in a scene no matter their gender. It’s an experience we’re all familiar with.
That’s why we’re reluctant to label Blue Artichoke or individual Blue Artichoke films as “straight” or “gay.” We’re not even sure what those terms mean anymore.
Furthermore, we realized that plenty of men — straight, gay, bisexual, queer — are also looking for alternatives to today’s porn, and Blue Artichoke films seem to be pretty appealing. We’re happy about that.
Many people enjoy feeling weepy during heart-tugging dramatic films, frightened during thrillers, or happy during feel-good Hollywood movies?Honestly, why should seeing a film to feel sexual energy be any different?
There’s a need for a new kind of film that bridges the mainstream movie industry and the so-called porn industry. Neither one fully engages the legitimacy of creating sexual feelings. The mainstream movie industry tends to sanitize sex scenes so they won’t overly sexually stimulate the viewing audience while the porn industry leaves no time for the psychological/emotional context that fiction can provide.
Blue Artichoke films prioritize the sexual relationship. We fill out and color the characters so that you can understand how they think and feel about personal situations and their relationship with each other, but not so much that the film becomes a “character study” at the expense of that sexual jolt.
We also allow our stories to bring up other related but non-sexual feelings. Our films recognize and integrate these emotionally important themes into the film to make the sexual charge even better.
The point of our films is to turn you on. But we think it increases your enjoyment to disarm you, so that you forget the clichés of porn and start experiencing the story in a fresh way. Ideally, you’ll be fascinated, engaged, and energized by what you’re seeing, without judgment. If we’re really successful, perhaps you’ll blurt, “I don’t know what the heck kind of film that was, but it was surprisingly hot.”
More and more films are starting to crop up in this erotic area between independent film and porn starting among primarily-European filmmakers in the early part of the decade. Though we like some of these films more than others, we think they all try to address the interface between emotion and sexuality, which is something we applaud.
- 9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)
- Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
- Destricted (art-film compilation w/Matthew Barney etc., 2006)
- All About Anna, and the other films of Lars von Trier’s spinoff erotic production company Innocent Pictures (Jessica Nilsson, 2005)
- Ken Park (Larry Clark, 2002)
- Y Tu Mamà Tambièn (Alfonso Cuarón , 2001)
- Intimacy (Patrice Chéreau, 2001)
- Lucía Y El Sexo (Julio Medem, 2001)
- The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
- Baise-Moi (Virginie Despentes and Coralie, 2000)
- Romance X (Catherine Breillat, 1999)
Casting is everything to us. It’s a challenge to find the right actors (both men and women) for a project like this because the acting standard, both in and out of bed, is high. Fortunately we’ve been able to find talented actors who can portray sexual feeling while integrating it into the rest of their character’s emotional life. Some actors are professionally-trained, some are non-actor artists such as dancers or performance artists, and some are regular individuals with a natural flair for acting and collaboration. Personal honesty and charisma trump all the other qualities you might expect an erotic film casting session to require.
Lead actors and actresses need to be comfortable as actors, comfortable as sexual beings, and comfortable together. Finding actors and actresses who connect with one another onscreen has worked well for us so far. Future films may have real-life couples who are theatrically trained, or real-life couples with natural acting talent. In all cases, we want actors and actresses to be attracted to each other. Rehearsals should be exciting and explorational.
The most important quality to find in our actors is a genuine sense that they are willing to find their boundaries and then cross them, either as real-life individuals, as fictional characters, or (best of all) as both. The sense that someone is having a unique experience for the very first time — we find that fascinating and sexy, and only an honest and authentic actor/actress is up for that challenge.
Sex scenes in porn tend to lack very simple shots that portray intensity and connection in regular feature films. For those of you interested in the technical terminology, we like “shot-reverse shot (S/RS)” and “(emotional) facial reaction shots” because they help to make the viewer feel a part of the action.
Shot-reverse shot (S/RS) shots go back and forth between the faces of the two persons involved in a conversion or sexual interchange, often from an over-the-shoulder perspective. While it seems simple, this basic technique helps the viewer understand how each character feels about what’s being said/done by the other character on a moment-by-moment basis.
This technique not only improves the non-sex conversations, but even more so the sex sequences. In real life, most people “check in” visually with their partner from time to time to see if their partner is getting more aroused, and to enjoy their partner’s reaction.
Also, facial closeups during sex scenes are very powerful because they show every little thing the character is experiencing, and these shots lend a sense of intimacy and immediacy.
We’re proud of the quality of the editing of our films. The shots are story-motivated, even in the sex scenes. We think a short explicit shot can pack an enormous sexual wallop, especially when presented in the context of other body imagery and of the character’s other thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Less is more.
We use great filmmaking equipment, professional lighting, on-location sets, careful sound miking and mixing, and a lush music soundtrack. This also means spending time (a lot of time) to find experienced professionals willing to work collaboratively to achieve the tone and style we want.
Every film of ours has its own visual style. For example, for our recent film Matinée, we were inspired by Julio Medem’s (2001) “Lucia Y El Sexo” with its intense hazy light and textural feel. The final style then evolved from a collaboration between Jennifer Lyon Bell (the Director), the Director of Photography, the lighting designer, and the Art Director.
One notable aesthetic trademark of ours is that silence is just as important as music in Blue Artichoke films. While we use musical scoring to set a mood and help visually smooth out certain scenes in editing, the sex scenes are sound-designed especially to use silence to emphasize the impact of the sexual sighs, breathing and other sounds while still allowing them to remain subtle. The mixture of silence and more-intense sexual noises like moans and cries imparts a sense of authenticity to the sexual noises when they do occur.
The most important reason we make erotic film has nothing to do with commerce, but because we want to make films that we ourselves would really like to see. We want to feel characters from the inside, get lost, and come out the other side breathless and aroused.
Jennifer Lyon Bell, Director and Owner
Blue Artichoke Films