This is a continuation of a previous post, recapping the conference held as part of Montreal’s Image+Nation Film Festival 20th Anniversary. After the jump, I’ll highlight B. Ruby Rich‘s fantastic keynote speech.
From ID to IQ: New Queer Cinema Then and Now
I’d have to say that B. Ruby Rich is likely one of the top ten “quoted” academics in my near six year “career” as a post-secondary student. I’d never seen her speak before, and it her keynote address was met with geeky anticipation. She began by asking us to think back twenty years, and what was so different between then and now. The 1980s were a “grim time,” she said, one marked by AIDS, Reagan, Thatcher, and they should be a reminder that, even now, our identities are always in the context of what else is going on in the world. In the 1990s, these ongoings were marked much more positively as she brought up an event in January 1992 that shot her to the top of the queer film lexicon. At a panel called “Barb Wire Kisses” at the Sundance Film Festival, Rich coined the term “New Queer Cinema” as a result of films Paris is Burning and Poison winning top prizes at the previous year’s fest. It was a hopeful time, especially Clinton and “early Blair” about to take over and the 1995 “AIDS cocktail” discovery about to change the face of HIV+ mortality.
But as she introduced a clip, she invited us to look back to 1990, a year where everything was on the cusp of getting so much better. It was a music video of Annie Lennox called “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” The video was intended to be directed by Derek Jarman, but he was on his apparent AIDS-related deathbed at the time. So Lennox continued on and made the beautiful if-not-early-90s-tacky video a tribute to Jarman, complete with dozens of childhood pictures:
But Jarman recovered. And made Edward II, which featured Lennox singing this song in the plot of the film. He also sat in on a 1992 panel at Sundance, the same year Rich coined “NQC”. Rich had a great clip from the panel, where Jarman “ran away from his 50th birthday” to join the ranks of Tom Kalin, Todd Haynes, Sadie Benning and Isaac Julien in what must of been a really exciting discussion. When Jarman was asked what the difference between gay film and queer film by an audience member he responded: “A queer film is an erotic film and a gay film might not be.” He also discussed the ideas of documentary and fiction, and that its easy to make queer docs or shorts but its feature length fiction that would be revolutionary.
At that same Sundance, Rich remembered how everyone was saying the same thing they were saying now: “I guess we don’t need a gay and lesbian film festival anymore.” And this pissed Rich off… its the only the LGBT fests that constantly have to defend their own existence, not any of the others. There are at least 125 queer fests around, and they have become a “key to the branding to go out into secondary markets.” And its not like Sundance (or American cinema as a whole) maintained its potential. Rich was asked by the San Francisco Bay Guardian to cover the 2006 fest, in the year after Brokeback Mountain, expecting a queer explosion. The only thing she found was a great South African short called Rape, For Who I Am, and that was about it.
So “where is the energy now,” Rich asked?
She believes that trans films have the energy that queer films did in the early 1990s. Trans films “have the oedipal imperative to slay mommy and daddy,” she said, and wondered whether “trans” should even be part of “queer” at all…
She noted how there was way more energy in world cinema than in the U.S. Asia, Latin America.. stating examples like 1000 Clouds of Peace and Sully and the Sky…
She also said the energy can be found when one looks at genre, noting Brokeback‘s queering of the western and Angela Robinson’s lesbian spy film D.E.B.S..
But Rich wondered, “are we really still talking about films? After all, aren’t we also talking about youtube, myspace, podcasts and second life? How are we morphing into the future? Do people still say ‘meet me at the movies’ or do they say ‘will you be my avatar’?”
The example she used to show “we” were indeed morphing into the future was Angela Robinson and her web-series, Girl Trash, which is available at www.ourchart.com. Trash are 9 minute webisodes that Robinson makes in between filming episodes of The L Word. The clips she showed were fantastic, leading me to watch the entire collection on the side.. They’re short, but they’re very fun (and I didn’t even really like D.E.B.S.).
In addition to Robinson, Rich also gave a shout out to Sadie Benning and her constant evolution. She quit making films when they started making money, she quit Le Tigre the second a song got popular, and now shes mostly making art. Rich said of Benning: “When queer is being so gentrified, there are some of us still looking for the wrong of the track, and Benning’s current work is what it might look like.”
She ended it on a cute note, reflecting on panels and panels worth of asking where queer fests were going and what they meant and said: “Instead of thinking about what your film festival can do for you, ask what you can do for your film festival.”
It was a really precious experience as Rich was a true joy to listen to. And if you’d like to see for yourself (in a way), check out this great clip from Ebert, where Rich guested on the episode when Ebert reviewed Boys Don’t Cry. Watch her correct Ebert’s pronoun use.