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by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

(indieWIRE/02.15.01) — What makes a queer film a queer film? Seems like a
pretty easy question to answer, but upon further consideration (and
discussion), it isn’t so straightforward after all. The issue was discussed
and debated yesterday at a landmark gathering of gay and lesbian Berlin
attendees from around the world.

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Weiland Speck, Director of the
Berlinale Panorama, at last night’s gathering of queer cinema organizers.

Photo: Eugene

It has become an annual tradition for the organizers of queer film festivals
to get together during the annual Berlinale; last night, nearly 75 people
gathered at SO 36 for a conversation about the state of queer film
festivals and the definition of gay and lesbian film today. The gathering
was hosted by the Teddy Foundation, presenters of the annual Berlinale prize
honoring international gay and lesbian cinema, it featured attendees from
queer festivals as far and wide as Japan, Switzerland, Italy, The
Netherlands, the Ukraine, Canada, Austria, Portugal, the Czech Republic,
Spain and numerous American festivals.

Berlinale attendees cannot miss the impact of queer film at the annual
Festival. Like Berlin, which is marked by rainbow-flagged bars and
restaurants throughout the city, the Teddy Foundation has woven the queer
experience into the very fabric of the festival. As an example, for the
duration of the festival, the Stella Theatre Bistro, located within the
Berlinale Palast, has become the Teddy Bar, a prime gathering place for
queer attendees. The annual Teddy Award, now celebrating its 15th
anniversary, will honor three films on Saturday — chosen by a jury from a
list of more than 35 movies screening in all sections of the Festival.

Kicking off the conversation yesterday, Panorama Director Weiland Speck
(a 20 year veteran of the Berlinale) welcomed participants and expressed a
commitment to stay with the Berlinale and continue the Panorama even as it
changes leadership in the next few months. He went on to express his support
for the Teddy and its foundation. Picking up on the topic, discussion
moderator and Foundation co-founder Manuela Kay prodded panelists and
attendees to reaffirm the necessity of The Teddy and to discuss how we
define what a queer film is. When one panelist declared that last year’s
Teddy feature winner, Francois Ozon‘s “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,”
is not a gay film, he ignited a debate about the definition of queer film.

“We are the ones who have played a part in defining what [queer film] is,”
Sundance and Outfest programmer Shari Frilot explained, “It
can be whatever we want to make it as programmers — our role is inherently a political

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Jennifer Morris, Co-Director of
the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

Photo: Eugene

Yet, queer festivals have another purpose, according to Frilot and other
organizers, “Part of our major goal is to create a space where gay and
lesbian people can come together.” Continuing, she quipped, “It almost
doesn’t matter what we put on the screen.”

Yet for some festivals, reaching out beyond queer audiences has become a
major priority. A festival organizer from Portugal explained that the Lisbon
gay and lesbian festival has started a straight night and boasts a sizable
non-queer audience along with its funding from the city government.

In two cases, discussion participants are still battling back home to start
queer festivals back home. Sue Maluwa Bruce from Zimbabwe, in the Berlinale
with the short film “Forbidden Fruit“, is determined to launch a gay and
lesbian festival, but she cannot due to the current political situation
there. “It is not possible,” she explained plainly, “It is impossible to
call anything gay or lesbian [in Zimbabwe].” That situation won’t change
unless the current President retires, she explained, prompting one attendee
to call out, “Or dies.”

Andry Khalpakhchi, Director of the International Film Festival Molodist
in Kiev, is facing a similar political struggle. “First,” he explained, “We
must stop the law against gay and lesbian people.”

In the Netherlands, the situation is unique. Marjolein Veldkam of Amsterdam
Pink Film Days
expressed her fear that the gay and lesbian film experience
has been lost in Rotterdam. Encouraging that the Teddy organization remain
an active part of the Berlinale, she explained that at festivals like
Rotterdam, without a showcase for queer work, gay and lesbian films go
unnoticed and as a result do not attract a queer audience. “I want to be
visible,” she said, encouraging influential attendees to lobby Rotterdam and
other major festivals to publicly showcase gay and lesbian cinema. One
European festival organizer picked up on Veldkam’s comments and railed
against the distributors of Lukas Moodysson‘s “Fucking Amal” in the
Netherlands for not allowing it to screen at the gay festival there,
fearing that it would be labeled a gay movie.

In conversations with queer festival organizers after the gathering, some
bemoaned the need to define queer cinema. Is “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” a
gay film, one asked. “Yes,” another explained simply, while others were not
so sure. Yet, all agreed that it should play at gay and lesbian film
festival. “It is a film that is presented with a queer context,” one
organizer said, “And it is of major interest to the gay and lesbian
community, so it is a queer film.” In the case of “Hedwig,” Fine Line has
expressed a desire to screen the movie at queer festivals as a way of
marketing the movie (just as they did with “Trick“). Yet, with other high
profile queer-themed movies, distributors sometimes decide to restrict
access to queer festivals in order to avoid being labeled a “gay film,’
creating a dilemma for queer festival organizers hoping to offer their
audience a comprehensive program of work.

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Marjolein Veldkam of Amsterdam
Pink Film Days.

Photo: Eugene

Wednesday’s meeting, the largest in the history of the annual gathering, was
the first to include a substantive discussion topic, explained Manuela Kay
in a conversation with indieWIRE today, “Nowhere in the world do you have so
many [queer festival organizers] from so many parts of the world.”

“I am very glad that most of the people think that we should be as open as
possible — that the terms gay and lesbian and queer should [be] generally
more progressive and more daring than other festivals.”

As for the future, Kay expects changes will be made at the Berlinale, but
does not worry that the festival will lose its signature embrace of queer
cinema. “I don’t think that the Berlinale can afford to take a step back,”
she explained, “It has a reputation — too many people here are either gay
or so ‘pro-gay’ that nobody can change anything about that without losing a
reputation, or an audience for that.” [Eugene Hernandez]

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