February 02, 2017

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It’s the weekend and usually, that means hanging out at the malls, pubs and restaurants. But maybe you want to do something different?

The ninth Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) starts today. If you’re looking for new experiences and perspectives, and a chance to immerse yourself in a possibly unfamiliar culture, this is the place to be.
While Bangalore has been hosting queer-themed film festivals from back in 2003, the BQFF came into being as a dedicated event because it seemed like the city lacked queer spaces as well as the chance to watch interesting queer cinema. Over time, showcasing films that are entirely outside the heterosexual norm, the BQFF has become that desired space - a time for queers and film enthusiasts to come together (whether it’s to chat and catch up or just to experience what’s on offer), and a place to communicate their politics.

BQFF 2017 Each year sees 1,000-1,500 visitors.
Photo Credit: Zubair Khan
BQFF 2017 The organisers and their friends - the driving force behind the BQFF.
After so many years, you have to wonder what’s changed. Contemplating just that, Poorva Rajaram, Co-organiser of the BQFF, said: “Quite a bit actually; the simplest and most important change is that we now have more Indian films to choose from! In the first few years, it used to be such a struggle to find Indian, especially South Indian films, with queer themes. In these nine years, film distribution has also changed and become more professional; this has been a boon for big film festivals with government sponsorship, like Goa and Kerala, but it makes it harder for community-funded festivals like ours to get the biggest films of the year. In BQFF, we’re interested in non-formal cinema - whether it’s independent, experimental, digital, or amateur - so we don’t mind that we can’t pay to screen big Hollywood releases; it increases the variety and edginess of our films.”

BQFF 2017 Some of the selections in previous editions
Photo Credit: Zubair Khan
It’s not just Indian films being screened though; so, with literally the world to choose from, what qualifies a film to be included in this festival? It’s not an easy decision...the organisers look for balance between Indian and non-Indian films; Indian and South Indian films; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender films; documentaries, shorts and features; and experimental and mainstream films.

There’s a trap to avoid falling into at the time of selection however; “one thing all queer film festivals have to be careful about is calling a festival queer or LGBT, but only screening films about gay men. This tends to happen because gay men have relatively better cultural access than lesbians, bisexuals and trans people,” says Rajaram.
They say art reflects life...so, does this art reflect life as it is for the queer community? “That’s a tough question. One thing you’ll notice if you spend a lot of time at a queer film festival is that directors of queer films are often not queer. But I don’t know if we can simply say that if you are queer, your film will be an authentic representation of queer life and if you aren’t, it won’t be; everything we’ve seen over the years has disproved that. Instead, I find that a film festival like ours forces us to ask questions like who and what is the queer community? How do class, caste and gender actually fracture the idea of a homogenous community? Are those internal differences what fuel new forms of art? What does activism refuse to talk about? Who uses the voices of the less privileged to get ahead? If these questions are asked, I can safely say our job as organisers has been done,” concluded Rajaram.

This year’s edition will see 55 films from 21 countries hosted at the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan on Feb 24 and the Alliance Française de Bangalore on Feb 25 and 26. Some great pieces to catch today are the single-channel/installation works by revered video artist, writer and theorist Richard Fung (Sea in the Blood, Steam Clean, School Fag and Islands), Kivini Shohe's Oh my Soul, Stephan Lacant's Freier Fall (Free Fall), Prithvi Konanur's Railway Children and Natasha Mendonca's Ajeeb Aashiq (Strange Love). Check out the complete event schedule here.

Text by Rachel George