Scottish Queer International Film Festival 2018 preview

SQIFF returns in a new festive slot, bringing with it another playful, daring and provocative line-up of LGBTQIA films presented with all the love and care we’ve come to expect from this vital festival

Feature by Eleanor Capaldi | 03 Dec 2018

The Scottish Queer International Film Festival is back for its fourth edition, this time falling in December. This early Christmas present has a typically vibrant programme from the SQIFF team that promises to warm the heart and fire up the brain. Proceedings kick off on 5 December with a night of contemporary international LGBTQ+ shorts, all screening in Scotland for the first time. The headline film, VISIBLE, created by Campbell X (Stud Life) and Kayza Rose (Head of Media, UK Black Pride), will explore QTIPOC (Queer, Trans Intersex People of Colour) histories, and we’re promised it’ll offer a much-needed “challenge [to] mainstream perceptions and the sanitisation of legacies, celebrating complexity, multiplicity, myths, gossip, and legends.”

SQIFF say they want to focus more than ever on representing voices marginalised within film culture, and they’ve put their money where their mouth is this year, putting programming in the hands of talented guest curators bringing us under-represented stories. In partnership with Dardishi, the ‘zine and festival of Arab womxn’s art, Samar Ziadat takes the reigns of the strand Queer Arab Lives, which features films telling stories of the desires of genderqueer, trans and lesbian characters across Egypt and Lebanon. East Asian Focus, curated by Marc David Jacobs, includes Taiwanese feature Alifu the Prince/ss, about a trans woman in the indigenous Paiwan community, and The Story of the Stone, a queering of a tale from classical Chinese literature, updated and set in the middle of Taipei’s 21st century gay community.

Unlike many major festivals, accessibility is central to SQIFF, and it’s reflected both in delivery and content. The festival's sliding ticket scale returns having proven so successful last year, meaning that guests pay what they can afford, between £0 and £8. Subtitling is mandatory for every film, and BSL interpreters will be at hand (see the SQIFF programme for specific events). Discussions will tackle balancing aestheticism with access, while shorts series Deaf Perspectives returns, with Scottish filmmaker and vlogger Ross Wilcock presenting short films expanding on his own film, Online Dating with a Disability.

A queer film festival is a fitting place to question form and method. The ever-pervasive world of Virtual Reality finds a place in SQIFF’s programme, posing some inviting questions about the scope and role for VR in addressing marginalised experiences. In Walking:Holding, meanwhile, performance art and mobile technology converge in a collaborative documentary filmed entirely on mobile phones, weaving together a range of perspectives and experiences from across the country.

Laughing in the face of danger may be something the LGBTQIA community has learned by default, but it’s the ability to laugh at yourself that’s explored in Queer Film Network’s strand Gay as in Hysterically Funny. This is the section of the programme in which you’ll find closing film White Rabbit, about a Korean-born LA artist finding an unavoidable connection with a familiar stranger.

Lesbian experiences are the focus of double header, Dykes, Camera, Action! (Caroline Berler) and BOOM BUST. The first is an American documentary exploring contributions to lesbian filmmaking, featuring the lesbians we couldn’t have got here without, such as Rose Troche (Go Fish), Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), and film critic B. Ruby Rich, who coined the term New Queer Cinema in the early 1990s. The doc is a consolidation of lesbian film history with key figures interviewed who show us just how astonishing their achievements were, at a time when lesbians were largely ignored when not being shamed. Among those featuring in Dykes, Camera, Action! is Desiree Akhavan, who’s a more recent contributor to the L/B film canon with work like Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Akhavan praises the likes of High Art and even The L Word for fulfilling her basic need to see desires on screen that reflected what she was feeling.

BOOM BUST will be presented by poet, writer and activist So Mayer, whose work includes academic text Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema. Mayer tells us audiences will leave the event equipped for dismantling the cis male dominance of the film industry. “BOOM BUST is designed as a reminder that we’re not alone,” Mayer explains. “We have great queer/feminist film forebears and contemporaries to learn from and stand with, and their work can teach ours as activists and artists how to be both passionate and fun.”

If those ceilings are made of glass, that leaves some sharp shards to fall. Pioneers of feminist filmmaking were there early. “The mainstream film world has proto-feminists at its root, in terms of the women writers, performers and producers of Hollywood and British silent cinema,” says Mayer. But despite talent and content from female, lesbian and queer filmmakers that has been consistent and transformative, it’s been an ongoing fight for fairness. The dominant film culture was at best largely uninterested, and at worst, says Mayer, deeply harmful. “If the mainstream film world had paid any attention whatsoever to 40 years of feminist film theory and criticism – Laura Mulvey calling out the gendered sadism of film culture in 1975 – then the systemic abuse that’s being called the #MeToo moment or #TimesUp would have been addressed decades ago!”

Mayer suggests some reasons for the obstacles that have hampered feminist efforts to be connected to films linking early on “with American industrial capitalism and often to the military-industrial complex.” This battleground-inspired context, combined with a need for profit, meant and still means “that [the film industry] not only harbours, but depends on poor labour practices, including harassment and exclusion, at every level.” The galvanising prospect is that now, perhaps, more people are starting to pay attention.

In the face of the Hollywood quagmire still hiding many dispiriting secrets, Mayer offers ways in which we, the audience, can truly help. First, there’s “social media campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite or #femalefilmmakerfriday, which are viewer-led, are changing the industry.” Then, it’s a case of putting the phone down and getting to the cinema, if possible. “It’s crucial that there are huge audiences showing up for films such as Black Panther – but we also need audiences pulling for smaller films,” says Mayer. This is where support of the indie cinema – and a local festival like SQIFF – come into their own: they can be a stomping ground for the more diverse and lesser-heard stories. Mayer recommends asking your local indie cinema if they’re showing a film you’ve heard of and to say you’ll bring friends. If you saw a film by a female filmmaker that you loved, let them know so they’re encouraged to programme more. If your local cinema or film festival isn’t part of F-Rated (which awards “F” ratings to films directed and/or written by a woman), then encourage them to join up.

Relaxing into new found legal equalities is still a relative luxury, especially when the day-to-day lived experiences of LGBTQIA identified folk can be so various. Mayer remembers, as someone who came of age as a film viewer in the 1990s, having seen “a ‘wave’ of inclusive independent filmmaking in Hollywood, in Britain, globally, rise and – largely, except for the white cismen – die out, once before.

“Can the bold new cinema and film culture taking shape now sustain itself against the renewed (and well-funded) violence of the white right and its cinephile outriders? Festivals like SQIFF give me hope that it can.”

SQIFF, 5-9 Dec, CCA and other Glasgow venues. For full programme information and tickets, head to: