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DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: Honoring And Remembering The Best of Queer Cinema

DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: Honoring And Remembering The Best of Queer Cinema

While Sundance sets the tone for a host of urban and regional film American film festivals that pick and choose from the annual Sundance lineup when planning their own local slates, the Berlinale fuels an array of international queer fests. Each year programmers from gay, lesbian and transgender film festivals travel to Berlin to screen films — mostly in the large Panorama section — to find films for their own events later in the year. And a select group of those programmers watch all of the queer content to choose, at the end of the fest, the best films of the festival with the annual Teddy Awards (which will be awarded Friday night in Berlin)]. More than 30 features are competing for the prize this year.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

Started when Berlin’s Panorama was just one year old, the Teddy (named after the little bear that was first given as the film prize) remains the only queer prize awarded by a major international festival. Previous recipients include: Pedro Almodovar’s “The Law of Desire” (1987), Marlon T. Riggs’ “Tongues Untied” (1990), Todd Haynes’ “Poison” (1991), Rose Troche’s “Go Fish” (1994), and Sandi Dubowski’s “Trembling Before God” (2001), among others.

“(Queer cinema) has come out of its niche corner,” explained Panorama section head Weiland Speck, chatting with indieWIRE about the Teddy Award, “This was always the idea of the Teddy — it has worked over the years.” Speck expressed particular pride in the award’s ability to showcase gay & lesbian films, nurture filmmakers, and inspire the creative of new queer festivals. This year the Berlinale has taken the new Indonesia queer festival under its wing, supporting the event’s programmer who is here in Berlin to see films and meet other festival organizers. An annual meeting of all of the queer fest programmers took place in Berlin Wednesday night.

Also of note this year, Speck explained, is the launch of the new Queer Academy, an initiative that will make available all of the winning Teddy Award films from the past two decades. Organizers plan to expand to include online resources such as information and resources for the nearly 600 films that have been eligible for the Berlinale Teddy Award since it was formed 20 years ago.

“Fabulous!” Doc Debuts

Particularly timely, given the celebration of twenty years of The Teddy Award, is this week’s Panorama premiere of Lisa Ades & Lesli Klainberg‘s “Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema,” a new Independent Film Channel/Netflix documentary exploring the roots of the gay, lesbian and trans films dating back to the work of experimental filmmakers in the 1940s.

Structured around a timeline of seminal queer cinema events, “Fabulous” is bookended by Kenneth Anger‘s “Fireworks” (1947) and Ang Lee‘s Oscar nominated “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). It includes interviews with a host of filmmakers (Waters, Van Sant, Haynes, Livingston, Troche, Barbato), actors, critics and indie film insiders (producer Christine Vachon, Sundance’s John Cooper, Strand’s Marcus Hu, Focus’ James Schamus, and critic B. Ruby Rich).

Heather Matarazzo in a promotional image for “Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema”. Photo provided by The Berlinale

Particularly interesting in “Fabulous!” is the ongoing exploration of the ways in which particular directors or actors were influenced by earlier work. John Waters reflects on Kenneth Anger, Randy Barbato talks about Waters, Jenni Olson recalls seeing “Go Fish” for the first time, Arthur Dong talks about being influenced by Robert Epstein‘s doc, “Word is Out” (1977). And actress Heather Matarazzo (star of “Welcome to the “Dollhouse“) was especially inspired by the work of queer filmmakers, reflecting on her youth, “I wanted to kiss, hold hands with and make out with another girl,” she recalled, “If I can’t get it myself, I might as well just watch it on film.” Detailing a scene in “Dollhouse” that featured high school students asking her if she was a lesbian, Matarazzo said she didn’t even know when the term was when she made the movie. “I always knew I liked girls,” Matarazzo recalled, adding “I later found out was lesbian meant,” and she added, her identity dawned on her: “Oh yes, I am!”

Many of those interviewed in the film speculated that queer cinema today is poised for a next wave. “I think that this generation is revolting against the new queer cinema, (and the) limitations of the past decade,” explained B. Ruby Rich. “I want filmmakers to surprise me,” added John Waters, “To come up with something that offends.”

“I think queer cinema is about understanding your outsider status,” concluded John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig & The Angry Inch”), “And how it can contribute to the whole, to the community.”

ABOUT THE WRITER: Eugene Hernandez is the Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of indieWIRE.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

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