Can A Porn Company Distribute Independent Film?

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With the critically acclaimed but controversial "I Want Your Love" banned in Australia but thriving online, adult film company NakedSword's move into independent film distribution appears to be quite fitting.

A gay porn company makes a stab at independent film with an uncoventional release.

Mathew's controversial "I Want Your Love" has been banned in Australia.

"We were the best company to help him reach an audience," says NakedSword's Tim Valenti. "We weren't afraid of the content."

James Franco has praised it. So has John Cameron Mitchell. But thanks to its controversial content, most people will only be able to watch "I Want Your Love" online — and that suits the film's unconventional distributor just fine.

From the start, "I Want Your Love" was a cinematic hybrid. Acclaimed indie director Travis Mathews's feature about gay relationships was too explicit for most producers — but it wasn't exactly porn either. This week, NakedSword, a company best known previously as a distributor of gay hardcore film, used its prowess to release "I Want Your Love" in a way that tries to bridge the gap.

"We got interested in this project because we believed in Travis," said Tim Valenti, president of NakedSword, "but we backed it because we believed we were the best company to help him reach that audience. We weren’t afraid of the content."

Started as an experimental collaboration, "I Want Your Love" went on to become one of the most talked about gay films of the year, with a premiere at San Francisco's Frameline Festival, sold out shows at Outfest in Los Angeles, and a screening at Lincoln Center in New York. With reviews in Variety and mentions in the New York Times, the theatrical audience wasn't exactly a raincoat crowd.

Still, Valenti, a pioneer of online video distribution, knew from the beginning that a film that with any explicit sex, theatrical release was going to be limited. Just last week, exhibition of the movie was barred in Australia when the country's film classification board banned it from screening at a gay and lesbian film festival.

Uproar was quick — and loud. James Franco, a co-director with Travis on the Sundance favorite "Interior. Leather Bar." made a video in support of the film that soon went viral, helping the movie become NakedSword's most popular debut ever.

"There's still a lot of unease about dealing with sexual content," he says, "even in the gay community, even in independent film distribution. But for us, that's an advantage."

It's also a strategic move. The adult industry has been crippled by piracy, and Valenti saw in "I Want Your Love" a chance for his own company to evolve. Once primarily a distributor for studio-produced content, NakedSword has more recently moved aggressively into production — including live event coverage, a gay news blog and original series. Valenti's media model looks less like a traditional porn studio and more like the path of an HBO or a Netflix.

"We know what gay men watch, we know how they watch and now we're in the business of creating the content they watch." In a piece for Huffington Post, Valenti argued that new distribution models such as his may lead to a golden age for gay filmmakers by giving them the tools to reach different audience segments at once.

When "I Want Your Love" premiered this Monday on NakedSword.com, the release straddled two worlds — one adult, one independent. NakedSword has built a stand-alone film site that features digital downloads, rentals, and DVD sales as well as a worksafe presentation that highlights the film over the flesh. Even some gay press, he says, is still hesitant about linking to a porn site.

"This is movie about gay life and relationships." said Valenti. "If we wanted to just sell sex, we could have made another porno. But where’s the challenge in that?"

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Michael Stabile
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