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Erika Lust likes dirty sex. The ethics, however, have to be clean. In 2004, the Sweden-born, Barcelona-based film director started creating a new world of adult cinema that saw fake orgasms and watermelon breasts replaced by female pleasure and real, relatable bodies. The mother-of-two has since made four feature films, received 21 awards and, thanks to her renegade XConfessions series – where she transforms the public’s fantasies into short films – she’s put a wealth of talented women in front and behind the camera. Here, the queen of the indie-porn revolution, who is as captivating and clever as the art she creates, shares what life is like blazing a trail in world that is still largely dominated by men.
You arrived in Barcelona on a bus in 1997 as Erika. How did the city help you blossom into the powerhouse that is Erika Lust?
It liberated me. I felt like I could be or do whatever I wanted. I had no eyes on me and I was away from the high standards in Sweden that required me to be a good, polite girl. There were no budget airlines then so I caught a boat to Copenhagen and travelled for two nights on a bus to Spain with none of today’s technology – probably just a book. Barcelona was much rougher then and there were far fewer tourists so it felt more “authentic” than it does now.
My friends were very open-minded and of different sexualities and genders. I remember moving apartments a lot: renting rooms a few weeks here and there, and always in places with noise and traffic, which was perfect for me because I could walk and catch buses instead of paying for taxis. I came to Barcelona to learn Spanish but I was 20 years old so I was also partying. I always went to class but I would then go to the beach and sleep. I saw it as multi-tasking: sleeping and tanning at the same time. I had four of those incredible, wild summers.
In your renegade XConfessions series, you transform the public’s personal sex stories and fantasies into films, such as a pianist climaxing during a live performance. Could you possibly pick a favourite?
This feels like I’m choosing between my daughters! I have a special relationship with each of my XConfessions. I love My Moaning Neighbour because the script is fabulous, and the acting and chemistry between Mickey Mod and Vex Ashley works so well. I particularly like to watch it with an audience and hear them laughing in the right places. I also love a new one called Speedos Cleptomaniac, which is about a guy who trains in a swimming pool and suddenly someone is stealing his Speedos.
Has a scene ever gone hilariously, wonderfully wrong?
I’m not that fanatical director who wants exactly my vision so I’m quite relaxed. It’s a team job. There are, of course, a lot of bleepers: actors falling off beds or stumbling into something. We even had a situation where a light looked like it was going to fall on them, which an electrician caught just in time. Once a dog that belonged to the location we were renting walked onto the set and just stood there staring at a foursome.
In your Power Pussy film, two of your actresses wear T-shirts reading “never underestimate the power of a woman” and “No Pasaran”, an anti-fascist slogan meaning “they shall not pass”. Do you have a favourite statement about women?
We’ve started a whole line of Power Pussy apparel – T-shirts, caps, bags and knickers – with cool messages like “Powered by Orgasms” and “It’s not gonna lick itself”. There’s one slogan that I love but is used on another campaign. It says: “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding”. What a message.
Who are your female heroes?
My daughters push me in every sense to become a better person. They are aged seven and 10 and they’re best friends. They have such spirit and are so aware of the world around them. They’re already protesting about things they don’t like; they think Trump is an arsehole.
I’m also a huge fan of a film director called Jill Soloway who invited me to lunch when I was in Los Angeles recently. She wrote and directed the television series Transparent and she also directed I love Dick (one of the best series I’ve ever seen) both of which were made for Amazon Prime. She’s basically the only woman in an all-man team. It’s difficult for people to understand this new female approach but we both believe in the importance of having women in filmmaking.
You recently invested €250,000 to help fund 10 films by female filmmakers in your ongoing bid to create a new kind of adult cinema. What qualities do these women and their ideas have?
We’ve already invested a lot more. We’ve made over 25 films by 18 guest directors and there are many more to come. I especially wanted to find women from minorities and diversities because I feel that adult films have been made by middle-aged heterosexual men for far too long.
When I started this project, I wondered: what stories would these women tell? The films are all so different. We’ve had interest in female filmmakers from Finland, Brazil, Germany, UK, US, Egypt and so many more. We’re trying to get out of western countries but it’s difficult because of the laws. These filmmakers have such different ideas compared to the mainstream porn. It’s like comparing a fast-food restaurant with a local, family-owned family one. What’s different? Everything – from the potatoes to how they prepare them. This is art and creativity, not just bodies having sex, and at the moment we’re releasing a new short film on XConfessions every week (a mix of mine and those of the guest directors).
