Jason Turley on the
Sexy International Film Festival

by Mark La Rosa

Jason Turley talks about his days running the Sexy International Film Festival (2007-2011)

Mark La Rosa:  When did the Sexy International Film Festival (SIFF) begin and how long did it run for?

Jason Turley:  I created SIFF in 2007. It ran for four years. So I feel that’s a fair run on an independent festival which was really all out of my pocket. It was a hell of a lot of

work, even on the scale that it was.

How did it start?

I was the shorts programmer for the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) and I just thought I’d start my own festival that focused a bit more on relationship and art house type films that I enjoyed at the time, as opposed to the more exploitative films. So

much of that was going on. It was like who can outdo everyone in the gore fest. There were still some great films but I didn’t feel they were genuine. There was no maturity in the films. I was heavily into relationship dramas back in the early 2000s when I was studying film. I had just separated from my ex wife and I was really in that head space where those were the stories I found interesting.

Why a sex themed film festival though? What inspired you?

It wasn’t so much sex themed as you probably gathered by looking at the program. That was a bit of a challenge too. I called it the Sexy International Film Festival because I saw ‘sexy’ as sort of a fun word, which I felt covered the themes of the types of films. Because there were silly little sex comedies and stuff as well. It wasn’t all serious art house films. I felt ‘sexy’ covered both. A fun, vibrant festival.

But a lot of people did take it that way, that it was a raunch festival, and we didn’t get sponsorship here or there. There was a bit of discrimination against the festival because of the name. So in hindsight would I have changed it? Yeah, maybe. Maybe I would have called it the…I don’t know.

It’s difficult.

Yeah it is, to cover that. You know the types of films I’m talking about. So I thought

Sexy International works but although it got attention in some ways, in other ways it

was negative. It wasn’t a sex theme, although I did like the erotic dramas. It was

more erotic dramas than erotica.

Where did it play around the world?

It started off in Melbourne, my hometown. We ran at the George Cinema and had

screenings at Glitch Bar (now Long Play - ed.) and some other screenings around Melbourne, then had a couple of screenings in Perth.

Then, because a lot of the filmmakers I’d been in contact with via email were

interested, or just people in general, I decided ‘why not take it overseas? It’s the

same process as running it here’. But I seemed to have a bit more interest overseas.

So I took it to New York in consecutive years. I’d have four or five sessions. So it

would be a kind of mini festival. Still quite a bit of effort to put that together and get

people to come.

I had screenings in Los Angeles and San Francisco where I had assistance from

local filmmakers and film communities who would invite their friends. Some

screenings were more successful than others, just like any screenings here for

independent festivals. Some screenings you’d get five people, some times you’d fill

the house. It depends on the local connections and what film’s screening. Though I

didn’t really base the program on that.

Anywhere else?

Yes, I ran it in Paris the first year and, while it was quite modest, I think it did

reasonably well and we felt we had something there. We had local contacts. Then

Natalie Vella, a local Melbourne filmmaker who was based in Paris at the time, had

quite an interest and she took over as festival director in Paris the following year.

Obviously we worked together a lot by email and I went over there and helped her

run it while I was there but it was really Natalie’s ship. Natalie ran the Sexy

International Paris Film Festival.


With Natalie Vella in Paris.

I do consider them separate festivals although they were linked obviously. It was up

to Natalie to curate. She put all the hard work in and got all the volunteers. I don’t

speak French, so I wouldn’t have been able to do it over there. When I ran it there

the first time her help was invaluable. So the following year, when she decided to

step up and take it on herself, it certainly expanded. I think it was a full week at

several venues. One was a beautiful old cinema and we had multiple sessions there.

I think it went very well.

Paris was pretty much the second home. It really was. Natalie and I working together,

Natalie over there and me here in Melbourne, sharing films. I had a session here with

the Best of the Sexy International Paris Film Festival and vice versa. She’d have the

best films of Australia over there. So it was a real Australia/French connection.

You were the shorts programmer at MUFF. How did you go about selecting

films for MUFF and for SIFF? What were you looking for in films?

As a programmer you do think of the audience that you’re catering for. I mean the

Melbourne Underground Film Festival audience does like their genre and exploitation

films edgy. Whereas if you’re curating for MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) it might be different. I feel there is a theme for a festival and there is a target audience. Whether that’s right or wrong, that’s how I saw it. ‘This film’s for MUFF. Is it a MUFF type film? Where’s it playing this night?’ You kind of get a feel for how audiences are and you put yourself, while you’re watching the film, with the audience in the room.

With Sexy it was a bit the same. But for me it was about creating a balanced

program. So I would have a bit of raunchy dramas, a bit of silly comedies in there too.

There was a lot of animation. There was a few experimental filmmakers whose work I

put in there. And sometimes, if there was some nudity involved, and it was an art

house film, I’d put that in there.

One of the major challenges in Australia is we have very conservative laws and there

were some films which were banned. I had to submit all the films to the Office of Film

and Literature Classification, like I did with Melbourne Underground. Certain films, if

they had unsimulated sex, were banned flat out. Doesn’t matter the context, doesn’t

matter the seriousness or how long; realistic sex – banned. I was told by people in

certain organizations that undercover police would be there, so don’t attempt to

screen them. I know that MUFF has had a few people sent undercover before, which

I think is laughable, especially in an 18+ venue. Just ridiculous.

