Friday, June 8, 2012

Queer City Cinema screening, 2012

On June 7, the 9th Queer City Cinema festival opened in Regina. Run every two years, this festival was created by curator Gary Varro and is named after this city's nickname, "the Queen City". This year's events take place at Neutral Ground, an artist-run centre art gallery in the heart of downtown. These are some of my observations on the dozen videos shown in the first screening on  opening night.

Tashina by Caroline Monnet contained many strong visuals. She juxtaposed the rigid domineering man-made structures such as escalators, bridges, rows of book shelves, and hallways filled with pipes against less dominant background scenery; water and snow.  The story, told in voice over, discusses home as a place of sanity, and the journey away from it is punctuated by foreboding music.  Education is not an end but a means to bring an end to the poverty stricken reserve life. A phone call to her grandfather, ending in a disconnect, is a perfect metaphor for the frustration and anxiety of her urban transition.

Kyisha Williams video Red Lips mixes straight forward interviews with a number of women, each audibly identifying themselves as black and queer (along with other individual specifics) with text and extreme close ups of red lips which act as the narrator. Stories revolve around unfair incarceration of black or aboriginal women and declarations of the oppressive nature of the prison institution. The close up lips simultaneously fragment/dehumanize the body while making the voice universal, individual, and specific.

"You're just not what we were looking for" is a repeated sentiment in How to Stop a Revolution by Kenji Tokawa. Again, fragmentation seemed a dominant motif as bits of story are either told in voice over or demonstrated in re-enactments.  With each story interrupted and left incomplete, the  overall sense of her universe is one of animosity or indifference. When she finally declares that "The walls are crumbling in" we share the feeling of being an outsider, of the world simply not being big enough to fit everyone's individuality into.

The Dance by Bandit Queen was the only example in this screening of what was once a dominant trope at queer festivals, the graphic and often violent depiction of sex. These re-enactments of Afghan prison camps are chilling, not so much from their realism but for the symbolic absence of identity of the aggressors. Even the camera sits alone on a chair, having no witness to hold their eye to it.  

Filmmaker and artist Allyson Mitchell is the subject of Lesley Loksi Chan and Dilia Narduzzi's video Making Ladies. While this is basically a traditional documentary format program (interview with b-roll of the artwork being discussed), the subject matter was highly engaging, thought provoking, and humorous. Mitchell is passionate and articulate as she discusses her views on the need for her sensual nine foot high lesbian sasquatches to attract and confront the viewer, her championing of the honor of (feminine) craft in a world which prioritizes (masculine) Art. and her interest in the emotions imbued into hand-made objects which she reuses in her work.

Candy Fox, a local film student, was in attendance with her first festival entry, Being Two Spirited. It features interviews with a number of people discussing their childhoods and coming to discover their strengths of being two spirited. It is a call to all of them to take on the obligations this brings, to be proud, to be leaders. Fox answered questions about her video, describing it as being motivated by her desire to answer questions she posed to herself about her culture, her identity, and her past. Discussion after the screening was enthusiastic, focussing primarily on the many connotations of being "two spirited".

Seeking Single White Male by Vivek Shraya is a visually interesting study of the self identity as oversized text questions and criticizes the various photos of the filmmaker as changing hair, lighting, and makeup alters who he seems to be to an outsider's eyes. This is certainly a question for everyone today as our image to the outside world shrinks to a one inch frame on your social media page.

Farrah Khan uses pixelation to create a frenetic and comical journey in her video Cab Ride. The mixture of approaches, animation, live action (feet washing) and voice over text evokes the early works of Ann Marie Fleming as Khan weaves a tale about being questioned by a traditional Pakistani driver about her views on arranged marriage (to which she relies that she" believes in love").  The most touching moment comes at the end when she is  finally free of the cab driver's interrogation with her sexuality and true opinions remaining safely guarded.  The image of the  animated moss and paper cab is obliterated by hands filled with turmeric which stain the tabletop and leaving a stronger signifier of her heritage than the one she was trying to erase. Only then does she reveal to us the true trouble in her heart; "I know being a lesbian is not a sin. I'm just a Muslim daughter who wishes her father would call".

Mary by Kent Monkman is a meticulously created film which features an evocatively dressed First Nations man in a sexy red dress and high heels. As he approaches and removes the shoe and sock from a wealthy white man, text panels question a forgotten promise. When finally the mascara tears run onto the man's foot, a final didactic spells out the metaphor, of the miscommunication of the treaties and the difficulties of the Indian Act. With such precision of lighting and design, the margin between love and fear seemed microscopic.  

Don't Ask Don't Tell GAY GAY GAY by Dayna McLeod is one of those videos where the idea and description (all the gay references in an episode of Boston Legal are extracted and cut together rapidly) is inadequate to express the savage humour, energy, and ridiculousness of this very short work.

Tina Takemoto's video Looking for Jiro  begins as a story about a man locked up during the internment of Japanese people in America in the 1940s but slowly creeps into being a performance. The white clad man, superimposed atop images of these camps or by early cinema images of body builders, is simply sweeping at first but eventually he begins to sculpt muscular arms for himself. In the end, the camp is not the prison, it is his desires and unachievable goals which keep him oppressed.

Last Kiss by Charles Lum is a study of graffiti on a memorial  for Oscar Wilde. As a bearded  man kisses the marble, we are told that the object will be covered with glass and will, therefore, be untouchable in the future.  Flashes of pop culture, including Wonder Woman, flash past at the midpoint, suggesting the far reaching impact of Wilde on who we all are today. History will now be guarded, safe and dead.

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