Annual Queer Fest Meeting Spotlights Troubles in Asia
by Eugene Hernandez
More than 75 organizers and programmers of queer film festivals from around the world gathered here in Berlin on Wednesday for an annual discussion about the state of international queer film festivals. The dialogue, held this year in the downstairs lounge at the Kino International on Karl Marx Alle in Mitte, included a focused discussion on developments at queer film festivals in Asia. Among the participants in the discussion, which was moderated by the Teddy Foundation’s Manuela Kay, were Cui Zi’en, head of the first queer festival in Bejing, Wei-jan Liu of Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan, and John Badalu, founder of the Q! Film Screening in Jakarta, Indonesia.
While queer film festivals have flowered in North America and in Western Europe, despite facing budget challenges and pockets of discrimination, the situation in Asia has been nearly insurmountable in some cases. Film professor Cui Zi’en faced some of the toughest opposition to queer cinema festivals, at home in China. He spoke at length about a recent run-in with government authorities who shut down his festival just a few days into its run. Out of the many movies made in China, Cui Zi’en said, few are queer films and those few are censored and not allowed to be seen in the country. Of the 30 million homosexuals in China only a handful are openly gay, according to the film professor who has tenure but is often not allowed to teach courses.
The queer festival in Bejing was announced just a few days before it began, Cui Zi’en said, to avoid giving authorities too much advance word. Websites that carried the information on the event were shut down, yet large crowds showed up for the event. When the festival was closed by the government, smaller groups held private screenings to allow some film lovers a chance to see the films. Speaking through a translator, Cui Zi’en called his event a true underground festival and vowed to return with a festival in Bejing and in one other Chinese city.
In the case of the Wei-jan Liu of Taipei, the situation is a bit more tolerable. She, as a member of the executive committee for the Golden Horse Film Festival, is working within the system to showcase queer cinema. She acknowledged that over the past 10 years that the situation for queer cinema has improved. Her event offers a section of gay and lesbian work and she maintains a goal of launching a queer film festival in the future.
There are filmmakers in Taiwan who regularly make gay-themed movies, but must remain publicly silent about their own sexual orientation, she explained, when asked about the situation back home for gays and lesbians. Asked about the work of an internationally known Asian filmmaker, Wei-jan Liu quietly commented, “He is not openly gay,” and the subject was changed.
Finally, at the Q! Film Screening in Jakarta, John Badalu has faced opposition to his event in a country that he explained is about 80 percent Muslim. Yet, of the three examples cited during the discussion, he remains the most successful in making an event happen. By partnering with the Goethe Institute and the Italian institute in Jarkarta, Badalu hosted a five-day event at the end of September 2002. Films screened during the free event included “Wilde,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Torch Song Trilogy,” and “Lan Yu.”
The challenge in the case of the Q! festival in Jakarta is the submissions process. Films sent to the festival through customs face censorship so organizers have had to rely on tapes passed quietly from person to person. Death threats remain a factor for Badalu and promotion can be quite difficult. But with a group of organizers that are also journalists, the event has been publicized with articles in publications.
Among the other queer festival organizers who attended Wednesday’s gathering here in Berlin were planners and programmers from queer festivals in Paris, Los Angeles, Iceland, Amsterdam, Madrid, Lisbon, Japan, New York, and events throughout Germany. Following individual introductions and the discussion, many lingered to network and drink cocktails.
The Teddy Foundation, organizers of the annual queer festival meeting, are also the planners of tonight’s popular Teddy Awards celebration. The 17th annual event will honor, with cash prizes culled from donations, the best in queer cinema from all sections of the annual Berlinale. Not an official part of the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, the Teddys do have the blessings of the festival and the city. Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick will again attend the ceremony, as did his predecessor Moritz de Hadeln. Berlin’s openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, helped secure funding for tonight’s event.