You’ve written four fiction and non-fiction books. Do you have any other books burning in you?
I may have a project about how literature is sexy and how it can help people with similar ideas meet but it’s in the very early stages. I believe a book can bring people together.
You recently suggested that you might be working with the cult Spanish artist Naro Pinosa. Can you tell us any more about this powerful collaboration?
I met him at the recent Guadalajara International Film Festival in Mexico and we talked about him working on a cover for one of my XConfessions and how he could use our images for his art. My database of erotic photographers is astonishing.
You once joined the Swedish navy. What did you learn about yourself onboard?
I was 16 and it was hard. I won a scholarship and went on two sailing ships for six weeks sailing around Sweden. We would sleep for four hours, then wake up in the middle of the night to peel potatoes or something. But the first thing I had to manage was my fear of heights because I had to climb the mast, which is very high and very scary. The good thing for me was that I’d been sailing with my family since I was a child so I never get seasick. All these big guys around me were throwing up and I was scaling the mast.
You’ve just visited Mexico and Los Angeles, both beautifully bold and bright. How did your trip inspire you?
I do my best creative work in the shower or when I travel. Travelling opens our eyes and educates us. It was my first time in Mexico and to travel halfway across the world and still be able to speak Spanish was incredible – I immediately connected with everyone. I was away for three weeks, which included staying in a hotel called Casa Kimberly, which is formed from two houses that were once owned by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He built a bridge between the two – a love bridge called Puente del Amor – so they could visit each other whenever they wanted. It was a beautiful place.
Do you have any travel rituals?
I’m a little afraid of flying so I find a glass of champagne at the airport takes the edge off my fear.
Which is your favourite place you’ve visited and why?
I guess you could say Barcelona as I only came here to visit and I stayed. I also love travelling outside of the city around the Costa Brava – I adore the rocks, the light and the food. I’m Swedish, of course, so I love winter and skiing – but now I love the mountains in the sun so I prefer to ski here in Spain, mostly in Andorra and Baqueira Beret resorts.
Where’s next on your destination hit list?
This summer, I plan on going to London with my girls. Then to Portugal, to Lisbon and Comporta, on a family holiday. I’ve also been invited to visit Tokyo this autumn for an event, which I’m so excited about. I’ve never been to Japan and I’m so curious.
What’s in your SUITCASE?
A lot of black T-shirts. When I look through my things I’m like: “Oh, what black T-shirt today?” I also pack a lot of earrings and a few pairs of jeans. Sometimes I try to wear more colour but when I look in the mirror I think I look like a clown.
Erika Lust’s Insider Guide to Barcelona
Where’s your favourite place to wake up?
If you asked me that in my twenties, I would have said the beach but today it’s in my bed. I have the best bed: it’s two metres by two metres and my apartment is in La Vila Olímpica neighbourhood. When I make my tea in the morning, I can see the ocean.
Where should we go for breakfast?
Soho House Barcelona’s rooftop terrace, which has incredible views but you have to be a hotel guest / club member to get up there. I always order avocado toast.
What about mid-week lunch?
I eat at a lot of vegetarian places. I like Green Spot on Carrer de la Reina Cristina close to the beach. The ambience is very nordic and the space almost feels spiritual. I also like the Flax & Kale group, which has funny names for dishes like “my Japanese girlfriend”.
How about date night?
There is a small place in El Raval called Lo De Flor and it’s owned by a woman from Argentina who is the best host. She’s a huge personality and comes around to the tables. I also like Bar Brutal in El Born, which is also very cool and is run by two Italian twin brothers. It sells organic wines and has an excellent sommelier. I love places that have stories.
And to dance all night?
It doesn’t happen so often now – it’s not 1997 anymore. In the summer of 2000 I would have told you La Paloma, which was the place and is still open now. I also like Razzmatazz in El Poblenou. I shot an XConfessions in there called Horny Beasts, which has a lot of contemporary dance and beautiful seductive dancers.
Tell us a secret spot we don’t know.
There’s a bar called El Paradiso, which is a speakeasy behind a pastrami bar in El Born. You basically open a fake fridge door and find yourself in the bar. I made a film noir-style XConfessions there called Femme Fatale.
What’s one thing we should see or do in Barcelona?
Not many tourists visit Montjuïc mountain, which overlooks Barcelona. It’s got secret gardens, a graveyard and a swimming pool where you can jump on the diving board and see all of Barcelona. It’s the pool where Kylie Minogue shot “Slow” – I bet you didn’t know that.
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