Arts Preview: This year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival showcases films that intersect across race, class, and gender
Storytelling meets life at Vancouver's Queer Film Festival
Rama Luksiarto produced 50 different versions of his autobiographical film before his master’s supervisor accepted his piece.
His film, Crossing Bridges (Thursday, August 17, 6:45 pm, SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts) is just one of more than 50 films featured in this summer’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Running from August 10 to 20, the festival will feature films from international directors and a swath of local ones too.
“I was very hesitant to tell my own story because I came from a background where … you value a community over your individual story,” says the Vancouver-based director, Luksiarto.
He was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and moved to Canada 10 years ago. His documentary chronicles his difficulty accepting himself as a gay Asian man, and the social pushback over his identity in both Indonesia and Canada.
Created for his master’s degree in film at Ryerson University, Luksiarto says his supervisor pushed him to be vulnerable.
“Since I was scared to tell my own story I would interview my friends and family and I would ask them questions about themselves, rather than asking [them] questions about myself,” he says.
The final cut of Crossing Bridges is the product of Luksiarto opening up and embracing himself. The film starts with the recounting of his survival through a traumatic event in Toronto that took place around the time of Pride festivities a few years ago. Later it follows him on a trip to visit his family in Indonesia where he speaks with his parents (noting in his interview with Megaphone that his father is Muslim and his mother is Catholic) about their experience raising Luksiarto and his coming out.
“I've been out to them since I was 18, but since I was in Canada when I go home we just don't talk about it,” he says. “But having this film you have to talk about it so it forced the conversation to happen.”
Love and Resistance
The resilience and struggle depicted in Crossing Bridges is part of the festival’s 2017 theme of resistance. Artistic co-director Anoushka Ratnarajah says this year’s focus on resistance is a direct response to an increase in “really dangerous right-wing violence.”
“We've seen sort of the ramping up of a lot of violence against our various [marginalized] communities and the way they intersect, we can't ignore what's going on in the world around us,” she says.
Part of Ratnarajah’s goal with the festival is to provide space where people can envision bold, resilient futures.
“I think the arts have a particularly important place in holding space and creating visions of how we want our world to look, and so I think our theme of love and resistance really is trying to embody and hold that in its spirit,” she says.
Interviewed in her office at the Dominion Building in Gastown, Ratnarajah says she’s particularly looking forward to Ernesto Contreras’ I Dream in Another Language (Sueño en Otro Idioma) (Thursday, August 10, 7 pm, Vancouver Playhouse; Saturday, August 12, 4 pm International Village).
“It speaks to the intersection of so many things that I think are personally important to me … it's inter-generational, it's Indigenous, it looks at what the impact colonialism has had on queer people of colour and on Indigenous people, it looks at what it is like to lose a language and to lose a community,” she says.
I Dream in Another Language is the Mexican director’s fourth feature film, and presents the story of a linguist attempting to record an endangered Indigenous language, Zikril. Along the way, he discovers an elaborate and unresolved conflict between the two remaining Zikril speakers.
As a result of the conflict, the pair haven’t spoken to each other in 50 years, rendering the language dormant. Set in modern-day Mexico, Contraras’ film has attracted the attention of festivals worldwide, and was even featured at the Sundance Film Festival.
“It's a queer film without being a queer film in a way. It’s not just about queerness … it also encapsulates the ways in which … colonialism, racism, homophobia, heteronormativity, all of those things working together are what the characters of this film are battling, so it really captures the way that histories and continued systemic violence make it hard to exist,” she says.
An accessible art form
Amber Dawn, who shares an office and with Ratnarajah, is a well-known Vancouver author whose body of work explores feminism, queer identity, and sex work, among other topics. She and Ratnarajah applied for and were hired for the artistic director position as a duo.
Dawn is adamant that writing remains her first love, but says she has a deep appreciation for the accessibility of film.
“There might not be a lot of readers out there that would pick up a novel from Mexico but going to a two-hour film … is quite accessible,” she says. “Although creative writing is my first love I feel that film has greater potential to reach audiences.”
Globalization and queer identity
Looking ahead to the festival, one of Dawn’s top picks is Taxi Stories, by Doris Young (Thursday, August 17, 9 pm; Saturday, August 19, 4:30pm at SFU’s Gold Corp Centre for the Arts). Young’s film follows the struggles of a poor Beijing cab driver, a wealthy pregnant woman in Hong Kong, and a young boy living in the slums of Jakarta.
The narrative film, which includes more than four different languages, is “maybe the most ambitious film of the whole festival,” says Dawn. “The film itself is just an incredibly intricate look at class and globalization and how queer identity spreads throughout.”
The director will be visiting Vancouver from Amsterdam during the festival, and Dawn is pleased to be putting a director who is a woman of colour front and centre.
“We know that film is actually disproportionately a male-directed, male-centred art form, so for it to be a Chinese heritage woman under 40, it's just an amazing feat,” she says.
Looking to locally produced films, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival will be screening a double-bill dubbed Stay Gold, March Forward (Monday August 14, 7 pm at Vancity Theatre).
The first film on the bill, Stay Gold Man Up, explores the inner-workings of one of the city’s iconic monthly queer dance parties, Man Up. Directed by Ray McEachern, the short film includes interviews with performers and attendees. Man Up began as a drag king competition nine years ago, but has since turned into a vibrant gender-diverse dance party, paying homage to kings, queens, and everything in between.
Second on the bill is The March Sweater by Vancouver radio host Cory Ashworth. In what is likely to be a tearjerker, Ashworth asks for 30 minutes of the viewer’s time so he can give the screen to five queer Vancouver elders. The real-life people in this film discuss life and love as experienced within their diverse backgrounds.
Continuing on the double-bill kick, Antonette & Tobin: Local Trans Stories (Friday August 18 at SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts) promises two films that demonstrate the ambition and frequent turbulence that two different trans artists face.
In A Small Part of Me, directors Steve Adams and Sean Horlor follow the daily-life and personal struggle of Tobin, a (fictional) transgender teen living in Squamish, B.C. While navigating life as a teen, Tobin accepts a lead role in a local play where he will play a male character.
Simultaneously, Tobin is having trouble with his living situation, so his chosen family and friends come together to help him find a stable home.
Following the film about a trans youth, directors Darren Heroux and Ian Barbour will entice the audience with their documentary about a local trans elder, Antonette Rea. The 47-minute long film, Antonette, showcases the passion and life story of Rea, who has been performing spoken word since 2008 and is a member of the Thursdays Writing Collective in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.