November 2016 Archives

The Watermelon Woman

Posted on Sat 19 Nov by AlexK / History, Film, QTIPOC, Lesbian

by MK Margetson

In Cheryl Dunye’s seminal 1996 work The Watermelon Woman, there’s a scene where Cheryl’s friend Tamra says ‘i can barely stand the stuff that Hollywood puts out now, let alone that nigger mammie shit from the thirties’, in response to Cheryl’s acquisition of old films featuring the title actress. This act of unearthing old, painful, cinematic images is an act of purposeful oppositional spectatorship. This is the way that queer people and people of colour have traditionally watched Hollywood images: you see a reductive representation but (especially with queer audiences historically) you are glad for any relatable image; you recognise its falsity and its omissions; and thus you fail to be interpellated into the white male Hollywood gaze, so your viewing of the film is stunted throughout. Yet the erasure of our stories can be fascinating - it feels like an act of uncovering, and correcting, historical wrongs.

We are naturally critical viewers because to not be would do a great disservice to our own image. (We know we’re not mammies and sissies.) To recognise and explore these images retroactively though, is a distinctly queer endeavour. The most vital and comprehensive example of this activity is Vito Russo’s beloved The Celluloid Closet, published in 1981 and translated beautifully for screen by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman in 1995.
 
In another scene, Cheryl goes to visit a gay uncle. We know he’s gay as she mentions his being distanced from the family as the scene changes, and from his Lena Horne impression. He, like Cheryl, is an archivist through sheer interest in the image plus the lack of resources already existing. Cheryl’s mother, already interviewed, is also considered a collector.
 

What’s so groundbreaking about this film - other than, in 1996, it being the first feature film by a black woman - is the engagement with the historical lack of representation. Dunye recognises, as she shares to camera, that ‘it has to be about black women, because our stories have never been told’. At a packed out screening of black lesbian stud-femme documentary The Same Difference earlier in the festival it occurred to me how early we still are in terms of black lesbian cinema, and how startling this is, as well as how formative Dunye’s film has been and the gravity it will always occupy in the black lesbian cinematic imagination.

If you’ve never seen The Watermelon Woman but have an interest in queer cinema, in queer representation, in black-female representation, in any of it, Sunday’s screening at the Barbican is a MUST. If you’ve seen the film many times before, this new restoration is like watching Cheryl and Guinevere in HD, and it looks incredible. The film’s fresh colour schemes pop like nothing on earth (I hadn’t realised there was so much pink!), and the beauty of the old cinema footage is more immediate than previously. The lead actors’ faces simmer on screen as they flirt, and the comedic responses of side characters are brilliantly full of life.

Sunday’s screening of the film’s 20th anniversary restoration will be a moment to consider and celebrate the strides made in black and queer cinematic representation, as well as the lack of an improvement on this black lesbian film in the 20 years since.

This is a moment absolutely not to be missed - make it to the Barbican this Sunday at 4pm for a celebration of the formative moment of black lesbian cinema.

Who is SCUD?

Posted on Thu 17 Nov by AlexK /

Read about the infamous provocateur behind Utopians, premiering Saturday at Fringe!

 

“All the love films I watch seem to have happy endings; but in my observation, many romances actually end with sadness or even disaster,”

We’re incredibly excited this Fringe! to premiere the new work of infamous Chinese cine-provocateur Scud - or, as he lays it out in the trailer, his SENTIMENTAL SEDUCTIVE SENSUAL SOCRATIC SACRIFICIAL SIXTH FILM, Utopians. A thorn in the side of China’s film censors, Scud has built a reputation as the enfant-terrible of modern Chinese cinema, with films that express a distinctly modern and childlike cheek: a queer sensibility that is fresh and emboldened by its restrictive context and surroundings. His films generate excitement long before their release (if they get a release, that is) due to the lengthy and public process of censorship and cuts requested by the Hong Kong and Taiwan censors. Historically known for refusing to cut scenes and storylines featuring incest, rape, and unsimulated sex acts, Scud says, ‘I am not attempting to be particularly sensational. All these cases actually happened!’ He asserts himself to be a realist.

Scud’s films are openly queer. In fact, they nonchalantly glide from the closet frequently within the films’ dialogues, with characters outing one another, prying for information and clarification, and revelling in the ‘trying on’ of queer labels. A casual attitude to sex is also palpable in Scud’s world - something played off against a notion of conservativism in many of his films (although once again this conservativism could be a Western assumption Scud stokes consciously). Utopians cleverly and coyly positions hot, unrestrained gay sex against the Hong Kong skyline, situating these lives and experiences firmly within the pride of the supercity. By positioning gay sex in front of lustrous images of the iconic skyline, Scud adopts the silky visual style of Hong Kong cinema to inscribe a world of pansexual delights directly into the city’s architecture. He engages with, and expands the associations of his culture, whilst proudly flirting with the renegade reputation attached to him. In Utopians, Scud dissects pansexuality in the context of a city with a seemingly progressive facade.

His latest and sixth film Utopians succinctly and beautifully captures Asian sensibilities on sex and polyamory as a taboo and the body as a vehicle of hidden desires. Utopians tells the story of Hins who fantasises about sex with men, and encourages his girlfriend to explore their fantasies with one another. What follows is a veritable banquet of fantasy scenarios - with emotions and limits viscerally tested in every scene. Through these intimacies, SCUD is able to unearth raw and human truths about desire and the body (and what it hides or expresses).

But information on the mastermind behind this controversy is sparse - quotes from interviews with the director tend to consist of soundbites that propagate his reputation, i.e ‘You have to love someone to suck someone,’. In a 2011 interview promoting Love Actually… Sucks, Scud is asked whether the main objection of the censors: the prevalence of full-frontal male nudity in his films, is necessary. He quips back, ‘Oh, very much so’.

