Gay film festival shines with diversity

Diversity isn’t a problem at the Making Scenes film festival — it’s a bonus, writes Sally Goldberg.

At first glance, the gay and lesbian community appears to be building its own Tower of Babel.
There are transexuals and bisexuals. There are sadomasochistic lesbians, homosexual couples with families, and confused teenagers, to name a few. They’re all under the same umbrella, all trying to have their voices heard.

This is the environment in which Making Scenes, Ottawa’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered film and video festival, finds itself. It will showcase films and videos from around the world from Sept. 17 to Sept. 26 at the World Exchange Plaza and the National Gallery of Canada.

This year for the first time in its seven-year history, it will include transgendered and bisexual subjects as well as films about gays and lesbians. The festival has been extended, from six to eight days, to accommodate these voices.

Another type of film that would not have been included a few years ago is Party Monster. It is a dark and sinister documentary about a homosexual man who moves to New York and ends up committing murder. Three years ago, the festival board decided to remove the word “positive” from their mandate, changing it to “providing images of gays and lesbians.” Party Monster, is now equally welcome.

“Not everything is nice, beautiful, and perfect. We are human beings and must not try and hide,” says José Sánchez, a member of the screening committee for Making Scenes.

“We have a little bit of everything,” says Donna Quince, the festival director. “On opening night, you’ll be laughing so hard your face will hurt. But then later, we have films like Party Monster. There are just so many different types of films being made.”

The screening committee viewed hundreds of films this year. Only about 80 of these films will be shown to an anticipated audience of 4,000.

The diverse nature of the festival makes it harder to define. Is its purpose to promote gay and lesbian rights, to educate the general public, or should it try and shock its audience to promote acceptance? Quince says the festival should do all these things.

“The audience is mostly made up of our community, although we encourage people to bring their straight friends. However, these films are chosen so that we [the gay and lesbian community] can learn about ourselves,” explains Quince.

Mainstream television shows and films rarely consider this diversity. There are the Ellens who fit in the mainstream, and the Robin Williams and Nathan Lane type of characters in The Birdcage, preening and fluffing up old stereotypes for a laugh. Independent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered film makers and much of that community, crave more dynamic images of themselves.

“People in this community want to see themselves reflected on the screen, and they can’t anywhere else,” says Laura Marks, a film professor at Carleton University. “As long as people are struggling for identity, this type of festival will exist.”

As more voices struggle to be heard, the search for identity within this community is becoming more complex and the need for the festival persists.

At the City of Ottawa, a jury decided to give the festival $4,000 this year, 4.8 per cent of the festival’s total budget. Cathy Shepertycki, the cultural consultant at the City of Ottawa, says community impact is the most important criteria for funding a cultural event. Although the amount may be insignificant, the question of community impact is not.

The Ottawa community as a whole may be baffled by this festival. A heterosexual audience could feel bombarded by so many different, and at times disturbing images. It might leave with less of an understanding of the gay and lesbian community. But this is not the audience for this festival.
The impact on the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community is more significant.
Where it would appear that more voices would simply dilute any sense of a common bond, just the opposite is true for this community that is defined by its heterogeneity.

It is a chance to restate their commitment to the celebration of diversity within the community.
Like the pride flag, on which all colours of the rainbow are present, this community is marked by its differences.