Sun, 14 Sep 2003

Q Film Festival: Gay cinema comes out of the closet

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

Film buffs in the capital are still anxiously awaiting the final word on whether the annual Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) will be held, due to the problem of a lack of sponsorship.

The good news is that another film festival is scheduled to open this Thursday, and it will be the largest film event in the country this year if JIFFest does turn out to be a no-show.

And -- gasp -- it happens to be a gay and lesbian film festival.

The Q Film Festival will screen 52 feature films and shorts from many countries over 10 days at eight venues. It is the second consecutive year of the event.

"This year, the festival is double in size, triple in screenings, with the same number or crew," director of the festival John Badalu told The Jakarta Post.

The 32-year-old theater manager of Goethe Institute Jakarta is entitled to be proud since the event has grown from a small affair last year to a major film event in the country.

Last year, a group of film buffs, mostly journalists and freelance writers, came up with an idea to organize a gay and lesbian film festival.

The young people, some of them gay and some straight, called their group Q-munity.

They succeeded in gathering together a number of movies, mostly on DVD and laser disc, from their own collections and their friends'. They showed 29 of them at four art center venues, including those owned by foreign embassies in the capital.

With little publicity, the free screenings drew 1,500 viewers, and inevitably created a splash with its theme, considering the country's status as the world's largest Muslim country and the continual reiteration of the need to uphold "Eastern" values.

When John was sent to Berlin early this year by Goethe Institute to take an English course, he was asked to be one of the jury for the Teddy Bear Awards, part of the Berlin International Festival focusing on gay and lesbian films.

He attributed the honor to his background in organizing film events here, and especially his involvement in the 2002 Q Film Festival.

"Several filmmakers then came to me asking for the films to be screened at the Q Film Festival," he said.

Due to the great reception to last year's event, Q-munity decided to upgrade the event this year to an official film festival from a "guerrilla" happening in 2002.

"This year, we got licenses for most movies scheduled to be screened from the film's owners," John said, adding that two movies will have their world premiere at the festival.

Despite being a big-scale event, the free screenings will continue. However, except for the local non-governmental organization Actions to Stop AIDS, the British Council and the fashion label Urban Crew, sponsors have not exactly been beating down John's door.

"I doubt that there is a company that wants its products to be associated with homosexuality; not even condom manufacturers," he said.

The organizer also said a decision was made to stress Q- munity's status as a nonprofit organization.

Several movie buffs said they were thrilled to have the festival again this year, and the theme was not off-putting.

"I attended most of the screenings last year not because they were gay movies, but because they were simply great movies," Mardian, 26, said.

Last year's screening included the acclaimed Hedwig and the Angry Inch as well as the award-winning documentary The Celluloid Closet, telling of the history of homosexuality in the cinema beginning in the 1920s.

"I've been trying to find good gay-themed films on video here but only found a few. I am glad that somebody has the guts to show a bunch of them here," said 27-year-old "Donny".

This year, the festival is also scheduled to screen many highly regarded films, including Wong Kar Wai's stylish Happy Together and France's Savage Nights, the story of an HIV-positive bisexual man.

This year's festival will also hold discussions on issues related to homosexuality, in contrast to last year when it did not because the group did not want to identify itself as an exclusively gay organization.

"We see danger if there isn't dialog between homosexuals and straight people because then people of one sexual orientation tend to be exclusive about themselves, and start this rejection of people with a different orientation," said John, who is openly gay.

He stressed that Q-munity remained a nongay activist group.

"We are more like an arts management organization," John said, adding that it was willing to help artists, regardless of sexual orientation, to promote their work.

"As an example, we are currently helping a local film company to promote their upcoming film, for free," he said.

"If you don't know the way to international festivals, we'll show you. We are like a pool of information."

Q-munity has also been appointed to be the representative for Dutch arts organization Introdans.

In the meantime, the film festival is likely to start getting heavy publicity and in time will inevitably stir up a bigger controversy about the gay theme.

Controversy or not, movie lovers will surely get a real treat from the quality films.

For film listings and schedule, check Q-munity's website at