It is unclear, but I suspect Scud’s comments regarding his filmic ethos come with a sarcastic nod - a queer wink - to the fact of his controversy. He may have accurately recognised the necessity of normalising the destruction of these rules to encourage the other liberals (and not just artists) surrounding him to be less restricted. Scud is undoubtedly making the landscape of Hong Kong cinema more dynamic with his glorious, orgiastic, confrontative style of cinema.

 

Catch the UK premiere of his new film UTOPIANS as part of Fringe! this Saturday at the Rio Cinema in Dalston. Last tickets available here: bit.ly/FringeUtopians

QUEER NESTS

Posted on Thu 17 Nov by AlexK /

This blog looks at how The Nest - screening friday 18th november at fringe! - defines its own queer reality as a utopia of queer representation in film.

By Michail karatzinis

Cinema has come a long way in the past couple of decades, but where we’ve seen strides regarding thematic, execution and overall variety, has been the queer genre. It hasn’t been that long since queer and LGBTQIA sections have been curated in the largest festivals of the world and it’s truly humbling to see such a wide range of queer film festivals springing up in universities and small towns all around the world (even if funding is still limited, with many - like ours - being entirely volunteer-run). It’s not just the tolerance and acceptance that we’ve reclaimed as people that has gotten us here, the real accomplishment is that queer people have actually been able to claim self-representation and outline their existence in their contemporary world and community instead of being portrayed in a way that blurs the lines between what’s real and a caricature of sorts, further marginalising them as the ‘other’.
 
“The Nest” really hits home for me in that regard. This group of young queer rebels is taking up the copious task of defining their own reality and experience in a worryingly homophobic society, refusing to be far from the limelight of their city while at the same time trying to find their own truth in a makeshift family that is nothing short of loving. In a ‘coming-off-age’ sort of way, the main character, Bruno, in his search of his brother, finds himself in a welcoming group of teenagers that introduce him to a cluster of genderqueer ideas and erotic openness that clashes with his rigid ex-army exterior while at the same time interacts and broadens his core identity as a young adult trying to find his place in contemporary southern Brazil.
 
What we initially know is that Bruno’s brother was a queer who fled the conservatism of a family that refused to understand, making him one of many young teenagers who find themselves privy not only to the exclusion from its primary core but also threatened by a world that is not always willing to accept this so-called difference.
 
Some suggest that liberal government policies may have gotten too far ahead of traditional social mores. The anti-gay violence, they contend, can be traced to Brazil’s culture of machismo and a brand of evangelical Christianity, exported from the United States, that is outspoken in its opposition to homosexuality. 1
 
Brazil has had a troubling relationship with queer identity and through The Nest we get to see that family rejection doesn’t and should equate a total loss. It’s the epitome of the notion that for queer people, the thought of family is a loose adaptation of the societal construct with the same name. It is the very weight of the idea of family that we see here;  it’s not just a simple connection, a point of origin but it’s a relationship that caries a set of roles, responsibilities and gender manifestation all tied to an emotional load that needs tending, the almost innate need of family approval and acceptance. 
 
Still, the family bonds in The Nest are not substandard imitations of the protagonists’ absent brother, but connections with intensity and meaning albeit an underlining laissez-faire attitude towards life. Each episode highlights the performance of Nicolas Vargas (Bruno) which captures the essence of a young man lost in the world. Lost in a family retrospective with the idea of it being a centrifuge where we should feel safe long gone, the only thing that Bruno can feel some sort of affirmation is through the emotional and even erotic contact with the people surrounding him.
 
Vargas captures this essence always through a gaze which at first appears to be woefully lost, but it does disclose a clear conviction which is the very driving force that eventually allows him to reach the end of his quest. Through these rituals of gender-identity he uncovers the precarity and division which defines the notion of masculinity through the queer experience, a constant journey of self discovery balancing between insecurity and a plethora of uncertain correlations. 2
 
The struggle for each of the characters in ‘The Nest’, I find, is akin to the struggle which queer artists, filmmakers and creators as a whole had to overcome to finally be able to carve their own genre the way they chose and to a establish a culture of queer self-representation  that speaks their subjective truth.  And it’s a truth we’ve come to appreciate and be moved by but in no way should it make us complacent.
 
As we strive to be different we should in no way ignore the things that bind us together with each other and with the rest of the world. ‘The Nest’ is a safe place and it is every safe place, every friendship and bond we’ve ever formed. It is ours to defend.
 

The Nest screens at Hackney Showroom, at 9:30 PM

 

References

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/06/world/americas/brazil-anti-gay-violence.html?_r=0

2. http://www.qvzine.net/qv4/no04.html

 

FESTIVAL TEAM - TOP FIVES, ROUND 2

Posted on Wed 16 Nov by AlexK /

At Fringe! there is truly something for everyone and that's because every known facet of queer existence is catered for, whether you're looking to experience beardy-boy hearthache (Lazy Eye) or to taste that transcendental rainbow (Random Programme Title Generator). If you want narratives that are rarely told, powerful affirmations of gender identity, anarchic faggotry or even just ascerbic undead divas – this is the festival for you.

 

Here is ROUND TWO OF OUR FESTIVAL TEAM TOP FIVES, in which WE HEAR FROM AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANTS CLAUDIA, JAMES, AND SERDEN, MARKETING COORDINATOR & PROGRAMME ASSISTANT MARTHA, AND PROGRAMME ADVISOR SEÁN.

 

Claudia Fortes, Audience Development Assistant

The Watermelon Woman - Sunday 20 November, Barbican Cinema

Charming and ironic Cheryl will steal your heart too!

You’ll Never Be Alone - Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

For a sensitive exploration of father-son bond when unexpected revelations change their lives.

Guru, a Hijra Family - Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

For an insightful and intimate portrayal of India's 'third gender'.

