The organizers of a local pornographic film festival are celebrating a recent ruling by New Mexico’s highest court. It hasn’t exactly been a day at the movies for Pornotopia’s creators though. They, along with the owner of an Albuquerque movie theater, have been fighting for the festival for more than three years.
The issue: whether or not the Guild Cinema, an Albuquerque art film house, was designated for “adult entertainment.” After being cited and fined in 2008 for violating Albuquerque zoning laws, owner Keif Henley decided to take the issue to court. Henley said he decided not to pay the fine as a matter of principle. Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the theater could host the film festival without violating the city’s zoning laws.
“I felt like we would have acquiesced to something that was very unreasonable. I didn’t think one weekend out of the year could threaten this neighborhood,” Henley said.
Ultimately, the court ruled that adult content once a year does not constitute an “adult establishment."
Molly Adler and Matie Fricker started Pornotopia in 2007 as a way to showcase pornography in a more positive light. Together they co-own Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center, an Albuquerque boutique that offers educational sex classes and sells a variety of adult-themed products.
Fricker said the festival allows people to see films about all different kinds of sex, with people that are sometimes larger than most pornographic film stars.
“We are starving for images of bodies that look like ours,” Fricker said. “One of our biggest supporters explained to me it was the first time she felt sexy and beautiful, because she saw a woman, this wonderful independent film star, but she had a body that looked like hers.”
The first warning from the city came in the form of a fax to the theater, just hours before the first Pornotopia was supposed to start.
Fricker said a group of progressive lawyers were at the theater for an unrelated documentary. When they came out of the theater and learned of the warning, things progressed quickly.
“Everyone got on their phones and they were flipping out, and then within an hour and a half, the head of the New Mexico ACLU was there to defend us. It was like a beacon in the night. They came in on their Priuses and they were there to help us,” said Fricker.
The city council could still draft an ordinance to stop the festival, but so far there seems to be no formal attempt to do so.
According Code Enforcement Manager Brennon Williams, there is no plan for any further citations or fines.
“They’ve spoken. It’s not that there’s nothing we can do, but it’s not a zoning violation according to the New Mexico State Supreme Court,” Williams said.
Even though the court’s decision was based on the definition of an “adult establishment”, Molly Adler says it’s about free speech.
“It may seem extreme that we are saying, ‘okay, this is porn’. We might be talking about art or writing or intellectual material. So there’s this separation between highbrow and low brow.”
Adler says the whole experience has demonstrated to her how tenuous it can be until it is tested.