Queer Lisboa: 18 Years of Filth
Michael Langan talks to João Ferreira, Queer Lisboa’s Festival Director, about the film festival Queer Lisboa on the advent of its 18th birthday.
This year, Queer Lisboa, Lisbon’s LGBT film festival, is celebrating its 18th year. To mark this coming of age, Lisbon’s oldest – and increasingly most prestigious – film festival is not only giving us the biggest in its history, showing 138 films from 38 different countries, but for the first time Queer Lisboa will spread it wings and alight in Porto, Portugal’s second city, for a weekend in October. As if all that isn’t enough this year is also marked by a book release: Queer Film and Culture, collecting together catalogue essays since 1997, provides an overview of international queer cinema and is the first comprehensive approach to the history of queer cinema in Portugal.
After covering Queer Lisboa last year, Polari Magazine was asked to become a media partner to this year’s festival. Polari was pleased and proud to accept the invitation and we’ll be bringing regular reports, interviews and reviews from the week-long party. I talked to the festival’s artistic director, Joao Ferreira, about this year’s programme, and developments in queer cinema.
I was excited and intrigued to see you have a strand of African Queer cinema, how did that come about?
We were approached by an association that belongs to Lisbon City Hall, Africa.cont, and asked to consider creating a programme of African film. We had many different ideas as to how we could do that but decided it would be most interesting to ask if there is such a thing as African Queer cinema – to consider how different countries in Africa represent themselves and their sexuality. It was quite a task, but it was exciting to be challenged to do this. There are a lot of preconceptions from Europeans and people in the West generally in respect of looking at Africa and we wanted to see things from the inside. We have films from the 1970s right up to today that show different realities from within different African countries.
Did you yourself have any preconceived ideas about what the films would be like?
I was very surprised by some of the films. I had seen many recent documentaries from South Africa, and films from north African countries, but films like Touki Bouki from Senegal, or Dakan, from Guinea, are really amazing with the way they represent sexuality associated with freedom of expression, human rights and liberty. The classic coming of age stories we see in the West are mixed with their own beliefs and culture systems.
As well as this, you have a retrospective of the early cinema of John Waters – pre Cry-Baby.
The John Waters retrospective has been a long time in the planning, but we really wanted it for our 18th birthday. Our slogan this year is taken from Waters: 18 years of Filth. You can see it written on posters all around the city.
The festival is also showing pop videos by Derek Jarman this year, as well as the complete filmography of Ron Peck, and a documentary on Peter de Rome. Figures such as these – Waters and Jarman particularly – are almost like your guiding spirits. You can’t do much better than them but they’re all from a particular period. Are there equivalents of these filmmakers today, or are their modern-day manifestations not needed?
That’s a difficult question. I would start by saying we need John Waters and we need Derek Jarman today, and not only to help us define what queer cinema is now. In different ways they both helped define that because Waters was a rebel against the gay community itself in his unwillingness to compromise and Jarman was a visionary who brought all the arts into his film making and opened a new direction in film in general, not just for queer film. They are guiding spirits in that sense, but I don’t know if we have their equivalents today. I think Bruce LaBruce is still breaking boundaries and rules, advancing things in art and, consequently, in the way we think and see the world. Guiding spirits are few and far between.
Last year we talked about what happens to Queer cinema as it becomes more accepted. Maybe now the emphasis is on threading queer characters and gay story lines into commercial mainstream drama, on film and television.
It became a trend for a while and I think it’s important that they exist. Often it’s not very interesting but the fact they’re there is important. What I think is lacking is a response at the other end of the spectrum. We don’t see the really independent, marginal and groundbreaking happening so much these days. It’s become unbalanced and the commercial side of things is silencing us, and this is a problem with the industry. This is why film festivals are still important, because they showcase and promote the non-mainstream. People need to see these films because it’s where the new languages of film come from. We need them for the future, we need them as references for new filmmakers to watch.
Is the expansion of the festival into new territory a sign of confidence?
It’s a mission, certainly. A big city like Porto should have its own festival with its own identity. We doing something small there this year and in 2015 we are planning our first edition of Queer Porto. I’m not anxious about it, I’m curious. We want to reach as many people as possible and, while there are many film festivals in Portugal, we’re the only queer one.
Our book, Queer Cinema and Culture, is not a history of the festival, but a history of queer cinema and culture as we’ve seen it through the festival. We looked at how the festival has represented the evolution of queer cinema and culture.
After 18 years do you feel Queer Lisboa has cemented itself in the culture in Lisbon?
For sure we have a place here, and an audience. We’re respected but we can never lower our guard. It’s good to reach 18 but there’s still a lot of work to do. For me, every year is a new beginning. I don’t like to look back too much – editing the book was strange for me because of that. We have to look ahead and be alert to what’s going on artistically and socially so that we continue to make sense. The festival has changed because the country changed, queer film changed, and we have to reflect that. There are always are going to be new challenges.