PANEL: GLOCAL: THE GEO-POLITICS OF LGBTI+ ADVOCACY - Sunday 20th November, Hackney Showroom

Take part in a most important discussion! 

SHORTS: QUEER, FAR, WHEREVER YOU ARE - Sunday 20th November, Hackney Showroom

Not just a pretty title. A stunning selection of touching shorts.

 

James Johnson, Audience Development Assistant

Check it - Thursday 17th November, Institute of light

A must-see: this documentary charts the growth of Check It, the first LGBT gang ever documented. Formed in response to violent attacks on LGBT youth, the gang endeavours to leave poverty, broken homes and violence behind in a bid to find their true callings.

The Nest - Friday 18th November, Hackney Showroom

Told episodically, this beautifully atmospheric 'feature' explores what it is to find family beyond the constraints of the biological families we are raised in. A rewarding watch for anyone interested in South American cinema.

Guru, a Hijra Family - Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

A tender portrait of a group of hijras in India told through the experience of this 'found' family as they navigate life as both spiritually revered and outcasts. Intimately shot, the film finds the balance between respect and examination, giving each of the hijras the opportunity to be seen with feeling and with heart.

STRIKE A POSE – Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

If you ever wondered for a moment what happened to the seven male dancers who signed up for Madonna's Blonde Ambition Tour then look no further than this. An authentic and generous telling of what is is to ride high on the wave of a superstar, what happens when it comes to an ends, and what had lain hidden all along.

Let's Have A Kiki - Sunday 20th November, Hackney Showroom

Fringe! and English Breakfast London host what's set to be an entertaining and invigorating discussion on the history of the ballroom and vogue circuit. For anyone with an interest in queer history, cultural appropriation, RuPaul's Drag Race and all the spaces in between: this looks set to be a conversation not to be missed!

 

Martha Kate Margetson, Marketing Co-ordinator / Programme Assistant

The Watermelon Woman - Sunday 20 November, Barbican Cinema

One of my favourite films forEVER, I remember finding out about this in the last year of sixth form (i’d already eaten up Go Fish and the films of Spike Lee, like all 16 year old lesbians), and my tutor claiming it was impossible to find a copy. Darling, at Fringe! anything is possible. I’ve sent him an invite. The Watermelon Woman engages with the distinctly queer project of active self-recognition, re-writing history in celluloid; something very exciting for cinephiles of an oppositional perspective / critical gaze.

SHORTS: We Recruit! An Elegy to First Fires - Friday 18th November, Hackney Showroom

I wrote the programme notes for this and being a younger team member, was somewhat embarrassed about this. In the end I sold myself on this selection of shorts about first loves, desires, heartbreaks, and so on. Emotions run higher when things are happening for the first time: you are either young or just discovering yourself, and there is a distinct and fraught relation between your romantic / sexual experiences and your burgeoning queer identity, which is what makes these films so touching and cathartic. I also love the queer temerity of the programme title we chose. ;)

You’ll Never Be Alone - Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

This film is SO stunning, and sad, and true. But mostly it's gloriously beautiful. Director Alex Anwandter has created such a gorgeous elegy to the beautiful soul the film focuses on; fitting tribute to a real life angel. His evocative music rings so powerfully that this story will stay with you for days. Some of the most heart-wrenching and perfect shots i’ve ever seen in cinema, on a topic that is worthy of our time and consideration.

AWOL  - Saturday 19th November, Rio Cinema

This consummate and swooning lesbian romance set in middle America between mechanic Joey and married Rayna is the sort of film queer girl viewers grow up dreaming about. It’s a lovely, realistic, engaging drama, and with a pinch of 'hygge' thrown in this is perfect for a wintry evening cinema trip. It really reminded me of the earnest and boyish Americana of The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, and made the childhood-me very happy. And, miraculously for lesbian cinema - no one dies. <3

Check it - Thursday 17th November, Institute of light

Part of our OVERCOME strand sponsored by SCRUFF, this chronicles the world’s only queer gang, whose response to violence and homophobia was appropriately violence and protection of one another. The familial love displayed between their tight-knit group is the essence of survival, and is better shown here than anywhere else on screen. This film confronts an audience with our inaction, and tests the strength of our community, simultaneously providing an inspiring blueprint of the notion of having one another’s backs. Let the Check It teach you how to love, and how to live.

 

Seán McGovern, Programme Advisor and Guest Services Coordinator

VIVA - Tuesday 15th November, Rio Cinema

We were so close to having our first Irish Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film last year and it just so happens that to achieve it we needed it to be filmed in Cuba, in Spanish and about drag queens. Written and directed by Hiberno-legends Mark O'Halloran and Paddy Breathnach respectively, this coming of age and identity story is uplifting, heartwarming and intoxicatingly sweet. It's a perfect crowd pleasing opener and we're delighted to have it.

NÉ GIULIETTA, NÉ ROMEO (A LITTLE LUST) - Wednesday 16 November, Genesis Cinema

I am so over “coming-out films”. Or rather, I am so over the constant narrative of the trauma of realising you're a homo, when really it's hitting the sexual jackpot (that sounds disgusting). Of course, even though it's not without its pain, finding the person you are and the people you belong with is a journey we all need to take. A Little Lust is a reminder that even though you were always you, it's the people around you that had to change. Fun, fabulous and fanatic, and just to make it more raucous, it's coming-out: Italian style.

STRIKE A POSE – Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

A follow up to Truth or Dare, one of the greatest documentaries ever made – I'm not joking by the way – this is a heartbreaking and inspiring reflection, not just at how Madonna changed the lives of seven young dancers, but at how one opportunity in our past can shape our futures in ways we can't even imagine. Madonna chose these seven men of different backgrounds, sexualities and ethnicities to embark on the concert tour that redefined what a pop star can do. Our society has changed so much in that seemingly short time, and the lives that these men have lived since are astonishing. It's so much more than just Madonna. Bring your tissues for this one.

