Are queer film festivals necessary? The documentary «Queer Artivism», made in 2013 and screened at Verdensteatret on September 15th, starts with this question.
The documentary shows scenes from five different queer film festivals located in five different countries. It lets filmmakers, festival organisers and artists discuss the need for – and the meaning of – queer film festivals today.
Film as a powerful media form
It is first pointed out that film itself is a powerful media to attract people’s attention. Film is one of the most common and most loved media forms today, reaching and appealing to people almost anywhere, anytime. With its images and audio, a film creates the ambience of immediacy, making people throw themselves fully into the flow it provides, and allowing them to identify with the characters in the given setting. However this does not only apply to sexual minorities, who are the center of such films.
Film as a means of raising visibility
These days, there are more and more heterosexual people becoming interested in attending queer film festivals. If the above-mentioned advantages these films can bring can spread to the sexual majorities, it will be possible for them to develop perspectives that they didn’t have before. What sexual minorities have been trying, and are still trying, to achieve is «visibility”. There are still so many people who cannot imagine that sexual minorities exist all around them and who set heterosexuality as a default mode. By showing films featuring the lives of sexual minorities, these festivals can broaden the imagination of the majorities, infusing the image of the minorities into their consciousness. All the other tasks can be done only after people know that sexual minorities exist and are living their lives in the same world.
Visibility arising from films shown in queer film festivals is different from that created by films shown at other major film festivals and/or media contents, which are mostly created with the perspective of the sexual majorities. The latter present the fantasy and stereotypes of the majority towards sexual minorities, commonly excluding them from the majority. In a way, they make sexual minorities visible but they do this by alienation. Instead, films screened in queer film festivals are mostly made by queers themselves, or queer-friendly people who truly want to draw attention to the human rights issues concerning sexual minorities. They want to achieve this in more realistic ways, rather than to seek attention or be sensationalist. Queer film festivals provide an opportunity for queers and non-queers to connect with one other, with films demonstrating queers and non-queers as totally equal, though their sexual orientations and sexual identities differ.
Queer film festivals as a platform for the community
Queer film festivals can become a platform for communities of sexual minorities to gather together and further develop an overall sense of community. By attending these festivals, sexual minorities meet other people like themselves (local or international) and, rather than watching films alone at home, they can meet, share and connect with others in a public arena. Queer film festivals are one of few safe places where they can be themselves and express their opinions and emotions freely.
We are living in a world lacking role models for sexual minorities to identify with, yet queer film festivals can provide an opportunity for them to identify with other queers and seek reassurance from them, be it characters in films or other people attending the festival. All these role models, examples and references help those people figure out how to live as a sexual minority – from how to come out, to how to assert one’s rights.
In addition, queer film festivals also provide opportunities for people to partake in other queer-related activities and discuss various current issues. Organisers want to use queer film festivals as a means of cultivating queer culture rather than using them as opportunities for activism only. Instead, they add another dimension to the cultural scene that already exists. This is the reason the documentary is entitled «Queer Artivism» rather than «Queer Activism».
Queer film festivals as a platform for filmmakers
Queer film festivals also provide a platform for queer or queer-friendly filmmakers. Many queer films do not get screening opportunities at major film festivals, partly because filmmakers have problems securing the funding that enables them to make films to the standard required by these major events, and also because of the difficulty getting seats at such festivals. The conservative nature of major film festivals contrasts with the indie, often experimental, form of queer films and is a major reason why queer films have screening difficulties.
Queer film festivals actively seek to show films that deal with queer-related issues, and the standards required for submitted work are lower, thus providing important opportunities for lesser known filmmakers to screen their work. These opportunities encourage filmmakers to produce more alternative films, therefore filmmaking attempts that may have ended as one-time shots, can be continued and supported.
This creates opportunities for filmmakers from all over the world to meet each other, which also applies to the organisers of queer film festivals and artists including actors/actresses and musicians. Festival attendees come to queer film festivals with many different intentions, but those common to all of them are to assert the rights of sexual minorities, and to cultivate the queer cultural platform. These shared intentions work as ties between attendees/organisers, and again, the festivals can become a platform to unite queer communities more strongly.
Queer film festivals also function as a vehicle to improve the quality of queer films. As more and more films come to the forefront, filmmakers who previously lacked sufficient references have now got a variety that they can apply to their films. They learn both by being exposed to various materials that improvise on a central theme in different ways, and by discussing films with other people on the cinema scene. This can increase the quality of their films in many aspects, such as in the diversity of contents or in compositions, for example. Both of these can lead to the prosperity of high quality cultural contents on the queer culture scene. The festivals can also work as an archive for those queer-related films scattered all over the world that have not had the chance to reach others.
Queer film festivals with news value
Films reflect what people consider as import at the time of production. As such, popular themes and number of viewings demonstrate key public concerns and queer films are not an exception to this. They reflect a changing queer society, not a static one as is seen in the fantasies of the sexual majorities. Queer society is very much alive and moves constantly with diverse matters that are considered particularly important at a given time and place. Thus, queer films are a key aspect of media informing people about the dynamic of queer society.
Do we need queer film festivals at this point?
People featured in the documentary return to the question asked in the very beginning—is it necessary to have queer film festivals, when many queers are trying to achieve equality with non-queers?
Instead of having queer film festivals, it might be more appropriate for queer films to be screened at major film festivals alongside non-queer films without the feeling of incompatibility. However, that is not the case for now. Filmmakers, festival organisers, actors/actresses, musicians and many other people in the documentary generally agreed that queer film festivals are still needed, and that actually we require even more of them. For as long as members of the queer community require a platform to anchor themselves in the heterosexual world, and for as long as they are not getting the same rights as the sexual majorities (both legally and in everyday situations), events like queer film festivals will still be necessary. This is because they allow queers to feel safe in fully expressing and appreciating their existence. Until people become familiar with differences in sexuality and are willing to give the same status to those who possess these differences, there will always be need for occasions like queer film festivals, so that differences can be exposed and accepted. All this can start with a small event like Queer Artivism.
Text: Yeonwoo Baik