Saturday, April 25, 2009

Entre Nous

Overview of the 2009 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival by Sophie Mayer

A few years back, a friend of mine joined a dating agency called Entre Nous, which held out the promise of an “exclusive” match-up service for professional men. Up front, it was classy – and pricey. But the dates were all disasters, and when he wanted to leave things went “Hotel California.”

On the other hand, 57000 KM Entre Nous is the title of one of my favourite films at this year’s LLGFF, a film that expounded this year’s theme of family and adolescence with wit, charm, and edginess. As filmmaking, it was both psychologically insightful and artistically innovative. Rather than being exclusively focused on queer characters, it brought together a family with both queer and straight members, and – through its sharp, almost Ozon-ian gaze – queered the bourgeois family beautifully. Which is to say: the message of this year’s LLGFF was that queer cinema is entre nous: I’m just not sure which of the two meanings of the term they’re managing to put across. With the trans programming strand continuing strongly from last year (although supported by fewer community events), excellent retrospectives of lesbian experimental filmmakers Ulrike Ottinger (I’m still grooving on Delphine Seyrig among the yurts in Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia) and Barbara Hammer (and a more questionable dive into the misogyny-fuelled world of film noir), a new strand of queer-friendly family programming (but no Spongebob?!), and a hard-hitting, global range of documentaries, it would seem that the festival was casting its net wide to create its inclusively queer (queer as inclusive) family.

My favourite film, John Greyson’s Fig Trees, was all about creating that family, documenting transnational AIDS activism as it combated (and learned from) corporate globalisation. Fizzing with pop, opera, poetry, one-liners, drag performers, gorgeous visuals and animatronic squirrels, Fig Trees was a visual and political all-you-can-eat, everyone-invited feast. But the festival programme made it sound like hard work and nothing but. I’m the first to admit that experimental film can be a slog, but this film had something for everyone, from opera buffs to fans of hot naked men. What’s not to ‘get’?

Programming a festival isn’t just about curating the films, it’s about curating audiences as well. Sometimes that can be about creating an audience that isn’t yet there, through education, retrospectives, and discussions; sometimes it’s about linking up with an audience that feels it isn’t welcome or represented, and working to include them. I’m wondering if the LLGFF has got a bit too confident of its curated audiences in both senses: the 2008 and 2009 festivals have both made money, so there’s no reason for the programmers not to feel confident. As part of a national institution, and as a commercial venture, the LLGFF is trapped into the vicious circle of justifying their programming of mainstream films with the fact that they attract big audiences.
It’s just that, as a longtime attendee, I feel slowly excluded: not middle-class enough, too interested in experimental cinema – too committed, perhaps, to a belief that queer cinema should queer cinema, not just repackage Hollywood conventions with gay faces. The prestige features this year were a yawnfest of bourgeois lives: global travel, adoption, house-buying, and did I mention gratuitous femicide in the Mortal Desires shorts programme? The festival is competing, now, with digital television movies-on-demand, LoveFilm rental, YouTube streaming and a million other globalized platforms, but its policy seems to be to replicate what’s available on those platforms, right down to its racism, to get bums on seats.

The films that don’t replicate this, the documentaries, instead repeat Bill Nichols’ famous formulation of documentary: me talking to you about them. A two-tier queerness was thus spectacularly on evidence in this year’s programming. Most, if not all, of the documentaries concerned subjects marginalised in terms of class and ethnicity. Some were made collaboratively in the communities documented, but still ended up as fodder for middle-class audiences getting their liberal kicks. Most docs are programmed in mid-week matinee slots, making it hard for them to reach audiences who don’t have flexible schedules and afternoon leisure (to say nothing of £7.60 for a film ticket).
So, entre nous, I feel like the festival’s got a lot of rethinking to do. While it protests that it remains different from Outfest by not having to satisfy corporate sponsors, its self-presentation is all Giorgio Armani toiletries (in the prize draw for the online audience survey) and not enough OutRage. Check the ident and poster for proof: a red curtain leading up to a closed door between windows where hazy figures can be seen drinking cocktails (the female figures in skirts with femme hair). That’s not a welcome to me: it’s a statement of exclusion. Note to the LLGFF: see the no-one standing outside by the barriers along the red carpet? That’s the audience you’re slowly alienating, the audience who won’t come back. Have fun on the inside with the martinis and beautiful people. Some of us think queer means not having to hang around wanting to join the club.

Sophie Mayer is a writer, editor and educator. Find out more at



At 2:13 PM, Anonymous CampbellX said...

Thank you for the most un ass-licking review I have seen of the LLGFF ever.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you spoke about the white bourgeois attitudes promoted by the programming at the festival.

When I programmed the festival with for two years with freelance programmers Jonathan Keane/Selina Robertson we ensured that there was inclusiveness by reaching out to small community groups and basing some of our programming around.

There seems to be a persistent hegemonic thinking in the contemporary LGBT world that we are all aspiring to live like in some glorified advert. Questioning these bourgeois capitalistic attitudes makes for uncomfortable discourses at the LLGFF.

I asked my MySpace friends if thy were going to the festival. They are mostly females of colour. They said no, cos they didn't feel at home and it wasn't relevant to them. I was shocked and had to reasses my own view about the "queer film world" I myself inhabit.

Finally we can't compare Outfest to the LLGFF. Outfest is a queer business run by queers for queers. The LLGFF is within a white straight institution that once a year has a LGBT programmers in to "curate" the film festival.


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