Death Becomes Her - Friday 18th November, Rio Cinema

This is one of those films so many of us young queers saw on Sky 1 or late night on BBC 2 or, these days, several times on ITV 2 when you're home for Christmas (I don't get it either). You have to ask yourself, did the heterosexual men who made this film really know what they were unleashing upon the world, the stuff of gay-boy Hallowe'en costumes, FB memes for every birthday and just everyday occasions to say “Now a warning?!”?? This is what queer cinema is all about: taking something made for the masses, and spinning it on its head, reclaiming it, owning it, reading it. And what's better than gathering with a bunch of misfits to watch this at a practically-midnight-screening at the Rio? Bottoms up.

UTOPIANS - Saturday 19th November, Rio Cinema

Utopians is Fringe! It's everything we are about. From acclaimed enfant terrible, Scud, Utopians is a visually stunning, pansexual, super-charged erotic film. It challenged censors in Hong Kong, and it challenges our perceptions of East Asian culture and identity. Fringe! often features stories of bodies and identities that don't get enough screen time in the West, and with Utopians, those stories burst onto the screen. It's Queer-Confucius with a little Eyes Wide Shut for good measure. It also features, to quote Fringe! Programmer Charlie Cox – the best jerk off scene in years. What more do you want?

 

Serden Salih, Audience Development Assistant

Death Drive + After Party - Friday 18th November, Hackney Showroom

The ultimate event experience at this years Fringe! Fest. Join us as we explore the themes of death and self-destruction within queer culture that should lead into an interesting discussion. Various shorts, a live performance and a club night with DJs Ben Burgis and Zoe Williams awaiting you. That’s your Friday night sorted!

AWOL Saturday 19th November, Rio Cinema

The lesbian film of the year. Don’t be put off by the films title, Deb Shoval’s directorial debut brings you a passionate love story of two women that portrays a genuine hopefulness of true love that will resonate across all audiences.

UTOPIANS - Saturday 19th November, Rio Cinema

My festival favourite! A controversial look at homosexuality in contemporary Chinese culture. Desire never looked so hot on the big screen until now. Don’t miss what I believe is one of the boldest gay films to come from Asia…oh and there’s loads of full frontal nudity!

VIVA - Tuesday 15th November, Rio Cinema

Beautifully shot in the streets of Havana, Cuba, this Irish production brings you an inspiring and powerful story of a young boy fighting for a chance to become a drag star amidst the stigma of drag performance. The importance of queer culture and family is ever more apparent as Jesus tries to connect with his estranged father who suddenly enters his life, have your tissues ready for this one.

SHORTS: A QUEER FAMILY PORTRAIT - Sunday 20th November, Hackney Showroom

How would you define family? Come join us on Sunday for a queer brunch with the Fringe! Team followed by a screening of 9 emotional and provocative shorts…and it’s FREE!

Strike A Pose

Posted on Tue 15 Nov by AlexK /

In this personal essay, J Johnson reflects on how our relationships with the films we love change over time. The first in a series of reflective personal accounts, this blog looks at Strike a Pose, screening at fringe! Sunday 20th November.

J. Johnson

 

I was fifteen years old when Alek Keshishian’s tour documentary ‘In Bed With Madonna’ landed in cinemas worldwide and burst into the public consciousness. It pushed the envelope further on a global trend that redefined what it is to make a life publically available for scrutiny.  This was before Facebook and Twitter had groomed us all with the curatorial skills on how to exhibit our lives for popular consumption, before Instagram had enabled the filtering of reality from every meal and every sunset and every excursion, before every novice with a webcam and YouTube access could play host to their own online TV show.

The film takes us on an international tour alongside Madonna and her seven dancers, six of whom are gay, offering up a no-holds barred gape into her life of superstardom. Forever on high alert for what to appropriate as her own, Madonna took voguing into the mainstream and the gay dancers that went with it. Much like hordes of closeted gay teenagers across the globe, I had never seen sexuality, never mind my sexuality, represented in such dramatic colour on film before (which is possibly ironic given most of the film is presented in grainy black and white). I had few frames of references for my budding sexuality, fewer still that were as playful, sex positive, audacious, or carefree.

I remember creeping downstairs in the middle of the night to watch Derek Jarman’s ‘Sebastiane’ on Channel 4, and craftily recording Nigel Finch’s ‘The Lost Language of the Cranes’ with the masturbatory hope of seeing men embracing men, but predictably these films tinged homosexuality with sadness, shame or at worst death. The sight of Madonna’s phalanx of flamboyant gay men, a handful of years older than me, serving up platefuls of brash homo-ness on stage and backstage shattered my notions of what it meant to be seen as gay. Those six dancers represented what was possible, what unapologetic queerness could be to my teenage self; the same self who voraciously consumed the subsequent Blonde Ambition tour footage as if it held the secret to gay pride itself. As I rewound my VHS copy of ‘Express Yourself’ over and over again with the fervour of a Jehovah’s Witness rapping his knuckles on a front door, I gorged myself on the knowledge that there were people like me out there in the world making waves. And in my fanaticism and childish naiveté, I wrote a letter to one of the dancers, Slam, with whom I found myself terribly smitten. I can’t now remember what I wrote to him, no doubt some wistful romantic musings that only a teenager could spout, nor can I remember to where I sent the letter – this was, I remind you, before the age of the Internet. I can only envisage my childish determination sent it to Sire Records, Madonna’s label, in the vain hope they’d pass it on. Needless to say I’m still waiting on a reply.

