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Image+Nation 20: International Workshop on Queer Festivals (Part One)

Image+Nation 20: International Workshop on Queer Festivals (Part One)

So this past weekend 30 or so queer academics and filmmakers gathered in Montreal for the International Workshop on Queer Festivals, part of the celebrations of Image+Nation, Canada’s oldest and largest queer film festival. I was lucky enough to sit in on some of the panels and, after the jump, will do my best to make sense of some various dialogues that went on…

“Current Challenges and Solutions: Funding, Gatekeepers, New Technologies, Politicians: Why Is It Still So Tough?”

This panel featured Maureen Bradley of British Columbia, a filmmaker who spoke on whether or not there was still a need for queer film fests; Ragan Rhyne, a New York based academic who argued the festival’s mission was “obsolete;” and Marie-Helene Bourcier, from the University de Lille III, who discussed an impending porn fest in Paris. Cape Town’s Nodi Murphy also participated via recorded discussions shown on the screen.

Bradley started with a personal account of her history with queer film festivals. For years, she had avidly attended, noting that her screening history informed her identity. But as of late, she felt there was little need for her personal attendance, and had grown frustrated by the content on the screen. However, she didn’t necessarily believe that this made festivals unwarranted. She showed a clip of herself and her queer niece correponding via videophones, to contrast her 40 year old opinion to her niece’s 20 year old opinion. Her niece unquestionably argued that there was a need for queer film fests, noting that when she spent a summer in Calgary, Alberta, it was one of the only events that she witnessed any queer community at all. So perhaps Calgary does need a festival. But Calgary is not Montreal or New York or San Francisco, three queer-friendly meccas pointed out by many as likely no longer “needing” a festival. And, in general, Bradley and most others agreed that it was both cultural and technological differences that have changed the face of queer festivals. With The L Word and the internet, as well as a much greater public support of queer rights from when the fest’s began in late 70s/early 80s, the original “need” of the festivals probably no longer existed. But Bradley suggested that maybe its now more of a desire than a need, and the acts of “connecting, looking and gazing” that is still very much a part of queer film festivals are the cornerstones of this desire. And obviously this desire has equalled interest.. Bradley was struck by the idea that Canadian fests are thriving in numbers: Image+Nation, for example, had 30,000 attendees last year.

Ragan Rhyne, who followed, began by proclaiming something close to the opposite: that the mission of these festivals was obsolete. An American, her discussion brought the other side of Bradley’s, who spoke about the differences – most notably in funding – between Canadian and American fests. Still recieving much government funding, Canadian fests do not have to adhere to corporate sponsorship to the degree that most American fests do. But while Canadian fests may have more programming flexibility due to their slighter reliance on sponsorship, Rhyne’s fear that queer fests would go the way many women’s film festivals was relevant on both sides. She articulated four “missions” queer fests aim for: to promote visibility; to facilitate distribution; to exhibit non-commercial work; and to provide a community space. She suggested that perhaps the “festivalization” of gay content on TV and the internet are more effective at getting stuff out there, and achieving these “missions”. Rhyne was probably the one to recieve the most groans for the audience, particularly when Image+Nation’s programmers argued that, at least in terms of providing an community event, festivals would never become obsolete. 30,000 attendees can’t be wrong. Rhyne admitted the statement was more “provocation than honest claim,” and went on to discuss more specifically how having festival sponsors like Logo or Showtime but the festivals in direct competition with their sponsors: “Logo is using festivals as a marketing tool,” she said. And argued in regard to Canada that government funding is denied when the festivals find real commercial success, which is putting these festivals, more and more, “in bed with corporate funding.”

Marie-Helen Bourcier changed the pace in the next discussion, talking about her mission to open a porn film festival in Paris. The professor behind a class at the Universite de Lille called “FUCK MY BRAIN,” Bourcier was refreshingly frank and funny for an academic. “Most European [queer] fests suck. 80% of their films already played San Francisco and New York,” she said. “Not that I don’t believe in Queer Film Fests.. But as they grew, they became more LGBT than queer. The festival made us quiet.” A committee comprised of members from Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, Athens & Berlin, including Bourcier, were coming together to start a porn fest in Paris. The festival had already had 2 successful runs in Berlin, and Bourcier – who quit working at the Paris Queer Film Fest because she “was no longer interested” and it was “too complicated” – was enthusiastic about the future. “We wan to make a festival out of a kind of porn that doesn’t exist.”

Though Bourcier ignored the time constraints and continued talking into the next space, the clip of Nodi Murphy speaking from Cape Town was shown in its entirety. Murphy, founder of Out in Africa, a LGBT fest in South Africa. She entitled her clip “You’ve Got Rights.. So What More Do You Want” and added some poignant contrast to Western World concerns. Until recently, Murphy’s advocacy and health-based fest was funded entirely by international countries. But with recent rights granted to South African LGBT peoples, that changed (on December 1, 2006, South Africa allowed gay marriage). This led to the opening of PRIDE, a similar festival run by corporations that owned some of the theatre chains. “What a fabulous example of corporate sellout,” she said of the new festival, noting its all “white frat boy films” with “no taste and no diversity.” Her fest still draws some 18,000 people, with 3,000 unfortunate people given free transportation and tickets to the festival. They also hold “satellite festivals” in small African towns where she says of the attendees: “[They] have never been treated with such respect in their lives.” With no gay press to speak of, Out in Africa relies on the mainstream press, which is both a blessing and a disguise. For one, it makes the festival hard to ignore and gets their messages out there, for another, it heightens awareness that led to the brutual beating of two lesbian festivalgoers last year. “You change the laws, but you can’t legislate peoples hearts and minds,” she said… leading her to answer her own titular question: Queers want respect.

I’ll follow this up tomorrow with discussion of B. Ruby Rich‘s keynote speech, which spoke to both many of the aforementioned issues as well as the state of queer film as a whole.

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