This article is available in the December issue of Cinema Scandinavia. In this magazine, we focus on contemporary concepts of ‘identity’ in film, television, and documentary.
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An Interview with the Founders of
Cinema Queer International Film Festival
I met , the founders of the Cinema Queer International Film Festival launched in 2012, on a cold Monday afternoon at the end of October. By then, the festival, which celebrates and highlights the LGBTQ-community, had already enjoyed another successful edition. Back in 2012, they feared that there would be no demand for this kind of festival in Sweden, but as they arrived in Zita, one of the art-house cinemas in Stockholm, a great amount of people had already lined up to participate in the inaugural ceremony. Since then, the festival has only grown larger, and has a wide demographic that spans from teenagers to older generations. What is more, next year it will last one day longer.
Please, tell us a little bit about how Cinema Queer International Film Festival started.
Melissa: Cinema Queer actually existed as a film club at Högkvarteret first. We arranged movie nights once a month, and we always fused them with other types of cultural events: exhibitions, performances, comedians and other things connected to queer culture. When Högkvarteret closed its business, we were looking for another place, but found none. After I met Oscar, we decided to turn Cinema Queer into a film festival.
I’ve read somewhere that prior to Cinema Queer there hadn’t been any queer film festival in Sweden since 2005?
Oscar: Prior to Cinema Queer, queer film festivals had only appeared very sporadic. Zita, as an example, did have a festival in the 1990s, but with a certain amount of continuity.
Melissa: We felt that there was a need to fill this gap. Both of us have other works besides Cinema Queer, and therefore we thought that a yearly festival would be more convenient than organising sporadic events. Also, it enables us to do something bigger, and makes it easier for us to obtain funding.
How does the process of selecting films look like when you’re programming the festival?
Oscar: We travel to festivals together as part of our other jobs, and we seek out and watch films.
Melissa: We have a good coverage of other big queer film festivals. When it comes along something interesting, we request those films. Additionally, we have a very good contact with production and distribution companies that send us stuff automatically. We also try to work with countries that are harder to cover and whose films go a bit under the radar. Therefore, we try to collaborate with film and pride festivals. This year we have collaborated with the Shanghai Pride Film Festival. Earlier we worked together with countries like Burma, Russia, South Africa, and next year we’re probably going to do it with Mexico. We are keen on getting short films from these countries, because those are seldom screened at bigger film festivals. We also aim at creating a diverse programme in terms of both representation of the LGBTQ community and the country of production.
This year’s festival theme was “history”. How did you decide on it, and what importance does “history” have in contemporary society?
Melissa: We went to an island for vacation. At one point we got bored so we started to plan ahead for two themes to come. History felt like a subject that we really wanted to create something big with. Partly because it is such a big subject, but also because it enables us to highlight so many aspects and important parts of queer history that are rarely described in our general historiography.
Oscar: For several years, we’ve also talked about how important it is to create our own space and the fact that if one doesn’t take care and preserve one’s history, then nobody else will make it for them. That’s the way it works for all groups who don’t belong to the majority in society. There are many things regarding queer history that aren’t mentioned, and then disappears – especially oral history. Much has also been lost in cinema history, and film archives have chosen not to preserve many of the films. Therefore, considering everything that happens in the world today, it is of relevance to tell and preserve these stories, which are shaped by us.
However, only a small part of all stories were included. We could have had a festival for 365 days and still could not have managed to have space for all stories that could have been told. So in a way, this was our way to start with something that we are going to continue working with in one way or another – by collecting and telling stories. After six to seven years doing this, we’ve become a Swedish queer cinema archive, and therefore we also must figure it out how we are going to build this further. Additionally, as the festival keeps growing, we also become a part of queer history.
During this year’s opening ceremony, you were at Historiska Museet (The Swedish History Museum) where the silent film Vingarne (The Wings) directed by Mauritz Stiller was screened. How did you come up with this unusual setting and the idea for the screening?
Oscar: We knew that the film had existed, so we talked to the Swedish Film Institute whether they would restore it and make it available for us. When they agreed to do it, we started searching for a fitting venue for our theme. We thought Historiska Museet would be spot on, and we found the room we were in just fantastic.
Melissa: Collaborating with folk musician Sara Parkman was also an important aspect of the theme. She revolutionized folk music in Sweden, so by working with her we were able to build another connection to our theme.
Oscar: Our aim was to elevate Vingarne to another level. The film is from 1916, and despite its restoration, some parts of it are still missing. Therefore, we wanted to situate it in 2017 and actualize it: to make it more interesting than only being the first queer film. Thereafter we talked to Sara and screened her the movie. We asked her about what she would be able to do with it, and told her she would get complete freedom, since we trust her so much. She later came back and said that she had an idea for a seven-piece band and new music written specifically for the film. We were totally blown away and thought it sounded fantastic. Later we looked at the room and were thinking about how we could elevate it further. That’s when we came up with the idea of a double projection.