Looking back at the documentary now, the resonance has changed. Watching ‘In Bed With Madonna’ as an adult I found it bears scant relation to the soaring adulation I felt 25 years ago. The film is by and large a carefully constructed docudrama of sorts: with adult eyes very little appears to be anything other than contrived. Madonna holds centre stage in every scene, and at all times, ever conscious of the roving camera’s presence. She alternates between gestures of motherly concern for her pseudo-familial cabal (Madonna’s scripted voiceover proffers intermittent narrative bridges which are as wooden in tone as her acting), and then humiliating friends and family members with mean spirited putdowns and crass stories of old (her laughter on hearing of the rape of one of her tour crew remains a grim watch). Of course rediscovering Madonna’s a bit mean after all these years shouldn’t come as a surprise, but that aside the aspect of the documentary I found most surprising on rewatching was what sparse footage of the gay dancers actually features in the film. Sure, they appear in all the live concert footage, but beyond that, they are by and large reduced to fleeting sound bites that serve only to reinforce stereotypes. They attend a Pride parade and vogue, they cackle and bitch about the lone straight dancer (the only one of them to be given any real screen time), and they play Truth or Dare and kiss one another for the camera then cackle some more as Madonna fellates a Perrier bottle. What I had found mesmerising as a teen had lost its charm. In fact it felt pretty depressing.

With hindsight comes knowledge and with the UK release of Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s documentary ‘Strike A Pose’ audiences are afforded the opportunity to find out what it actually meant for those seven dancers as they set flight on a worldwide tour with arguably the most famous pop star on the planet. The dancers have regrouped once again but this time to offer their own reflections on what it was to each of them to be catapulted into the limelight so unexpectedly. Bear in mind that on its release ‘In Bed With Madonna’ was the highest grossing documentary of all time. What is drawn forth in ‘Strike A Pose’ is a more measured version of events than Madonna’s film would allow, one that takes into full consideration the time the tour took place – it was 1991 and the AIDS epidemic was in full motion; the personal conflict that arose post film release for some of the dancers on being outed – gay rights as we know them were still a pipe dream away; and what it is to experience the headiness of public adoration and then for it to end. Those men who I adored so much I wore out a VHS cassette player are gone, but on reflection my teenage self needed those six dancers and their brash, unapologetic behaviour, because they gave me something to aspire to, a way of being unavailable to me at home or at school at that time. And now, as I listen to those same men talk, I am re-inspired by what was the unknown content of their lives, the personal narratives unseen as they paraded nightly on stages in Tokyo and Paris and London, the stories Madonna’s documentary served only to quieten. ‘Strike A Pose’ brings us full circle with levity and sorrow and joy and kindness: Madonna could still learn a trick or two from these dancers.

Strike a Pose screens Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema, 3:30pm.

Festival Team - Top Fives, Round 1

Posted on Mon 14 Nov by AlexK /

With so much on offer it can be hard to make decisions about what to see/attend at Fringe!… Choices. AS EVERY YEAR WE're BRINGing YOU THE FESTIVAL TEAM'S PERSONAL TOP 5 FILMS AND EVENTS to make sure you can banish fomo once and for all. in round one, we hear from FESTIVAL DIRECTOR ALEX, marketing Coordinator anna, PROGRAMMEr CHARLIE, AND sponsorship MANAGER daniele.

Alex Karotsch, Festival Director

Lazy Eye - Thursday 17 November, Genesis Cinema

This one's emotional and you'll really be able to empathise if you ever had that 'one that got away' feeling, although Lazy Eye is about more than that. And it's set in the gorgeous California desert. 

NÉ GIULIETTA, NÉ ROMEO (A LITTLE LUST) - Wednesday 16 November, Genesis Cinema

Although A Little Lust starts off as a coming out / family drama it quickly turns this on its head when it morphs into quite a lolz comedy with some very hilarious supporting characters. Not your typical coming out film.

Queer Gestures - Sunday 20 November, Barbican Conservatory

Back in our first year in 2011 our friends at I'm With You took over Vogue Fabrics in Dalston and put performances in every nook and cranny. And this year they're taking over the Barbican Conservatory with a host of fabulous artists. It's a rare chance to get into this brilliant space in the Barbican and the event is totally free.

The Watermelon Woman - Sunday 20 November, Barbican Cinema

And while you're at the Barbican on Sunday afternoon why not catch the 20th anniversary screening of The Watermelon Woman. Cheryl Dunye's New Queer Cinema classic has been restored for the 21st century and is as vital and important today as it was in 1996, uncovering our hidden histories - those of queer people in general and queer people of colour in particular.

Pan People - Thursday 17 November, The Glory

Get your kink on with Holestar who will show you some basic BDSM ropes and then you can party in your best fetish gear afterwards. Absolutely everyone welcome. We're here to turn you on. Always.

Anna Wates, Marketing Coordinator

The Watermelon Woman - Sunday 20 November, Barbican Cinema

Whilst a lot has been written about the importance of this rarely-screened cinematic gem and its groundbreaking representation of black lesbian experience, what I also love is the film’s incredible humour and wit; a satire on fiction, truth, and lesbians.

Club Des Femmes Presents Old Words in New Orders: Almost Out + Man - Wednesday 16th November, Barbican Cinema

We’ve teamed up with old friends queer/feminist curating collective Club Des Femmes for a night of film and video exploring feminist parenting and care, and I can’t wait for the Q&A with the ever-illuminating Maja Borg and Sophie Mayer.

Guru, a Hijra Family - Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

I adore the intimate moments of domestic familiarity captured in this sensitive doc; a rare glimpse into the everyday life of a family of Hijras, or third gendered persons, in India. The compelling Lakshmi Ma serves as guru mother to her seven daughters, a fairy-godmother-type-figure inspirational for queers everywhere.

Shorts: Histories, Real and Imagined - Saturday 19th November, Hackney showroom

Effecting and poignant shorts which left me feeling I had been transported to alternate worlds and secret moments both past and present. Each offers a queer reading of history and the archive, whether through using archival material, home movie footage, Super 8 flea market finds, or surreal animation.

