Thursday, February 23, 2012

Freedom of Viewing: Asian Film Festivals

          Films are indicative of everyday life and tend to depict different circumstances that people experience. In Asian culture, films are becoming a crucial aspect in the LGBTQ community. These movies eventually make way to larger film festivals that are devoted to LGBTQ media. Such film festivals are nationwide and overseas, which include the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF), Beijing Queer Film Festival, and Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (HKLGFF). In this blog post, I analyze the factors that are incorporated into running an Asian and LGBTQ-based film festival and evaluate the type of LGBTQ films that win admiration among audiences and voters. Government restriction, cultural taboo, and lack of queer films are issues that complicate the coordination of Asian film festivals.

         Films play a significant role in culture and media construction as a guide to how people should think about and react to situations. Film festivals further promote these movies to a larger crowd, even trying to outreach to the heteronormative audience. However, in the article “The challenges of running an Asian lgbt film festival,” the Hong Kong reporter Tony Ed Lo explains why Asian LGBTQ film festivals are difficult to run. Because of government disapproval and sometimes harassment, the organizers cannot promote their LGBTQ film festivals through mainstream media. The festival organizers in Asia have to find ways to pitch the event out to the population and often times can only do so through Twitter or their websites.The events themselves tend to be low-key and are often at venues that do not attract thousands of people in attempt to avoid government intervention. In Theo Van Der Meer's article “Gay Bashing: A Rite of Passage?,” he notes that “with the increased visibility of homosexuals in the last decades, homosexuality has become less and less something only concerning homosexuals themselves” (p 66). This is also true in the management of Asian LGBTQ film festivals because of government control, required euphemisms, and even death threats targeted at festival organizers. Euphemisms that are employed, for instance, include the actual names of the festivals. In Beijing, the LGBTQ film festival used to be called the “Tongzhi Film Festival.” Tongzhi stands for “comrade,” but is understood as a term for homosexual partners. Today, the name of this festival is called “Beijing Queer Film Festival” because the Chinese are unfamiliar with the term “queer.” Clearly, euphemisms are used due to a cultural taboo still present in Chinese society.

         Movies have the power to motivate, sadden, or calm and overall evoke deep emotions within the audience. Especially in the LGBTQ community, films provide a sense of belonging through the portrayal of real-life experiences. As a result of minimal Asian LGBTQ movies, these film festivals face the problem of even having movies to show, which contribute to the hardship of coordinating a film festival in the first place. Also, Asian LGBTQ viewers embrace existing LGBTQ films due to the scarcity of them. At the most recent SDAFF, three LGBTQ movies won awards. One of which was “In the Family,” directed by Patrick Wang. “In the Family” is about an Asian man's struggle to win custody over his partner's son after his partner dies. His partner was a Caucasian male who comes from a traditional Southern family. In a YouTube video titled “SDAFF 12 – In The Family Q&A Recap,” viewers in the audience were interviewed after seeing the film, and they were touched by the storyline. Based on the audience's reactions, it is apparent that real struggles of LGBTQ individuals portrayed in films seem to capture the audience's attention and genuine emotional responses. Another film that won an award was “The Lulu Sessions” directed by S. Casper Wong; the plot is about a cancer patient who spends her last days with her female lover. These heartfelt films not only include everyday battles, they incorporate the specific issues that LGBTQ individuals face.

         In Barbara Smith's “Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?,” she points out that “there are numerous reasons for otherwise sensitive people's reluctance to confront homophobia in themselves and others … people are generally threatened about issues of sexuality and … the mere existence of homosexuals calls their sexuality/heterosexuality into question.” LGBTQ films and film festivals, in particular for the Asian community, provide a sense of reassurance and a haven for LGBTQ people. They experience acceptance instead of homophobia and can be more outspoken about their sexualities. In a way, Asian LGBTQ audiences have a personal connection to LGBTQ films more so than the ordinary action movies or heterosexual romantic dramas. They have the opportunity to voice their opinions in the media that represent them, such as these film festivals. The existence of film festivals is a huge step in tackling homophobia, and it paves the way for more LGBTQ films to develop in not only the Asian community but in other ethnic communities as well.

By Judy Phung

Works Cited

Link to YouTube video:

Lo, Tony Ed. “The challenges of running an Asian lgbt film festival.” Fridae, Empowering Gay Asia. 6 Dec 2012. Web, 22 Feb 2012. asian-lgbt-film-festival

Meer, Theo Van Der. “Gay Bashing – A Rite of Passage?” In Culture, Health, and Sexuality, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 153-165.

Smith, Barbara. “Homophobia, Why Bring It Up?” From The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed Henry Ablelove et. al. New York & London: Routledge, 1993.

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