Queer Aye: Scottish Queer International Film Festival 2019

SQIFF turns five this month, with a zesty programme including a celebration of ballroom culture, films on Latinx legends and Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer. The festival's coordinator and co-founder, Helen Wright, tells us more

Feature by Eleanor Capaldi | 26 Sep 2019
  • Cassandro the Exotico!

The festival with the best acronym returns this October with a full enough programme to satisfy even the hungriest LGBTQ+ filmgoer. Scottish Queer International Film Festival, aka SQIFF, celebrates its fifth birthday with a flourish, culminating in a screening of Janelle Monáe’s visual album, Dirty Computer. For anyone who watched, impressed, as Monáe led a vagina dance through the desert in her video for the song PYNK, SQIFF understand. Partnering with We Are Parable and their season The Art of the Black Visual Album, Dirty Computer gives you the opportunity to get closer to the singer's creative mindset. Monae sets her music to a dystopian nightmare where she is subjected to having her memories removed – it so happens, these are mainly ones that involve her relationship with Zen (Tessa Thompson).

Dirty Computer will mark the finale of the biggest SQIFF yet. As festival co-ordinator Helen Wright explains: “We started off a four-day festival with about 35 events and are now a five-day festival with over 50 events.” Two staff have grown to 15, which sits alongside an expansion of ideas too. Wright continues: “We've really developed our access measures over the years, introducing pay what you can tickets, having a Quiet Space which people who get sensory overload can use during the fest, and honing the use of content notes.”

Fitting for a festival that puts queer audiences first, there is a wealth of diverse stories to choose from, with the hope that folk who don’t usually see themselves represented will feel encouraged to come along. One such example is Vision Portraits by Rodney Evans (in partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People). “I've become really invested and interested in disabled aesthetics in film and this is one of the most exciting examples of that we've had at the festival,” Wright elaborates.

Top picks also include a screening in partnership with LUX Scotland by guest curator Rabz Lansiquot, showing their own work and that of fellow artist Zinzi Minott, interrogating liberation versus representation in Black film. Plus, a strand focusing on Latinx Legends, featuring stunning documentaries about queer Latin American artists and activists. Films screening include Queen of Lapa about Luana Muniz, a trans sex worker and mentor to other trans women in Rio de Janeiro; Cassandro, the Exotico! about an incredible gay lucha libre wrestler in Mexico; and Lemebel about performance artist Pedro Lemebel, who was a force to be reckoned with during the period of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.

Taking place during Black History Month, SQIFF will screen films celebrating vogue and ballroom culture. Fabulous follows international legend Lasseindra Ninja as she returns to her home of Guyana to introduce voguing to its LGBTQ community while Father Figure follows Guilliano, founding father of The Kiki House of Angels, and his family as they share experiences of homophobia and racism in the Netherlands. The screening is curated and hosted by artist and researcher Claricia Parinussa, co-founder and organiser of Vogue Scotland. 

Parinussa explains why this is the time to screen both films: “This year both Guilliano and Lasseindra have been recognised for their work in the scene, Lasseindra being deemed Legendary and Guilliano now the first International Father of the House of Prodigy Dutch chapter (his house in the main scene, which runs parallel to the kiki scene). They are both people I hugely respect, who have done so much to build their communities, so I’m glad we get the chance to celebrate them.” In both films, “their stories come through very honestly and (I) felt it important to share these in Scotland where an understanding of the real culture and its roots in LGBTQ communities of colour is beginning to grow.”

With ballroom stories finding their feet increasingly in popular culture, this has seen an interest from new audiences, keen to try. But despite any commercialisation, Parinussa does feel, “the culture has a very strong core and this remains.”

The SQIFF bubble is a joyous place to be, reflecting a dynamic queer filmmaking scene. Wright says, “Things are really exciting and the sheer breadth, imagination and aesthetic experimentation out there is incredible, if harder to find out about for audiences.” The range of films SQIFF programmes is something the rest of the industry could learn from. While in their annual report, GLAAD found an increase of LGB representation in films from the seven major picture houses, from 12.8% in 2017 to 18.2% in 2018, there was no trans representation and a drop in representation of POC. “What SQIFF shows tends to be what is less supported and recognised by film industries,” Wright explains, “which in their capitalist outlooks obscure, reject and exploit many queer people.”

Over the years SQIFF has seen collaborations born, premieres given, parties thrown, and even Twitter fame, when a gay porn star who was a festival guest posted a pic of himself completely naked and “somewhat erect” wearing only his SQIFF festival pass. Ah, memories.

It’s also the type of festival where all of that can happen as well as the more affecting. “People have told us they haven't been able to attend a film festival until ours due to things like the pay what you can tickets and disabled access measures,” says Wright. “Young people have shared their experiences of being LGBTQ+ or even on one occasion come out for the first time during our schools' events.” Producing a festival is hard work and emotional pressure, but it’s things like that which make it feel worthwhile.

SQIFF has achieved a lot in these short years, and there’s still much more it can go on to do. If additional funding could be secured, the festival could then offer staff salaries, and provide more training, opportunities and prize money to “encourage more of the type of exciting filmmaking the industry ignores.” With more of that vital support, the possibilities are sky-high. “Oh and I'd like to start an online SQIFF player – like a queer Netflix,” says Wright. “Some of these goals may be more realistic than others!”

SQIFF takes place at the CCA and venues across Glasgow, 2-6 Oct