Kiki – Saturday 19th November, Barbican Cinema

The vibrancy of the kiki scene, created and governed by queer youth of colour in New York, delivers an expressive and empowering documentary. 

Charlie Cox, Programmer

YOU'LL NEVER BE ALONE - Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

This was my festival favourite from Berlin film festival! I absolutely love the use of cinematography in this pic with stellar colours and a soundtrack to match. Impressive fact: director Alex Anwandter is a renowned musician in Chile and composed the score himself! Supporting Actor, Sergio Hernández,impressively demands your attention on screen portraying a father up against all the odds to seek justice & vengeance for his son who was attacked. Absolute, must see.

UTOPIANS - Saturday 19th November, Rio Cinema

Director SCUD is at it again with UTOPIANS. He somehow got this passed and approved by the local classification board with overt nudity and some seriously hot sex scenes. Set among the gorgeous Hong Kong skyline this student-cum-professor opens the viewer to a whole new type of education.

SHORTS: Queer, Far, Wherever You Are! – Sunday 20th November, Hackney showroom

Curating this short selection was a pure DELIGHT. Stories of yearning, longing and belonging so beautifully told you may even catch a tear in your eye! From a Great-British-Lez-Off inspired love story, to an animation moon song, to the complications of the emotions of a porn-star - this selection will take you on a queer journey far to places you may have never even knew existed!

STRIKE A POSE – Sunday 20th November, Rio Cinema

After seeing this at the World Preimere at the Berlinale there was a standing ovation for 20 minutes and not a dry eye in the house! STRIKE A POSE is a story so respectfully & elegantly told of the reunification of the six remaining back-up dancers from Madonna's 1990s Blonde Ambition tour. If you want something that moves you, emotionally and physically watch this.

SHORTS: NATURAL INSTINCTS - Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

This selection of shorts will push the boundaries of even the most adventurous. So if you're up for the challenge cum watch this sexy, fetish-filled programme with your open-mind and cheeky spirit. There's some flocking in the woods that gives 'fisty-cuffs' and walking the dog new meanings programmed alongside many other delights that you simply will not find ANYWHERE else!

Daniele Guerra, Sponsorship Manager

Lazy Eye - Thursday 17 November, Genesis Cinema

A romantic, sexy film about trying to recapture love.... as sponsorship manager, I am proud that SCRUFF is supporting this.

NÉ GIULIETTA, NÉ ROMEO (A LITTLE LUST) - Wednesday 16 November, Genesis Cinema

A hilarious Italian coming of age comedy, followed by a Q&A with the director, Veronica Pivetti - and I am looking forward to translate for her!

VIVA - Tuesday 15th November, Rio Cinema

Our opening film- moving, intense and on the shortlist for the Academy Awards.

Shorts: Natural Instincts - Saturday 19th November, Hackney showroom

This shorts programme promises to titillate and arouse... enough said!

Check it - Thursday 17th November, Institute of light

Perhaps the most original film at the festival this year - a documentary about the only existing queer street gang in the world.

A Rebirth of Femininity

Posted on Fri 11 Nov by AlexK / Lesbian, gender, Family, Artists Moving Image

 

by Serden Salih

This years Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest brings you a programme of experimental shorts discussing gender, sexuality and familial anxiety. The first part of the programme goes on a harrowing and revelatory trip around femininity and family politics.  

In Deborah Kelly’s Lying Women (2016), a montage of reclining nude females cut out of magazines are brought together into a collective mass. The 15th century Renaissance saw an artistic innovation in the way the female was presented in Western European art. The Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) by Giorgione is believed to be the first painting to depict the female as the principal figure and only subject of the painting. Often facing the viewer, the nude female is poised in an elegant position across a couch and the body is brought to the forefront of the viewer’s gaze. Lying Women presents an escape from heteropatriarchy and the confines of the medium itself. Cut-outs swarm in waves and join in a celebratory orgy of their newly found freedom.  

The remediation of the female body has shifted over time; it can be said that femininity has largely been, a male construct. The female continues to be constructed and deconstructed within a particular cultural framework. Social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir described this construct as “eternal feminine”, a psychological archetype that idealizes an immutable concept of “woman” and is one component of gender essentialism. She states that,

“The “feminine world” is sometimes contrasted with the masculine universe, but it must be reiterated that women have never formed an autonomous and closed society; they are integrated into the group governed by males, where they occupy a subordinate position; they are united by a mechanical solidarity” (Beauvoir, pg. 724).  

We see something similar in Stan Vanderbeek’s 1959 short film ‘A La Mode’ (not part of the programme). The film is a satirical montage of collaged women (taken from glamour magazine cut outs) commenting on the ways in which female beauty was idolized in pop culture during this period and a foretelling of contemporary mass media. The female is locked in position as male cut-out figures move across her body in playful action. Penetrated on all fronts, her movements become restricted, the choice of escape is not possible.  

These six experimental shorts question the position of femininity in a sociocultural context; the female directors are re-representing female identity through the use of collage and digital mechanisms in a way that is challenging the notion of fixed femininity. Kelly states that the females in her short are an “escape from centuries of servitude to a worldview in which decorative passivity is their whole purpose”. Each film illustrates a kind of escapist approach from “the other”, displaying a physical rebirthing of femininity.  

In the Iranian film, Painkiller (2016) directed by Mashid Mahboubifar, we see a female paint her face with the blood from a used tampon. She then applies a coat of red varnish onto her nails, pushing away at an angle, the nails remain unstained. In this moment, “the feminine” collapses and we are faced with a manifestation of female angst. During this process, the poem Reborn by Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad is being recited, 

“There is an alleyway where the boys that adored me with their tousled hair and slender necks, and skinny legs, still think of a young girl’s innocent smile. That smile which the wind one night, bore away.”  

