It is one of Brazil’s greatest contradictions that a deeply religious country is also one of the most sexually liberal societies in the developing world. Despite the influence of Catholicism and other fastly growing religions (Brazil is home to the world’s largest number of Catholics), sexual minorities have a visibility in Brazil that makes it an anomaly among Latin countries. In such a unique context, the growing success of the Mix Brasil Film and Video Festival of Sexual Diversity – which celebrated its 13th year with record attendance in Sao Paulo from November 10-20 (and will tour abridged programs to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia) – is an important exploration of film and sexuality in a pluralistic world.
Originally an offshoot of the Mix New York festival, Mix Brasil has since grown to be the biggest showing of queer and sexual films in Latin America. A film that became emblematic of this year’s festival was Barbara Rick‘s “In Good Conscience: Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith,” a documentary about an American nun’s activism for gay rights in the Catholic church. Sister Jeannine‘s attempt to bridge the gap between Catholic doctrine and homosexuality has particular resonance in a country like Brazil, and some audience members even expressed desire to establish a Brazilian branch of New Ways Ministry (a gay-friendly congregation founded by Sister Jeannine). The Catholic church’s problems in dealing with modern sexuality was a theme that resurfaced in films throughout the festival, from the Brazilian shorts “Sex and Cloister” and “First Chapter” to the Peruvian/Canadian feature documentary “Maricones.”
Festival director Suzy Capo saw the enthusiasm surrounding “In Good Conscience” not just as a question of Catholicism but as an issue of spirituality. “Gay people feel very unattended spiritually,” said Capo. “This is such an important issue – for many people it’s as important as sexuality.” Public interest was also encouraged by Sister Jeannine herself, who visited Sao Paulo for screenings of the film and was written about at length in Brazil’s most influential newspaper. “The star of a festival of sexual diversity was a nun!” Capo told indieWIRE with a grin.
The Mix festival showcase for local filmmakers was the Mostra Competitiva, comprised of twelve Brazilian films of short and medium length that were judged by a jury. Eletrodomestica (which was very well received when it premiered at another festival in August) continued to amuse audiences with its portrayal of a housewife who turns to electric appliances for satisfaction, while the jury gave awards to “If You’re the Guy Who Used to Flirt With Me at the Bus Stop, Watch This Movie” and “Sex and a Barbecue Grill.” Meanwhile, the infamous “Show do Gongo” (Gong Show), which played shorts submitted by the public and then judged them ruthlessly, awarded “A Outra Filha do Francisco” (The Other Daughter of Francisco), a queer parody of a family-friendly Brazilian blockbuster.
The Brazilian program formed an interesting cultural contrast with Mundo Mix, a program that showcased six Chinese features (led by the opening night film “Butterfly“) curated by the Beijing Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Festival director Yang Yang visited Sao Paulo with filmmakers Xiao Wu and Cui Zien (director of “Night Scene” and “Star Appeal“) and spoke of the difficulties of censorship and taboo for queer filmmaking in modern China. South Africa was the second country showcased by Mundo Mix with a collection of shorts called Out In Africa. Filmmaker Fanney Tsimong, director of “Silenced!,” visited from Johannesberg to attend the screenings and discuss the issues of male and female rape confronted in the program. His and the other shorts were the result of two workshops held for queer South Africans of color by the South African Gay & Lesbian Film Festival with the British Council.
Documentaries featured strongly throughout Mix Brasil and often played to sold-out crowds: feature-lengths such as “100% Woman,” “That Man: Peter Berlin,” and “Gay Sex in the 70s” drew large audiences. “I was surprised, people really liked a lot of the documentaries,” said Capo. The program It’s Party Time!!! – described as a celebration of “individual expression, glamor, excess, and fun” – consisted largely of documentaries with “We’re All on the List,” “Paris Is Burning” (a classic rarely seen in Brazil), “Kinky Gerlinky,” “Sao Paulo Noite 2000,” and “Butch Queen Realness With a Twist in Pastel Colors.” Capo said she saw this “as the heart of the [festival] programming,” explaining that “nightlife on the dancefloor is a space to express yourself, reinvent yourself, and there are a lot of films, like [“In Good Conscience”] “Journey of Faith,” about people who do that.” Capo said the connection between this programming was “the dancefloor is a place for people to recreate themselves visually and I can see that in a lot of films [in the festival], such as ‘100% Woman’ and ‘Peter Berlin.'”
Though largely held in movie theaters across Sao Paulo, Mix Brasil took full advantage of the diversity of the city to host a variety of innovative events. Special programs included Art Mix at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Mix Music live performances at the Vale do Anhangabau, a TransMix screening in a public park, and screenings of youth and transsexual films at social outreach centers. Four Brazilian shorts were shown on a Friday night at the Autorama, a public parking lot famous for gay cruising. The new program Bringing Back exhibited newly restored and rarely seen Brazilian expimerimental Super 8s from the 1970s. And, of course, there were the parties, testing fest-goers’ ability to endure hangovers and sleep deprivation while still attending the films. Not that anyone was complaining: one visiting filmmaker joked that if a film festival is measured by its parties, Mix Brasil is surely one of the best.
13th Mix Brasil Film and Video Festival of Sexual Diversity Award Winners Audience Awards:
– International Short: “Ryan’s Life,” Nick Wauters (USA)
– Documentary: “100% Woman,” Karen Duthie (Canada)
– Best Feature: “Loggerheads,” Tim Kirkman (USA)
– Best Short: “Eletrodomestica,” Kleber Mendonca Filho (Brazil)
– Video Short: “If You’re the Guy Who Used to Flirt With Me at the Bus Stop, Watch This Movie,” Thiago Alcantara
– Film Short: “Sex and a Barbecue Grill,” Andre Queiroz and Vitor Brandt
– Honorable Mention: “Texticulos de Mary and Other Stories,” Flavia da Rosa Borges
– “Trofeu Ida Feldman: Sister Jeannine Gramick”
– “Gong Show: The Other Daughter of Francisco,” Eduardo Daniel Ribeiro