Drama surrounds Pittsburgh leg of HUMP! Film Festival | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Drama surrounds Pittsburgh leg of HUMP! Film Festival

click to enlarge HUMP! FILM FESTIVAL
HUMP! Film Festival
The HUMP! Film Festival, an annual touring event of curated, homemade pornographic films showcasing the full spectrum of human sexuality, has made Pittsburgh a stop since 2015. Each visit has been a success, with large turnouts at local venues like the Row House Cinema and Spirit in Lawrenceville, and the Ace Hotel in East Liberty.

But this year, the festival claimed that it was struggling to find a venue due to the fault of the original host, Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PF/PCA). Pittsburgh Current recently reported that the venue was "changed at the last minute after new management at Regent Square Theater pulled the film last week because of the content." HUMP spokesperson Caroline Dodge told the Current that the new PF/PCA director of programming Joseph Morrison didn't think the film festival was a good idea and "no one told us about the change and now we’re kinda caught with our pants down (pun intended) … We have a hard time finding spots to play HUMP in general, and Pittsburgh is no exception."

But City Paper found that the fallout between HUMP and PF/PCA appears to be due to miscommunication. Both organizations failed to respond to emails, didn't conduct follow-ups, and even contacted a former employee. And other venues that had previously hosted the festival refute claims that Pittsburgh isn't welcoming to HUMP.

HUMP was founded by syndicated sex-advice columnist Dan Savage in 2005. This year, HUMP claims PF/PCA suddenly dropped the festival after it was scheduled to screen at the Regent Square Theater this May. As a result, the festival moved to the Ace Hotel.

This comes years after HUMP was booted from the Hollywood Theater in Dormont in 2014 over concerns from borough officials that the explicit content violated local pornography laws, and went against Hollywood’s role as a family-friendly, community-driven theater. In 2015, the festival relocated to Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville.

Morrison disagrees with HUMP’s claim that PF/PCA dropped the festival over concerns for the content.

“Our inability to accommodate this year's Hump Festival tour was not based in any way on content, but rather on miscommunication on both sides about available dates, rates, and best location,” says Morrison. “Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is, and always has been, committed to adventurous, inclusive programming.”

Morrison took on his role in September 2018, not long after HUMP paid to rent the Regent Square Theater for May 10-11, as confirmed by an invoice dated Aug. 24, 2018 that was provided by HUMP. Morrison says he was tasked with fixing the theater scheduling and programming, and he wanted to find a better date for HUMP.

“I immediately put the rental on hold, hoping at some point to re-negotiate terms and dates and even location,” says Morrison. He adds that PF/PCA had every intention of hosting the festival and also wanted to move it to the Downtown Harris Theater, believing it would be a better fit for the event.

Morrison contacted HUMP executive producer, Robert Crocker, on Sept. 8, 2018 with an email that reads: “Rob, I was just hired last week to program the theaters, so I need to get control of the schedules moving forward. I'm so sorry this moved a little faster than it should have, so unfortunately we will NOT be able to commit to those days next year. I may be able to circle back after the new year, so don't hesitate to reach out sometime then.”

Crocker responded on Sept. 11, writing, “OK, we are flexible on dates. Do you have any dates you can commit to now?” Morrison admits that he failed to reply, as he became swamped with work as a new hire at PF/PCA.

However, Morrison says HUMP never contacted him until seven months later, when, in late April, HUMP director of operations, Tracey Cataldo, emailed about sending the films to Regent Square Theater. Even then, they had sent the email, not to Morrison, but to Daniel Hash, a former PF/PCA employee who had been the festival’s original contact.

Morrison expressed anger and frustration over HUMP’s claims, admitting that, while there was some fumbling on his end, HUMP never bothered to call or email him to follow up before Cataldo’s email.

Crocker contradicts Morrison, claiming that PF/PCA never provided a reason for changing their minds about hosting HUMP, and simply stated that “they were not interested” in screening it. However, he admits that PF/PCA did give HUMP a proper heads up.

“They actually had given us more notice but due to a misunderstanding on our part, the venue cancelation didn’t make it to our production team,” says Crocker. “Once we had a finalization from Regent Square that they did not wish to host us, we were lucky enough to find the Ace on short notice.”

He makes a point to assert that the short notice was HUMP’s fault, not the fault of PF/PCA.

In an email to Morrison, Cataldo also appears to take responsibility for the mix-up, writing, “Thanks for getting back to me and we apologize for the miscommunication. Not sure what happened here,” before asking that Morrison mail the films back to them.

Despite Dodge’s earlier quote, however, it seems like HUMP has many friends in Pittsburgh. When Row House Cinema hosted HUMP after the Hollywood Theater dropped it, they were eager to bring the event back the next year.

“We had a great time,” says Row House general manager, Theo Ackerson. “The crowd was awesome. We had no issues with it.”

However, Ackerson says HUMP organizers never returned their emails asking if they wanted to return. He wasn’t sure what happened until he heard that HUMP was showing at the Ace Hotel. Still, he says Row House had a positive experience with HUMP and would not hesitate to host the event again.

“We like to think we’re pretty progressive with things like that, hosting that kind of event doesn’t bother us,” says Ackerson.

Leigh Yock, events manager and co-owner of Spirit, echoes Ackerson’s sentiments, only having good things to say about the festival.

“We would have loved to have HUMP Festival back at Spirit this year,” says Yock. “Unfortunately, it didn't work out.”

Crocker says that HUMP has always had a “great reception in Pittsburgh, selling nearly a thousand tickets each year,” and is taking the Regent Square Theater situation in stride.

“Considering we screen in over 40 cities, I’m surprised we don’t have mix-ups like this more often,” he says.

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