This verse speaks of a moment in which the female is made equal to her counterpart through the admiration of her innocence and the transgressive shift away from woman as the “object of desire”. However, reality sinks in and her smile, the last ounce of feminine is taken away one night. Farrokhzad also writes, “Life is perhaps that enclosed moment when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes”. She describes the female gaze here as merely a reversal of what the male gaze is seeing and as a result, her gaze is subject to being destroyed in comparison. John Berger describes this as,  

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger, pg.47).   

Farrokhzad’s Another Birth series of poems speaks of a rebirth of the Iranian woman, herself being reborn as a new poet and female voice against the harsh criticisms of the position of women in Iranian society. In Painkiller we get a social commentary on the shame and pain put on women living in Iran. The rawness of the performance and application of the colour red is exhibited in full assertion of her own selfhood.  

When I’m a Woman (2016) directed by Andreea Sticlea, uses archival footage (early cinema) and animation to explore the psychological and social aspects of being transgender in today’s society. The first shot opens with a black and white clip of a female applying makeup in a mirror. There is a quick cut to a shot of glamour magazines on how to apply makeup and we then switch back to the female. In the next shot, an animated mask of a clown is layered over the female’s face, obscuring her “femininity” through a masquerade. The voice of a transgender individual speaks during this process: “When I’m a woman, I get changed and I get ready, and I make myself look like a woman, and then I look in the mirror and I see now what I want…there is a sense of dysphoria”. The voiceover in conjunction with the image illustrates a visual representation of how a transgendered person is positioned against societal expectations. The individual looks in the mirror for affirmation of “the other” yet is being questioned through the transgender gaze, the cisgender gaze and the male gaze, all permitting fixed codes of what it means to be “female”. Mary Ann Doane explains that,  

“With the specifically feminine masquerade, the “victim” takes on with a vengeance all of the myriad surfaces of femininity, which the gaze wants to corral into “woman.” She reiterates femininity with a twist, opening the formerly sutured gap between its conventional codes and the bodies those codes are designed to fix as “female” (Doane, pg.38).  

Women can wear superficial attributes of femininity as a mask, as a disguise to be taken-on or rejected. The feminine masquerade can also be seen in Petra Brnardic’s Fever (2015), a digital collage of psychedelic images of nude females and glamour stars transforming in a symmetrical collision of overtness. The female psyche is put on display as overlays of reds break away from the delicacy of the nude female. Her body is being masked by images of death, as skulls morph their features and serpents protrude from their genitalia. It is “the collision of eros and thanatos” as Brnardic states. Various female archetypes are present throughout, the sex symbol, the glamour star, the performer and so on.  

Past traditions of femininity are being destroyed by that of macabre imagery and the females begin to blur into one, fading in an out as if existing for a moment in time and then vanishing the next. Brnardic states that “It is a visual stream of consciousness which depicts dreams, visions and fantasies of a female person”. Fever is similar to that of Kelly’s work, we get a montage of women joining in a ritualistic mass, breaking away from their former femininity and entering a new world.  

What these shorts display is a brave approach at re-defining contemporary social structures of femininity and dismantling the attributes of gender essentialism. Giving voice to females that have been subjected to the confines of the gaze and trapped in an endless remediation of female angst. We are taken on a historical and digital journey through time to witness a new rebirthing of femininity.  

You can catch the full programme for free, including the shorts Spermwhore by Anna Linder and Technicolour Angst by Ketchup Freeland at Hackney Showroom on November 19th at 3:00pm. 

 

Reference: 

Beauvoir, de Simone, The Second Sex (Vintage Classics, 1997). 
Berger, John, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Classics, 2008).
Doane, Ann, Mary, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 1991).
Vanderbeek, Stan, A La Mode, (Video, 6 mins, USA, 1959). 

Trans* Stories at Fringe!

Posted on Mon 07 Nov by AlexK / Documentary, Film, Family, Trans, transgender, QTIPOC, gender

by Anna Wates

The representation of trans people on the big screen has changed markedly in recent years, increasingly moving away from outdated, exploitative and negative portrayals towards more nuanced, more authentic stories about trans experience. Every year Fringe! brings films that reflect the growing diversity of trans experiences represented in film around the globe, and this year is no exception, with a stellar lineup of documentaries, features and shorts ranging from the inspiring to the thoughtful, and the hilarious! This year, our weekend screenings fall on TDoR (Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20th November), a day to honour and remember trans people who have lost their lives during the year.

Here are some highlights from the trans films screening at Fringe! next week

A Womb of Their Own
Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

A group of queer transmasculine people speak openly about bodies, birth, hair and other things in this heartwarming documentary shedding light on their varied experiences of pregnancy.

Guru, a Hijra Family
Saturday 19th November, Hackney Showroom

The compelling Lakshmi Ma serves as guru and mother to her seven daughters, providing them with a strong moral compass and spiritual guidance to navigate a society that simultaneously venerates and renounces them. This beautiful and atmospheric documentary offers a unique glimpse into the everyday life of this family of hijras - or third gendered persons - in India. The film is a delicate exploration of the history, mythology, rituals and contemporary experience of the hijra community.

Self-Define Your Gender Paradigm
Sunday 20 November, 5.30pm, Hackney Showroom

Questioning and redefining expectations around gender and representation, this collection of short films bring together thoughts on the body as a landscape of imaginative expanse.

Her Story
Saturday 19th November, Hackney showroom

A web series with a difference, we'll be screening the 6-part first season as a one-hour session of funny, poignant, fresh and authentic revelation on the big screen. Addressing institutionalised transphobia (especially within the lesbian/queer community) through the hopeful first stirrings of love and new friendship, Her Story delivers an important message with a light-touch.

And finally, our closing night film: Suited
20th November 2016, 8.30pm, Genesis Cinema

This empowering documentary follows Brooklyn garment maker Bindle & Keep, who tailor suits are created for all kinds of bodies. The film ends with a heroic, celebratory fashion show, and we hope you’ll join Fringe! on our closing night kitted out in your most dapper attire. With an interpretive introduction by The Drakes, this is one not to miss!

