Something that was virtually an underground movement barely thirty years ago is now a reality: many gay and lesbian festivals form an integral part of today’s cinematographic landscape, often hosted by independent cinemas, notably those in the Europa Cinemas network.
As for the international festivals, for the past two decades the Berlinale has awarded the Teddy Bear to an LGBT-themed film whilst, three years ago, the Venice Film Festival created the Queer Lion award.
Since 2000, more than ten specialist festivals have emerged. The Europa Cinemas film theatres, which organise these festivals, thus provide social debates with a proper area to develop and flourish.
Read also : gay and lesbian cinema, a reflection of changes in society
Present today in nearly every country in Europe, gay and lesbian festivals underwent an explosion in the 1980s, accompanying the easing of attitudes.
At the end of the 1970s, at a time when it is difficult for them to be seen living as a couple, homosexuals organise special screenings, often followed by debates. The first festival in Europe, a clear manifesto against all forms of isolation suffered by homosexuals, takes place in 1977 in the Olympic cinema in Paris. With audiences in excess of 5,000 people, this first staging of the event is a success, a fact noted at the time by the daily newspaper Libération. The cancellation of the festival the following year, due to be held in La Pagode, however, highlights the tensions felt in French society in relation to this topic. In France, we will have to wait until the 1990s to see more regular events such as the Paris International Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival or the Paris Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
In the mid-1980s, it is the turn of other European countries to pick up where France left off. And so the first festivals, like the ones in Turin (From Sodom to Hollywood), London (Lesbian and Gay Film Festival), Ljubljana (Ljubljana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival) and Brussels (Belgium Gay and Lesbian Festival), become established in 1985 and 1986.
Numerous festivals have been organised ever since, hosted by network film theatres increasingly invested with these aesthetic and social issues. And so, last year in Toulouse, the ABC and Utopia Latin cinemas (network members) hosted the city’s first gay and lesbian film festival. In Paris, the Archipel, also a network member, which staged the first transgender festival – Festival identiT. In Denmark (Gloria Biograf, in Copenhagen), in Austria (Filmcasino, Vienna), in Finland (Niagara, Tampere), in Norway (Vika Kino, Oslo), in Ireland (Light House Cinema, Dublin), in Germany (City Kinos, Munich), in Switzerland (Arthouse Le Paris, Arthouse Movie, Zurich), in the United Kingdom (BFI Southbank, London), and finally in the Czech Republic or in Slovakia (see below), festivals bear testament to the importance of gay and lesbian cinema today.
In total, there are at least thirteen gay and lesbian festivals in France and ten in Spain!
Combining meetings, debates, retrospectives, in the image of Queer Up North in Manchester, these festivals frequently demonstrate creativity and dynamism. The latter, the first international queer festival, hosted by network member The Cornerhouse, presents an original programme in this style combining all forms of art.
“Original cinematographic gatherings on one topic related to homosexuality”
As Antoine Blanchard, president of the Saint-Etienne gay and lesbian festival, which is organised in partnership with cinema Le France, explained to us, gay and lesbian festivals aim at the widest possible audiences despite their targeted programming. Yves Bourgeay, who runs the cinema, adds that with the festival it is a question of championing “the cinematographic and social minorities”. Of course, programming a festival film at the same time as a children’s show in another film theatre is not without its problems (!). But since Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, US) the festival programmes, more readily, films of a homosexual nature, which can be aimed at a wider audience. The festival now offers meetings with students and there are films with no entry restrictions (Tu n’aimeras point, Haim Tabakman, IL, Country Teacher, Bohdan Sláma, CZ). Marginal films tackling harder or more specific issues are screened on DVD. Responsive audiences in this area are rising every year.
According to Antoine Blanchard, these events, “original cinematographic gatherings on one topic related to homosexuality”, definitely no longer aim, as they once did, to “go beyond the alienation, build a culture and think along political lines”. But the increased number of festivals since the year 2000 – no fewer than 8 new festivals in France – bears testament to their current role in social dialogue, at precisely the time when the legislative framework is changing. As expressed by the organisers of the Toulouse festival, “we still have a long way to go before the rights of homosexuals are recognised”.
“Straights and gays and lesbians come along to be part of a challenging screening event”
This is the same kind of demand, which prompted Aleš Rumpel and his team to set up the gay and lesbian festival Mezipatra in the Czech Republic ten years ago. As he explains to us, “everyone needs to be able to see a reflection of themselves in an artistic representation. It is entirely correct, particularly when you grow up in a universe where the codes and representations are uniformly heterosexual, to maintain a space that enables freedom of expression and fulfilment – for all.”
This festival lives up to its name then since Mezipatra translates as “mezzanine” in Czech. Between two levels … between two, leaving a choice.
This festival therefore likes to think it is free and open: “The festival is primarily a cultural event. Our audience is mixed - straights and gays and lesbians come along to be part of a challenging, rich and diversified screening event” from many European countries. Every year, a theme is chosen, the common theme linking the screenings and organised debates. For 2009, from 23 October until 8 November, the festival will tackle “the issues of gender” and reconsider “the often preconceived and normative ideas of what must constitute being a man or a woman”.
With around one hundred films, and a host of partners and invited guests, this festival confirms Mezipatra’s status as the largest festival of this kind in Central and Eastern Europe. Many Europa Cinemas film theatres in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, take over as venues for these social debates and artistic requirements. Scala and Art, in Brno, Lucerna and Kino Svetozor in Prague, Kino Kotva in Ceske Budejovice and Filmovy Klub Charlie centrum, in Bratislava, offer their premises over to the “queer café”, for seminars and conferences organised in parallel with the screenings.
At the frontier of “the public and the private”, these cinemas in Central Europe demonstrate the vital role assumed by network film theatres, as a place where all “artistic minorities” are recognised. The LGBT festivals pay homage to, and paint a picture of, the vitality of gay and lesbian cinema and we hope we can give you a flavour of this on our Europa Cinemas site.
Read also : gay and lesbian cinema, a reflection of changes in society
Queer Up North
Paris International Lesbian and Feminist Film Festival
London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
Paris Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Copenhagen Gay & Lesbian
Festival Gay and Lesbian of Ljubljana