Community and Collectivity: The Scottish Queer International Film Festival

Published

Sajid Chowdhury
Writer

SQIFF

The fifth Scottish Queer International Film Festival took place from 2 – 6 October, featuring a myriad of filmmakers with different experiences and from different backgrounds and representing queer voices from all over the world. At the heart of it all was one message: Community and Collectivity.

Not only did it feature a variety of fantastic films but the atmosphere of the festival itself was ethereal, a unique and wonderful feeling that one could only experience by being there.

It was also amazing how accessible all aspects of the festival were. All films had subtitles, there were BSL interpreters for announcements, and content warnings for anyone wanting to avoid particularly unpleasant scenes. There was also a quiet room available to everyone.

The events I attended consisted of very different but equally fascinating films; 6 shorts followed by 3 feature-length films.

Bodies like Oceans (dir. Kat Cory)

This short addressed fatphobia and followed a photographer who takes pictures of people who are fat, but out of societal context. There are extended segments in the films of these beautiful photos and some videos, accompanied by ambient music, which made for an utterly immersive experience, and showing how perspective can be gained by looking at things without a set societal lens. It also powerfully displayed the sense of family and acceptance everyone feels by making and becoming art together.

Adam and the Alphas (dir. Stuart Thomas Graham)

Adam, a gay rugby player, talks about how difficult it is to fit into the hyper-masculine lad culture surrounding rugby which made him decide to start his own rugby team – the Glasgow Alphas – with other queer men. Here no one feels the need or pressure to conform and everybody can be their true selves.

This film shows the magic of support networks, especially when they’re tied to things that we love to do but often find intimidating due to the toxic cultures surrounding them.

I AM! We Are Here! (dir. Seyi Adebanjo)

This short explored the inspiring stories of members of the black and queer community in The Bronx, New York. They talk about how proud they are of being queer and the joy it brings them, the things they have faced and how, despite it all, they’ve remained strong. Beyoncé’s Formation is very fittingly used as the soundtrack.

Unspoken (dir. Patrick G. Lee)

This film creates awareness of the unique predicaments and suffering faced by people who are queer and Asian. They read out letters written to their parents about accepting themselves when those parents never have. It’s agonizing when their families, who in some cases are their only support network, do not have the capability of understanding or accepting who they are. Because English isn’t their parents’ first language, they lack the shared vocabulary to express their feelings clearly with their children, a frustration the film brings to the fore. They become angry at their parents for caring more about their reputation than about their child’s mental health, but are understanding of the circumstances which made them this way. Some of them talk about the feeling of guilt from knowing their immigrant parents have worked so hard and they now feel they’re doing them wrong.

More than anything else this film highlights the great strength in being happy with your identity, even when it is so difficult to do so.

We Are Here (dir. Ellie Hodgetts)

In this short documentary we follow an activist group called the Sisters For Perpetual Indulgence who dress up flamboyantly in order to loudly and proudly denounce homophobia and transphobia. Their movement aims to let queer people around them know that they are loved and that they always have a community to lean on for support no matter what. One of the sisters says the reason they’re so conspicuous is that it makes queer people around them think “if they can get away with that, I can get away with being myself.”

Button OUT! (dir. Kathleen Mullen)

This is a very fun little short that just features pictures of badges that relate to pride and activism.

Birds of the Borderlands (dir. Jordan Bryon)

This documentary feature unexpectedly left me shaken to my core.

Genderqueer filmmaker Jordan brings to light the struggles of Jordanian Muslims who are queer and how for them getting through each day is so difficult.

We meet Hiba, a transitioning trans girl who belongs to a Bedouin family. She meticulously keeps her transition a secret until is able to escape, because her family would severely punish, or even kill her if they found out. Youssef is another gay man who has had to escape from family and stays with Jordan during the film, he is waiting for the UNHCR to respond to his application to resettle to a different country where he will not be under threat from his family or persecuted for being gay.

We go on a harrowing journey with all of them and see them have the strength to hope, despite nothing working their way. We see the conflict within themselves of having an identity that is at odds with their surroundings.

Jordan tries to create a support network for the people in the film and we are shown how everyone tries their best to help each other out. In taking part, they were afraid this film would cause them to be further persecuted, but felt that these stories need to be told through film.

A Girl’s Band (dir. Marilina Giménez)

This film is a statement of protest against sexism, misogyny and gender-related murder in Argentina. We follow all-girl bands who use music to spread feminism, break down stereotypes and communicate with each other to create feelings of love and empowerment between them.

They discuss sexism in the music industry. Most producers are men who don’t listen to them, and then, even when they do get played, they don’t get enough recognition. Empowered women are not respected and playing on stage, for them, is like going to war.

The bands play some great music, often putting creative spins on genres, and we’re invited to lose ourselves in their world of art and activism.

Transfinite (dir. Neelu Bhuman)

Transfinite is a piece about the infinite kinds of emotions, love, and power that can be felt by a finite spectrum of people who are queer and have often had to suppress their true selves. The film Transfinite gives them supernatural powers to make up for the power that society often takes from them. It says you should unapologetically be yourself because those powers exist within you.

I do not have words to describe how immersive the film is. It is surreal and made with beautiful visuals.

My experience during these few days has been enlightening; I have learnt and felt so much. It has reinforced my belief that some stories can only be told through cinema. So please support queer filmmakers by watching their films, it is often very difficult for them to get funding for their projects because many of them do not want to make commercial films but instead make films solely to create awareness and for artistic expression. Mainstream cinema isn’t representative enough, and it’s about time everyone found out how breathtaking these lesser-known films can be.