IDFA 2017: 5 Diverse Documentaries on Queer Day
On November 20, the fifth Queer Day was held at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in the beautiful building of EYE film museum. On this day, we were shown five premieres of LGBTQ+ documentaries, some of which were followed by debates with filmmakers, protagonists, and experts. I was there and so I can tell you all about it. A vlog is included if that is more your cup of tea.
Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi – United States – 2017
Short synopsis: Singer Chavela Vargas (1919-2012) was born in Costa Rica, but at 14, she left for Mexico to perform in elegant clubs. “When I dressed like a woman, I just looked like a transvestite,” so she decided to comb her hair back and to wear pants and a poncho — a look considered outrageous in the 1930s. Although she did not come out as a lesbian until the age of 81, her sexual orientation was a public secret
· Review Chavela
What a great start of Queer Day. I am going to be honest and say that I had never heard of Chavela before, which some of you may find unbelievable. The movie immediately teaches you about her music, building the foundation of your documentary experience.
After that, it slowly follows her life, touching upon various subjects, ranging from her songs, being nervous before performing, and her flirting skills to alcoholism, being allowed to be a lesbian on stage but not in real life, and the lack of support from her family from an early age on.
You find out that she has a beautiful side and a dark side and at the end of the movie, you grieve her death as if you have known her personally. The fact that you can become so emotionally attached to someone in a documentary means the creators have done a great job.
Daisy Asquith – United Kingdom – 2017
Short synopsis: composed entirely of excerpts from BFI’s archive, Queerama tells the extraordinary story of the development of attitudes towards homosexuality in the UK. It shows British legislation on homosexuality but focuses on the fears, longings, relationships, and oppression of gay men and women, and how they have been portrayed in film and on TV. All this is supported by a luscious soundtrack with music by John Grant, Goldfrapp, and Hercules & Love Affair.
· Review Queerama
What a celebration of queer life! The challenge that this documentary faces is that there is not one person that you follow and to whom you become emotionally attached. How can one then tell a story with a big pile of unrelated pieces of footage?
Well, both UK legislation and the soundtrack bring everything together. What is cleverly done is that the creators have edited unrelated pieces of footage in such a way that the people in it seem to communicate or be in the same surroundings. Simply because you are traveling in time almost seamlessly, I sometimes wondered: “Wait, what era was this in?”
What I particularly liked was the interviewer from the sixties (or somewhere around that era, sorry I don’t know the exact moment) who simply asked gay men and lesbian women brutally honest questions. He referred to heterosexuals as normal people and he asked questions like: “What do lesbians do?” or “Are you attracted to your students?” One could hate him for it but I was surprised that in the context of his era, he was not afraid to ask those questions. After all, most people ignored the subject completely or thought it was a disease. These interviews are a small time capsule opened.
Barbara Kopple – United States – 2017
Short synopsis: Gigi Gorgeous started a vlog at the age of fourteen when she was still Gregory Lazzarato. In her transition from Gregory to Gigi, the camera is her therapist and YouTube is her diary. She likes to boost people’s confidence by showing them how it is possible to be yourself.
· Review This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
The many layers this documentary had was what I liked about it. It really tells several stories, some of which you may find hit home. I mean, I am not transgender, but I recognized the process of coming to terms with who you are and figuring out how you want to express yourself.
On another level, the impact you can have with posting videos was interesting. At this event, I was filming my first vlog. Let me tell you: it is scary as hell. Gigi even had to become comfortable with herself as a transgender woman in front of the camera. Those videos mean so much to so many people. In a way, I knew the impact such videos can have but at the same time, I did not. Does that make sense?
Ayse Toprak – France, Turkey, Germany – 2017
Short synopsis: Twenty-four-year-old Husein is from Syria. As an LGBT refugee stuck in a straight marriage, he waits in Istanbul for possible placement in Europe. He must hide his sexual orientation from his conservative family. He can be himself with his friends in Istanbul’s tight-knit gay community. To bring attention to homosexuality among Syrians, he decides to compete in the Mr. Gay Syria and Mr. Gay World competitions.
· Review: Mr. Gay Syria
Wow, this was definitely the saddest documentary of the day. You are constantly hoping for him and his friends to get a break and be granted a visa. You are also left wondering about their culture. Even though they speak of it so lovingly, you never get to see the beauty of Syria. The despair is real, though. You cannot help but wonder what you would do had you been in the same situation.
James Crump – United States – 2017
Short synopsis: Antonio Lopez is considered the most influential fashion illustrator of the last century. This hypnotic collage is a tribute to the life and work of this highly energetic artist. His work was always groundbreaking; one example is that Lopez was among the first to draw black models.
I had to go home after Mr. Gay Syria, so I cannot tell you anything about the experience of watching this documentary. You will have to see it for yourself!
A day after Queer Day: afterthoughts
At the moment of writing this blog, it is the day after Queer Day. That makes it an interesting day to see what has stuck with me. First of all, I am impressed by all the different stories I have seen. IDFA has done a great job selecting an inclusive program with the restriction of only five documentaries. The four that I watched have all given me different feelings. I like it! So, you can see this as virtual applause to IDFA.
Secondly, I was able to watch two discussions: one after Queerama and one after Mr. Gay Syria. Daisy Asquith, director of Queerama, told us that she was leaving for Russia the day after Queer Day. She was going to show Queerama at a gay film festival there. This particular festival and its organizers are the subject of many protests, so she was a bit afraid she was going to go to jail. The day before Queer Day, the government in Ankara, Turkey announced that it would ban all gay film festivals from now on. These two examples show you just how relevant a Queer Day or a gay film festival still is to this day.
In addition, I still feel the emotions from watching Mr. Gay Syria. I was happy the director and two of the men followed in the documentary were available for a discussion. The movie ends on a sad note and you long for some type of closure. Seeing that these two men were living a happy life (not together anymore but still close) and hearing that Husein has finally been granted asylum in France made me very emotional and happy. The big question that this movie raises is “What can we do to help?” If you want to know the answer, you should follow their Facebook page because they are coming up with some solutions soon.
I hope you liked reading this IDFA Queer Day blog and watching my first vlog. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos. My aim is to cover cool LGTBQ+ events. An example is ClexaCon in Las Vegas!