SXSW Film Review: Pornocracy (France, 2016) is a sad indictment on the big business that is the ever-growing porn industry

Porn is a big business. In just six years the planet has watched over a million years’ worth of videos and 100 billion pages are visited and streamed annually. But is there a dark side to the industry? Ovidie, a French journalist and former porn-star attempts to answer this question in her documentary film, Pornocracy, which will have its world premiere at SXSW.

This documentary is obviously a personal one for Ovidie as a former adult entertainer. She also has a keen interest in feminism and brings all of this to the film’s approach. Pornocracy is divided into four parts, the first looks at the “prey”, or those individuals who are exploited in the name of porn. Today the earnings from porn are a fraction of what they used to be and it can be argued that the sex has gotten nastier. The proliferation of content available online means that the performers are feeling forced to engage in more hard-core and dangerous acts. It is shocking and not altogether unsurprising to see one girl beginning her day with a breakfast of lollies because actual food could get in the way of a sex act she’s agreed to perform later on.

The second chapter looks at the predators and where things really started to disintegrate into a kind of Wild West of porn. Sites like YouPorn meant that videos were suddenly available for free and these were not always hosted or used with the consent of the performers or the producers. It also made it more easily accessible and a disposable commodity. The videos hosted by these online platforms have also influenced and shaped the sexuality of increasingly younger people.

In a short period of time, a German man named Fabian Thylmann would find himself the king of online porn with an empire of around 40 companies. But this all came crashing down in 2012 when he was arrested for tax evasion. The third chapter of this film is about what happened next with respect to Thylmann’s broken empire. He sold his shares and what was once an industry heavyweight transformed into a faceless corporation named MindGeek. There was lots of smoke and mirrors with regards to who or what was actually behind it. Some people alleged that MindGeek was a front for a money laundering operation.

The final instalment looks at the rise of amateurs in porn and webcam girls in particular. A site like Live Jasmin is described in some detail and represented here with an interview with its Chief Operating Officer. This is a Luxembourg-based company with some 200 employees (mostly web developers) and they provide a platform between the performers and the clients wanting to watch and interact with the videos and the subjects. They have some 2 million performers on their books (but these include active and inactive members.)

Pornocracy is a rather one-sided documentary, but it needs to be in order to expose the dark nature of the big business that is now the porn industry. Ovidie does not criticise the porn itself but rather the practices that have become acceptable in this unregulated, online industry where the tube websites are ruthless and young children are increasingly finding it easier to access more and more explicit materials that were designed for adult eyes and consumption. Pornocracy is an illuminating film about the important societal, human and economic issues arising from multinationals muscling in on porn and the changing landscape with developments in technology. It proves that there are no easy solutions available and that the hunger for porn seems almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Pornocracy is screening at SXSW. To find out more about the film’s remaining screenings at the event, head HERE