The 5th Bangalore Queer Film Fest—A Festival of Delights

BQFF LogoSo many well-meaning LGBT folks in the West assume that queer cinema is a monopoly of the obvious LGBT Meccas—NYC, San Francisco, Key West, London, Berlin and so on. At a pinch, throw in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Joburg.

There is a tendency to freeze frame queer creativity in an unconsciously Eurocentric or Orientalist way, to dis or marginalize those ‘other’ world metros as hotbeds of homophobia, whose queer denizens scramble and fight for that one way ticket to the meccas, looking over the shoulder nervously, cowering before the law and the moral police.

Not entirely true anymore. For instance, many Indian cities have a vibrant queer life, marked by LGBT pride parades, support groups, parties and film fests.

The fifth edition of the Bangalore Queer Film Fest (BQFF) from Feb 22-24 was a resounding success this year, drawing in huge crowds, especially on Saturday and Sunday. Over 55 films were screened from a potpourri of countries worldwide. Many are international film fest nominees or award winners (Sundance, Berlin etc.), while others are Oscar nominees.

The Fest was organized by gay and lesbian support groups in Bangalore, while the space was hosted by the Alliance Francaise of Bangalore.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that ‘Keep the Lights On’ (winner of the Teddy Award, Berlin and an official selection at Sundance and Tribeca) was part of the Friday menu. It has been hailed as the ‘Brokeback Mountain’ of Keep the Lights On (Tribecca Films)this decade—only better!

I loved ‘Transgender Tuesdays.’ It is a great documentary history of the trannie movement in San Francisco, though it deteriorates into a sales pitch for the Tom Waddell clinic in the Tenderloin district of SF. While the Tom Waddell deserves kudos for being the first truly nurturing space for transgender people in SF, it’s not the only one now.

The Pakistani melodrama ‘Bol’ was an unexpected treat, far exceeding expectations. Shoaib Mansoor, who wrote the story, takes creative pot-shots at many South Asian sacred cows—the Bolstranglehold of religion (in this case, Islam) taken over-literally, the systematic marginalization of the girl child (except as a marriage object/sex worker). Not to mention the heteropatriarchal family that is committed to ‘breeding’ more children, without the means to give them decent lives, the intense homophobic and trans-phobic attitude toward any male child that is born ‘different’ than the standard expectations of stiffly phallicist, unemotional male behavior, and more

‘The Year My Voice Broke’, is an interesting look at contemporary lesbian and gay cultures of ‘disconnect’, set against a grimy, industrial backdrop. Yet, despite the disconnects, there is a strange tenderness and circularity of relationship, about the alienated lesbian and gay male characters in the movie.

The award winning ‘Call Me Kuchu’, celebrates the work of David Kato, the Ugandan LGBT activist, whose courage in opposing the brutal genocidal ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ of the Ugandan parliament (rather predictably, under the influence of American Christian evangelists), led to his tragic assassination and the growth of a human rights and LGBT rights movement in Uganda.

For me, the showcased award winning film of Sunday evening ‘How to Survive a Plague’ was a retro-nostalgic trip back to the glory days of ACT UP and TAG. The film movingly documents the sheer callousness of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years in the 1980’s, and the appalling exponential rise in AIDS death statistics. It tracks the careers of many HIV activists, including Larry Kramer and documents how the tireless protests of ACT UP! galvanized the sluggish pharmaceutical and medical lobbies in the US, all the way to the ‘AIDS cocktail’, that has given many HIV clients a new Raj Ayyarlease of life.

The films tend to blur into each other in a bizarre surreal medley of images, if one sits and watches them for hours at an end (an occupational hazard of covering film fests). However, the fest offered a lot for nibblers at the smorgasbord, as well as diehard fest addicts.

BQFF5 bent over backwards to represent the different communities, (as well as nationalities and ethnicities) under the LGBTQ banner very well. There was a mixed diet of films that were about gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning/confused folks. Overall—very satisfying.

By Raj Ayyar

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