I might be wrong about this, but I think SIFF took place at a different venue

each year, from the humble Glitch Bar to the grand Capitol Theatre. Why was


That’s a very good question. Why did we move? To be quite honest I think that was

part of the fun of doing the festival. I loved sourcing the venues. So I don’t think there

was a genuine reason behind it aside from the fact that I just wanted to run it there. So that was a bit of fun in itself, and certainly as fun for me as curating the films was putting the event together. As you’re aware I’ve been working in event management for a few years since and I have skills in that area as well. I love the organizational part of putting the festival together as well.

Was I correct in saying you never had a screening at the same venue more

than once?

Aside from Glitch Bar and some of the smaller venues like Loop and some where you

had the smaller screenings. I used those venues in multiple years. But it was the

case with the main theatres where you had the opening and closing nights. Because

it was quite a bit of money and it was all out of my pocket. There was barely any

sponsorship, if at all, and the sponsorship really was miniscule compared to the costs

of running the event.

So really I did it because I could. It’s my money and I can have it wherever I want. If I

want to have it in St Kilda one year or Melbourne the next then that’s what I did. It’s

especially exciting doing it overseas, working out ‘Okay, that place is in Brooklyn or

that place is in part of San Francisco’. That was just as much fun as putting the

program together.

How did the French and American screenings go? Are there any differences

between Australian audiences and French audiences or American audiences

in regard to SIFF and those kinds of films?

I think the French expected a bit more raunchiness. I think there was some

comments made about some of my more PG related relationship dramas, like

‘What’s that doing in a sexy film festival’ Maybe that’s a translation of ‘sexy’. I don’t


The Americans were very supportive. It was a real community feel there, which I

found extremely fascinating, or surprising, because it’s such a film culture over there.

Well, maybe it’s a movie culture over there. If I had a local filmmaker’s film playing, a

hundred of their friends would turn up. So they were one of the easiest programs to

put together, or most successful.


With director Corey Williams and actors Gary Fletcher and Gabe Baez,
screening of Can’t Complain in 2010 in New York.

I don’t think they have this much of an independent, underground film culture like we

do in Australia or the other cities. I think they have the mainstream and everyone

tries to get into the mainstream, but they're independent and underground… even when

sourcing venues, there wasn’t as much competition. It was easier to get support on

that level. So I felt the Americans were the most enthusiastic, definitely.

The Australians? I think they were a bit confused, in a way, by the concept of the

whole festival. There was MUFF and MIFF and a few other genre related and horror

festivals and ‘what’s this one and do we really need it?’ So I don’t feel I had the

enthusiasm here that I had in the States or even in Paris. I’m not sure why that is.

But at the same time – I’m gonna be honest here because it’s well in the past – what

did I expect! Now that I’ve worked in large-scale events I know better. It was pretty

much self-financed and while I had the money to put the festival on and hire the

cinemas and DVD burning and everything, I had no money to promote it! And I find

that a lot of people in larger events have that problem now. You can put on an event

but unless people know when it’s on and where it is, you’re going to fail. Well, at least


Social media is not enough?

No, I don’t think so. And I think it’s even harder these days because it’s so saturated

and people are lazier and don’t want to go out as often. I think it’s tougher to get

people out of their homes. With their own home theatres they can watch anything at

any time. I think running it would be even harder now, to be quite honest.


With director Stephen Mills and actors Tonya Cornelessi and Alejandra Gollas,
screening of Liminal in 2010 in Los Angeles.

So you wouldn’t put on a festival like that today because the whole culture has


I think it would be very tough now, where people’s access to content is so much greater

than it was a decade ago when I started it. Now there’s apps which have art house

films in monthly subscriptions and you’ve got every film like that. People watch films

on their tablets. There were no tablets back then.

People are less likely to go out now. People are less social then they were. Definitely.

These are my observations. I don’t know if they’re other people’s experiences. But I

find it’s harder to get people out to go see things unless there’s a good Instagram

picture out of it or something like that.

What are your best memories of SIFF? Are there any colourful incidents you’d

like to share with us or are there films that particularly impressed you?

Good memories? (laughs) I guess the adventure is the best memory. Each of the

cities had the own little subculture and underground scene. Sometimes you’d get a

few people who were in that bridge between the underground scene and

mainstream. You’d meet a couple of cool people, actors etc. who were in those films

who were in some others.

Paris was certainly an adventure. That was a lot of fun. In the first year going around

hanging flyers up all around the city with Natalie and her partner of the time. Yeah,

just the grass roots level of it was an adventure. It was like promoting a film, but just

come to this screening instead.


With director Princeton Holt in New York.

Meeting some good filmmakers overseas, some African American filmmakers who

have gone on to do some good things and are still in the game. One example is

Princeton Holt. I screened his film Cookies and Cream. It was ten years ago now, in

New York at the Helen Mills Theatre. He’s continued on with his career. He just

finished another film starring Dean Cain. We keep up to date with social media and


So just meeting great people. The adventure of going to great cities. Yeah, the

adventure. And the art of putting the program together.

This interview was recorded at the Plough Hotel in Footscray in October 2018.


Mark La Rosa is a Melbourne based filmmaker. He recently completed his first feature.

Published Oct 28, 2018. © Mark La Rosa and Jason Turley, 2018.