This article was originally published in the arts and culture supplement of the University Observer, Vol. XXIII, Issue I. It was later published online.
David Monaghan looks at how the GAZE Film Festival sets to help LGBTQ+ screen representation in the march towards equality.
CINEMA and TV are a funfair mirror: they reflect and magnify our biggest fears, force us to confront our insecurities, and make us aware of our obsessions. They take us into a world that is uncanny; a place that is at once similar and dissimilar to our own. For most people these modes of representation become a distorted reflection of their lives. This is true for all but a vocal few: up until recently accurate depictions of LGBTQ+ lives and stories have lacked in comparison to their straight, cis contemporaries.
A report compiled by GLAAD in October 2015 titled ‘Where We Are on TV’ concluded that, of the 881 regular characters on broadcast primetime programming set to appear in 2016, 35 (4%) were identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They also summarised that there were an additional 35 recurring LGB characters set to appear, and that there were no transgender characters counted on primetime broadcast programming in the coming year. If cinema and TV mimic our reality, like a collective funfair mirror, then the prejudices LGBTQ+ people experience on a day-to-day basis are reflected, distorted and thrown back to us in a way that is not surprising.
Events like the GAZE Film Festival set to fill the gap presented by mainstream Film and Television broadcasting by highlighting the best in LGBTQ+ cinema both at home and abroad. This year’s festival ran from the 28th of July to the 1stof August 2016 in the Light House Cinema, and presented films that vary in tone, ideas, characters, themes, troubles, and issues. Thus offering a platform to the multiplicity of experience found within worldwide LGBTQ+ communities that might not have discovered an audience otherwise.
Joey Kuhn’s Those People, for example, distinguishes itself from other films at the festival by being entirely and unquestionably apolitical. The director says as much in a video address to the attentive GAZE crowd; he wants to draw from his personal experience as a gay man. Indeed, the protagonists of the piece, art student Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) and his best friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph), son of a corrupt New York financier, live economically privileged lives that are inaccessible to most LGBTQ+ people. Their friendship becomes strained when Charlie admits his love for Sebastian, and a love triangle ensues when concert pianist Tim (Haaz Sleiman) makes a bid for Charlie’s affections. Although the focus is on gay characters, their sexuality becomes secondary to the drama the film depicts.
“EVENTS LIKE THE GAZE FILM FESTIVAL SET TO FILL THE GAP PRESENTED BY MAINSTREAM FILM AND TELEVISION BROADCASTING BY HIGHLIGHTING THE BEST IN LGBTQ+ CINEMA BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD.”
In contrast to this is Sara Jordenö’s Kiki, a quasi-sequel to 1990’s Paris Is Burning, which looks at where the LGBTQ+ community finds itself in the years following the latter’s release. Although framed through the transformative art of competitive voguing, a form of modern dance, the film’s focus lies in the dancers themselves who are not only LGB, but also trans. The dancers use the artform while transitioning to help express their gender identity. Set in New York, we see house mothers and house fathers describe the impact that voguing has on LGBTQ+ youth, many of whom are disadvantaged, homeless, or addicted to drugs, and who use the art to transgress beyond the troubles of their lives. The film also emphasises the links between these LGBTQ+ communities and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and beyond. Many audience members were taken aback by this presentation for its frank and unflinching portrayal of disadvantaged LGBTQ+ lives.
One criticism levelled at LGBTQ+ film is for its strict adherence to one genre of cinema, drama. Very rarely are we treated to LGBTQ+ focused science fiction, fantasy, or horror films. Alexandra-Therese Keining seems keenly aware of this and offers a film that is almost a hotchpotch of styles, thankfully without seeming jarring or disparate; less Frankenstein’s Monster than Frankenstein’s Normal-Functioning-Person. Girls Lost tells the story of three friends, Kim (Tuva Jagell), Bella (Wilma Holmén), and Momo (Alexander Gustavsson), who happen upon a strange plant that allows them to change their gender from female to male. For Bella and Momo, this is a fun experiment to fit in with the guys, but for Kim this is something else: her male persona increasingly feels a lot more real than her female. A queer coming-of-age fantasy film, with elements of horror,Girls Lost is unlike anything else shown at the festival.
Irish LGBTQ+ cinema has been central to GAZE in the past, and this year was no exception. The festival’s strongest sell this year was a screening of Viva, Paddy Breathnach’s film about Cuban drag performer Jesus (Héctor Medina) and his relationship with his estranged father, in which the two clash over their opposing expectations for each other. However, the best case of Irish LGBTQ+ cinema showcased at the festival this year is Edmund Lynch’s A Different Country, a documentary that includes interviews with Tom Brace, Declan Buckley, Tonie Walsh, Sarah Philips, former President Mary Robinson and more about Ireland prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the lives of LGBTQ+ people during this time – their pubs, support networks, newsletters and magazines, political movements. “It gives you some idea of what it was like,” says director Lynch. “It’s important that our history is always remembered.”