Melissa: It was a very complicated screening, since we wanted the audience to watch the band and the film simultaneously, which would not have been possible with a classical cinema setting. We thought it would be also a very nice idea if the audience would face each other, so they could encounter each other and at the same time watch the film and hear the music. We had never done double projection before, but our technician thought it surely would work.
Oscar: That’s a thing we believe is very fun to challenge. How do we watch films? How do we sit when doing it? What’s the function of the space? How is the experience? Because of that, it was a perfect opportunity for us to test something we had never done before. Then we thought we should try it and watch what would happen. In the end, it worked out fine, which we are very happy about.
Vingarne is described as the first queer film ever. Though, I noticed that except for that film, there weren’t any Swedish feature films in the programme. How do you consider the situation for Swedish queer cinema today?
Melissa: It differs from year to year. If one looks at the bigger queer films that have reached the cinemas in recent years, there is Kyss Mig (Kiss Me, Alexandra-Therese Keining). When they were seeking funding, they were told that lesbian pictures were produced all the time. This isn’t the case. There hasn’t really been anything since Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson), and that came out in 1998. The same goes for Bitte Anderson’s film Dyke Hard. She had to fight a lot before she got funding. Well, she didn’t really get so much funding, but enough to complete the film. That’s the attitude queer film-makers are often facing.
Oscar: It’s the same case with Pojkarna (Girls Lost, Alexandra-Therese Keining). The Swedish Film Institute and many others were very lukewarm towards the movie, even though it was based on one of the most read novels among adolescents and is written by an August Prize winner. However, it has won several awards at every film festival all over the world where it has been shown, and it is going to get an American remake as well. It is very interesting to see how much people are afraid of having a contact with this subject. Either they believe there are already plenty of films on this it and everything is perfect, or they believe that these films aren’t interesting enough to reach a wider audience. So when it comes to feature films, it seems hopeless. Looking at the Swedish feature films produced, there are only very few queer films ever year, and that number is barely growing. For short films and documentaries, the situation seems a little bit better. It always depends on resources and what is chosen to get funded.
Do you think there will be any progress in the future?
Melissa: Considering the system we have with our film institute and the support scheme, I think it is very personalised. It depends very much on the circumstances: if there is a person who has an interest in highlighting other perspectives. I think that Baker Karim has partly contributed to expand the choice of films, but we’ll see what the future holds.
What would you name your favourite queer films of all time?
Melissa: Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform, Leontine Sagan, 1931) is probably my all-time favourite. It was such an early film and must have been so radical when it was released. Fucking Åmål must be a bit of a favourite as well, because it was released when I was a little bit younger than the characters in the film. The film was groundbreaking in Sweden, because it characterized so many teenagers during that time.
Oscar: There are so many of them. Just the other day I watched But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit, 2000) for probably the 25th times in my life. It is fabulously funny film. Another one is On Suffocation (Jenifer Malmqvist, 2013). It is an eight minutes long, and it is one of those films that just hit Sweden and film festivals all over the world. It’s such a strong film that manages to tell so much with limited means. There are so many films if we look at the whole variety of short films and documentaries.
What’s your biggest memory of all these years with Cinema Queer?
Oscar: It must be the church, right?
Melissa: Yes, it must be the church and the queer bus!
Oscar: Three years ago we organised the opening ceremony in Högalidskyrkan, and 800 persons were there. Before giving our speech, we entered the church with both of us wearing wedding gowns. It was amazing, since we were able to do what we wanted and because it is such a charged place. Compared to this one, the queer bus was a real insanity project we did in 2014. There was an election in Sweden both for the European parliament and our own parliament, so during a whole month we travelled to ten cities in Sweden. We were seven people living on the bus, and we parked at the squares where we had screenings and discussions.
In December you’re going to arrange an event called Winter Wonder World – Queer Edition. Tell us a little about it!
Melissa: I saw an article in the local paper about a gigantic apartment at Stureplan (the centre part of Stockholm), which could be rented out by culture organizers. Since we find it fun to screen films at weird places, we just had to check it up. We’ve managed to rent it for the 21st of December, and we’ll organise a Short Film Day. The apartment contains seven different rooms, and we’re going to thematically decorate all, and possibly transform the venue into an art space of some sort. We’ll be curating a short film’s programme including more experimental and art films than we usually screen.
Featured image: Vingarne, Rushprint.no