You guys, the south of India is the place to be right now. No, not because of ‘Kabali’ fever.
For the next three days, Madras pattanam will, once again, play host to Reel Desires: Chennai International Queer Film Festival, 2016, documenting issues on gender and sexuality in India through feature films, short films and documentaries.
This is not something new, just an annual repetition of a fabulous tradition. In fact, Chennai has seen LGBTQ film festivals and screenings since 2004, hosted either independently or in association with numerous local NGOs and support groups. The current form has been a thing since 2013 when Orinam, a local LGBT Support Group in Chennai, joined hands with Goethe-Institut and other groups and collectives.
“Cinema affects the way we live. In fact, our culture of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia is derived primarily from movies,” says Felix, who has been working with Orinam since 2005, “And mainstream media has played a huge role in propagating so much of it.”
The festival has explored a wide range of issues selected as ‘focus areas’ over the years. This has included stigma-free inclusion of LGBTQ people in families and institutions, issues of non-binary genders, fluid sexual identities and intersectionality between concerns of sexuality and other forms of marginalisation (eg. caste, class, gender, religion etc.)
However, this year too aims to make a mark through the theme of ‘transcending boundaries’ by diving deep into issues of queerness and sex-work, and inter-cultural queer/trans relationships. This is in addition to giving a platform for queer cinema from other South Asian countries and underrepresented parts of India.
When asked about the importance of queer cinema, Felix had this to say: “Queer cinema will be able to share positive changes to the queer movement as a whole. The fact that we exist while reminding people that our portrayals aren’t accurate and undoing a lot of the damage that is already out there are our contributions.”
Moreover, the importance of queer film festivals cannot be overstated as it provides an avenue for expression especially for queer filmmakers, while for non-queer filmmakers, making such cinema provides a journey in itself as it gives opportunities to learn through filmmaking. “If more non-queer people get a little educated on the misconceptions that they hold, that would be a good achievement for the festival.”
While film festivals are great for all these reasons, they are generally considered to be an elitist space. “The Indian queer movement is not an exception to issues of class,” says Felix, “However, we are stronger together when we fight as a community, rather than each individual fighting their own battles. Therefore it becomes useful when the marginalised come together to achieve a set of goals while exploring intersectionality.”
By including subtitles, perhaps seen as a small step but a consequential one at that, attempts are being made to make film festivals more inclusive.
A few films to look out for include ‘Breaking Free‘ and ‘Any Other Day.’ While the former is a documentary and the latter is a short film, both aim to show the impact of Section 377 in queer lives. But the highlight of this year’s film festival will be the screening of the critically acclaimed drama, ‘Aligarh.’
“The movie does not really fit our overall theme but it is valid of our context keeping in mind the reversal of the High Court’s ruling on Section 377 by the Supreme Court in 2013 and the curative petition that was recently filed. When a professor is forced to commit suicide, screening this movie makes our point stronger.”
As is the case with every edition of this film festival, there is an accompanying panel discussion, which provides opportunities for people to discuss films that have been screened, raising questions regarding the topic, thereby giving way for the ‘logical aspect’ of watching a movie. This year, it’s the burning issue of gender and sexuality-based violence.
The Chennai International Queer Film Festival is on from 29th to 31st July, at Goethe-Institut Chennai.
Featured image courtesy of CIQFF/Facebook.