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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

After Dormont officials object, Hollywood Theater cancels Dan Savage-curated "Hump" festival

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 3:20 PM

The Hump Tour, a festival of independently made dirty movies curated by sex columnist Dan Savage, has been touring cities in the U.S. and Canada. But despite initial plans, the festival will not be appearing at Dormont's Hollywood Theater, because of objections from borough officials.

Robert Crocker, executive director of the Hump Tour, says that since the festival's founding in 2005, it has never had to cancel a stop before. "We have never had a complaint from a city in nine years," says Crocker, who is scouting other local theaters in hopes of keeping to the original June 13 and 14 screening dates. He vows that Hump will screen in or near the city this year.

"The films are explicit but also very artful and real," he adds. "The 'porn' label is there due to the sexual nature of the shorts, but it's not really porn. It's much more an artful and real expression of human sexuality."

Borough officials, however, didn't see it that way.

Hump consists of five-minute films that feature an array of naked bodies and un-simulated sex acts. It has attracted indie filmmakers, some of whose work boasts impressive cinematography and clever scripts. (The program even features a stop-animation segment.) The tour was slated to come to Dormont's single-screen community theater until the Hollywood's executive director, Chad Hunter received a call from Borough Manager Jeffrey Naftal.

Hunter says Naftal told him the municipality "had received some complaints" about the festival, and the screenings violated the zoning laws of the inner-ring suburb of 8,593. Hunter says he "accepted that if they said it was illegal, it was illegal" and refunded Hump's deposit.

Naftal says screening the festival would involve "multiple violations" of zoning regulations. According to section 210-62 of the borough code, "adult businesses" must feature the classic "peep show" format, with individual viewing booths, and be 500 feet from a church or school. The former Dormont Presbyterian Church, which now houses an interdenominational Christian church, is just across Potomac Avenue.

Naftal says that a two-evening engagement with Hump is enough to reclassify the Hollywood, Dormont's refurbished 1920s-era community theater, as an "adult business."

"If they show adult movies, they're an adult business," he says. "The code is very specific and the theater didn't argue." When asked if that reasoning could be applied to other controversial films a theater might show, Naftal retorts, "There is a difference between homemade sex movies, which is what this was advertised to be, and Last Tango in Paris."

Naftal says he doesn't know how many residents protested the showing — he heard complaints through borough councilors who passed along residents' concerns -- and says it doesn't matter. "If it's against code, it's against code," he says. "When I have a person call up and say a person has parked illegally in front of their yard, I don't wait until the complaints add up. I call an enforcement officer and see if it is or is not illegal."

Sara Rose, a staff attorney at the Pittsburgh office of the American Civil Liberties Union, says that Dormont's actions were "unconstitutional."

When seeking to quarantine a certain kind of commerce, Rose says, officials "need to show a reason for keeping out the crowds this would attract," such as evidence that a business created "secondary effects" like an increase in crime.

"Dormont can't say, 'We don't like sexually explicit movies': That would be overtly unconstitutional," Rose says. And given that the Hollywood typically shows family-friendly fare, she says, "The borough would have a hard time arguing that two or three days of more explicit films would create any secondary effects."

That may be especially true given the socially conscious, indie-film-viewing, alt-weekly-reading crowd that consumes Savage's output. "They don't have much of an argument," Rose says, "unless they're saying they don't want to attract hipsters [for a reason] like increased bicycle traffic."

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