 

 

Raiders of the Lost Archive - Histories Real and Imagined at Fringe! 2016

Posted on Mon 07 Nov by AlexK / Lesbian, QTIPOC, History, Film

By Anna Wates

@anthnarra

At the end of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, the following sentence appears: 'Sometimes you have to create your own history'. It hints at the intentional blurring within the film of the division between fiction and truth. As a black lesbian, Dunye wanted her film to highlight the poverty of the historical record when it comes to the stories of marginalised peoples and communities. This is because the archive tends to favour those with power. As for all the rest us, very few records exist; our stories rarely survive, and if they do, queerness risks being unacknowledged due to the prejudices of the era. So we have to imagine, project, or retell versions of the past which include us. This year Fringe! offers some great films doing just that; a selection of thought-provoking features and shorts that cast the net back through the archive, collecting hidden gems as well as confronting one or two lingering ghosts along the way.

One such film is Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman prompts us to reflect on the disparity between histories we are told and those we must imagine in order to be able to see ourselves in a past that forever attempts to erase us. This is clever filmmaking, a satire on fiction and truth through the format of a “mockumentary” in which the main character speaks directly to the camera about plans to make a film (the one we’re watching?). Dunye termed this style of filmmaking a “Dunyementary”, playing a version of herself as an aspiring filmmaker cum video shop clerk in search of fragments of the life of Martha Page, a black actress who worked in Philadelphia during the 1930s, also known as “the watermelon woman”. In some ways, the search is frustrated by the constant erasure of Page’s queer identity in official records of her life, as well as her own sister’s memories. Yet in other ways, Cheryl unearths a veritable treasure chest of archive material, including photographs of Page looking dapper with her lover, or an interview with older lesbian Shirley who tells Cheryl that the watermelon woman used to sing in clubs “for all us stone butches”. These tantalising glimpses of a vibrant queer past clash with stark irony the harsh reality of silence and voids alluded to in the poignant closing lines of the film.

The fact that Page is black, a woman and queer means her story is even less likely to appear in the history books than a white (or male/straight) counterpart. We can think of real-life figures such as Bessie Smith and Josephine Baker, whose queer relationships can often only be guessed at. Yet this exclusion takes place within queer culture as much as in straight society, something wryly explored in a scene from The Watermelon Woman in which Cheryl visits the CLIT archive of lesbian material. Searching for information on Page, Cheryl is handed a shabby box filled with uncategorised material by the white archivist, who tells her they keep collections pertaining to black lesbians separate in order to “make it easier”; a neat jibe at the frequent absence of people of colour from the LGBTQ+ record.

Intelligent, powerful and important, we are delighted to be able to present this classic of black lesbian/New Queer Cinema in its full magnificence, now beautifully restored courtesy of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project in honour of film’s 20 th anniversary. Catch The Watermelon Woman alongside our shorts Histories, Real and Imagined and explore these vital commentaries on queer histories rarely told or acknowledged.

The Watermelon Woman screens on Sunday 20 November at Barbican Centre

Latin American Gems at Fringe!

Posted on Thu 03 Nov by AlexK / Brazil, Latin America, Cuba, Chile, gender, homophobia, LGBT rights, QTIPOC, Film

Last year we embraced a Brazilian focus, screening documentary Favela Gay and hybrid-porn-fiction-doc Nova Dubai alongside a dynamic shorts programme. We celebrated the vivacity and fearlessness of Brazilian queer people boldly living their truths amongst threats of violence and inequality. This year, our programme showcases films from the wider Central and Latin American region, with many other titles foregrounding the stories of QTIPOC and Latinx people. It’s important work to facilitate marginalised and distinct voices and foster global connections within our big queer family!

 

Opening Film: Viva - Tuesday 15 November - Rio Cinema 

Viva represents Cuba’s struggle with shifting identities: from an environment of restrictions on queer and non-traditional expressions, to a nation assimilating its bold queer communities, Viva chronicles the journey of Cuba.

Jesus, a young hairdresser, works at a Havana drag cabaret club to make ends meet. He dreams of one day becoming a performer himself. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama, Jesus finally gets his chance to take the stage. But when his estranged father Angel abruptly re-enters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down. As father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, VIVA develops into a love story as they struggle to understand one another and reconcile as a family.
 
This moving drama is powered by SCRUFF.

The Nest - Friday 18 November - Hackney Showroom

Handsome young soldier Bruno deserts from the Brazilian army to go on a search for his long-lost brother in Porto Alegre. While his brother remains elusive Bruno quickly falls in with a gang of genderqueer bohemians and befriends Stella, one of his brother’s acquaintances. Through these unconventional new friendships Bruno begins to discover himself and explore his sexuality.

Filipe Matzembacher & Marcio Reolon’s film unravels over an episodic structure highlighting atmosphere, emotion and interpersonal dynamics and resulting in an intriguing examination of how we find and create our queer families.

You’ll Never Be Alone - Sunday 20 November - Rio Cinema 

Dance student Pablo lives with his father Juan, a manager at a mannequin factory, in their drab, homophobic suburb of Santiago. He has a secret affair with a member of the neighbourhood's street gang and dreams of starring in his favourite reality TV show with his best friend Mari, while his father struggles to become partner in the company he worked at for the last 25 years. One night, Juan and Pablo's lives change forever, and for the first time, Juan faces the harsh reality his son experiences on a daily basis. 

Inspired by true events, Alex Anwandter's impressive debut feature skilfully tells a distinctly South American story with a naturalistic approach and great sensitivity, reminiscent of Dolan and Fassbinder. 

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Shorts
There are also plenty of Latin American shorts from Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico sprinkled through our FREE shorts programme.

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