The annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival is happening at theatres around the city from August 15 – 25. Now in its 31st year, the 2019 festival’s theme of “See for yourself” is an open invitation and a challenge to everyone – regardless of gender identity, orientation or experience – to get out of their comfort zone and into a theatre.
We recently spoke with the festival’s Artistic Director, Anoushka Ratnarajah, who provided us with some extra inspiration and more than a few recommendations. Read on and then grab your tickets here.
Why is it important for specifically Queer festivals like this to continue to exist? It’s incredibly important for queer people to continue to have spaces to gather, especially in Vancouver where gentrification and the rising costs of venue rental has meant that queer run spaces are quickly disappearing. Vancouver, for all it’s purporting to be an accessible and world class city, has incredible barriers to queer and arts organizing. There’s also an unfortunate tide of homophobia, transphobia, racism and xenophobia not only in our city, but rising across the country. Our Festival and other queer arts events are an opportunity for us to come together in safer spaces to celebrate and commune.
What power, if any, do you think that film possesses these days? What personally motivates you to get out of the house and see a film in a theatre these days? The form itself is designed to have an almost overwhelming sensory and emotional impact – seeing a film the way it is meant to be seen, in the theatre on the scale dreamed by the filmmakers, can be an ecstatic collective experience, of laughter or outrage or tears, and a view into a fully realized world. I also want my dollars to speak back to the industry. Film, like much of the arts, is still often driven to change through money, so the opportunity to show that there is a demand even from me as one little audience member to see more representative and diverse story lines from filmmakers who have been historically underrepresented in the industry, is an important opportunity.
As a filmmaker, what elements do you most admire in other filmmaker’s works? What impresses you in a film? I’ve worked on film projects but I don’t really consider myself a filmmaker– more a curator. But in my limited experience shooting and producing, I really admire filmmakers who embrace subtlety; filmmakers who can do a lot with a limited budget and time; filmmakers who take aesthetic and narrative risks; filmmakers who tell stories that have been pushed aside for generations, stories that need to be told. Art is not an easy path to choose for your career, especially film. It’s an industry that can be incredibly inaccessible to marginalized creators. Filmmakers who stay true to their artistic vision and tell stories that disrupt dominant narratives that don’t represent that nuance and complexity of their lived experiences will always take priority in my programming.
“Queer stories are human stories, and we all become better people when we form an empathetic connection with someone with whom we don’t necessarily share direct life experiences.”
What has been your most rewarding experience in your role at the VQFF so far? I’m so privileged to work for an organization where I can program work that is daring, nuanced and political. I’m also really lucky that I get to spend eleven days each August with the incredible queer folks who come to our festival. I get to work with a dedicated team of people who empower others to live complex truths and who also believe in the power of art to create change. Most of all, I am grateful that I get to meet and uplift the work of brilliant, inspirational queer artists.
What can people who are outside of the Queer community get from the festival? For those who have never attended a VQFF before, what do you recommend as an introduction? People outside of the queer community can get so much from our festival! I often like to use my parents as an example; they started coming to the festival because of my involvement, but now they look forward to coming every year. Neither of them are queer, but they get so much out of the art they experience when they come to the festival. If you love film and performance, you’re going to get to witness stories you won’t be able to see at any other film or art festival in this city. Although our programming centers queer artists, you don’t have to be queer to identify with the struggles and triumphs of the protagonists of our festival- queer stories are human stories, and we all become better people when we form an empathetic connection with someone with whom we don’t necessarily share direct life experiences.
What current voices, issues and/or themes in particular did you seek to represent in this year’s festival? What themes or new ideas/voices are you most excited to have represented in this year’s festival? I always seek to program with the ethos of prioritizing narratives that have historically been silenced and underrepresented in film generally and queer film specifically. For me, this means featuring films that have marginalized queer and trans people in front of and behind the camera. It is just as important for marginalized people to be empowered to be the ones telling their stories, not just acting as vessels for a narrative written and envisioned by people who don’t have those same lived experiences. When I program, I try to make sure I research into the process that went into making the films, to see whether they are made either by filmmakers who share the identities of the characters onscreen, or in genuine collaboration with those communities.
This year we have two films that document the stories of young intersex people, which I’m definitely excited to share with audiences. Intersex folks are very underrepresented in queer communities and in queer story telling. “No Box For Me: An Intersex Story”, is a documentary from France that tells the story of two young people, M and Deborah, as they seek to reclaim their bodies and stand firm in their identities, revealing the limits and cruelty of the hegemonic binary definitions of sex and gender; and the short documentary “A Normal Girl” which follows intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis who takes us on their journey to advocate for an end to intersex surgeries and the right for bodily autonomy for intersex people. These films play in a program on August 18th at 2pm at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
As always, our Festival has a responsibility to centre the voices of two-spirit and Indigenous queer artists, given that we operate on unceded Coast Salish territories. This year we have some exemplary 2S programming featuring some incredible filmmakers and interdisciplinary artists. Justin Ducharme (Metis), our Festival Program Coordinator, has put together a gorgeous interdisciplinary spotlight that highlights artistic work from Indigenous folks from Turtle Island, Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand). all our relations: explorations of indigiqueer kinship is a short film program (August 23, 7pm, The York Theatre) invites audiences into the nuances of what chosen family means to 2S/ Indigiqueer people. Black Divaz (August 18th, 9pm, International Village Cinemas) follows the contestants of the inaugural Miss First Nations pageant in Australia. And an evening of queer indigenous performance (August 24, 7pm, SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts) features the work of Anthony Hudson (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) and Beric Manywounds (Tsuutina Nation of Treaty 7), both whom explore the complexities of identity and representation through film and performance.
After seeing the International submissions, what has been the most enlightening or unexpected thing that you have discovered about other queer communities and/or experiences abroad? A great number of our films come from non-western nations or diaspora who have migrated from their homelands. Queer film comes from all over the world, and no matter where we are or where we come from, we share many of the same stories. We’re all looking for belonging, for love and connection. The challenges and lived experiences of queers around the world are obviously particular, and in some places it is more dangerous to be queer/trans/gender non-conforming than others. But no matter their location, the queer protagonists in our international programming are resilient and remain openhearted and hopeful, even in the face of isolation and sometimes physical danger. I think audiences will be inspired by the courageous vulnerability in our international films, and most importantly, reminded how privileged we are to live in a place where it is relatively safe to be out as queer, and that our rights our not guaranteed without continued advocacy.
If Vancouver viewers take away just one thing from this year’s festival, what would you like for that to be? To see something different and challenging– to go to a film you would not usually see and leave the theatre changed.