23.05.16 — 16.06.16

Revisiting ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival 2015

Presenting: Compilation of Chinese LGBTQ short films, a retrospective of ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival 2015

A Straight Journey: Days and Nights in Their Kingdom, masamojo, 22 mins.
A City of Two Tales, Tony Zhiyang Lin, 2015, 30 mins.
The Birthday, Daniela Lucato, 2014, 16 mins.
A Choice, Maybe Not, Jenny Man Wu, 8 mins.
Unfinished, Siufung, 2013, 7 mins.
Genesis, Dessislava, 2015, 13 mins.
One Minute Hong Kong, Matthew Baren & Anthony Cheung, 2014, 5 mins.

We find each other in dreams:
Revisiting ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival 2015

“We knew immediately how to watch films, because we had been watching them in the dream-state our whole lives.”
– Richard Linklater

“Don’t dream it, be it.”
– Frank N. Furter

Next month marks the second iteration of ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival. For the occasion, Arthub has asked programmer Matthew Baren to choose a selection of works from last year’s festival. In his text below, not only does Matthew introduce us to ShPFF, but he also demonstrates the ability of film to act as a platform for filmmakers to challenge the narrow roles prescribed to queer communities by the heteronormative/cis/Caucasian ruling class.

Cinema is a natural home for queer; frames filled with hidden desires, laid bare in a mise-en-scène of missed glances standing in plain sight, a phantasmorgia of bodily distortion, sexual diversion and gender ambiguity. Cinema is a medium in drag, dressed-up to the nines in stockings and rubber corsets, lips rouged through heavy powder, play acting at being what the audience dreams they could be.

Cinema is kinky, it plays emotions and induces thrilling convulsions. It is sadistic and it is masochistic. It is a glove that fits all hands, caresses all thighs, probes all orifices.

The industrialized dream factories, the codes for morals, ideologies of the elite manipulate the medium to their own ends, telling us how to be and what to want, that there is no place for deviance and desire, no place for truth or ambiguity. Sit quietly behind confection, coming attractions and new cars. But it’s all still drag.

Queer cinema is a slut, a whore, s/he is anyone’s for the right price. Queer cinema is mother, s/he is daddy-fantasies and sisterly love. S/he is Sylvia Rivera at the front of the Stonewall riots, screaming for her right to be here and now. Distinct from films which simply include LGBTQ characters, queer cinema has an intension for the future. Rivera was far from the front in Roland Emmerich’s recent biopic, Stonewall, a film that was controversial because it was so uncontroversial, conventional and white washed, sanitized and packaged. Don’t kid yourself that this is a film that moves us forward. It is cinema of the status quo. It is a lie. Queer cinema imagines a future where all bodies, all skins, all genders stand powerful, beautiful and unthreatened at the threshold of the screen.

Subvert the narrative.

We started ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival in autumn 2014, a project born out of an existing film festival but which sought to be more. We started with the idea that cinema is more than entertainment, and that queer China has stories to tell. A key part of our program is supporting emerging Chinese filmmakers, people who are creating content, people who dream of making movies, people with stories to tell. Back in 2014, I had a conversation with a Shanghai-based executive who said that in the twelve years he had been in the business here, he hadn’t met a single filmmaker who he wanted to invest in. It’s a contentious point, but it is perhaps true that many filmmakers are drawn up to Beijing, where the resources are better and the community is stronger. What were the platforms in Shanghai, and why was there no platform for queer cinema?

We looked also at the international market, and saw it dominated by white, usually cis-gendered male stories, so when we set up our short film competition, from which the films playing online here were chosen, we said that the films had to tell stories of Chinese LGBTQ. We have no illusions that our project is going to change the world, but small steps. There has been plenty said about the lack of non-white narratives in film and television in western countries, particularly the USA, in the past few years. Less is said about queer; the mainstream seems content with stories of noble queers having AIDS, getting gay married, dying lesbian screen-deaths, coming out, being fabulous, hustling, being played by cis-straight actors, being white and winning Oscars. Over the past two years, we’ve built relationships with programmers and festivals around the world, and use this network to support films from our festival to reach wider audiences. We dream of seeing queer Chinese faces, hearing queer Chinese stories in cinemas everywhere.

Looking back on ShPFF 2015, we found films inflected by fantasy and possibility, dreams of the past, present and future. A Straight Journey: Days and Nights in Their Kingdom opens with a man explaining how one day, when he is an old man, he will put on his best clothes, board a cruise ship, and when no-one is looking, he will jump. Later he describes how his ex-boyfriend refused to see a future in a homosexual relationship. “My eyesight will be too poor to read when I am old.” / “Then I will stand by your side and read for you.” / “How wonderful if that could be true.” The boyfriend goes on to marry a woman, whilst the man would rather die alone than live someone else’s life. masamojo’s award winning documentary paints a collective portrait of the self, one where the conflict of obligation and desire see the 20-something lesbian and gay men they interview across China resolute in their identity, casually deviant and setting their own course through the future.

Tony Lin finds similar themes in A City of Two Tales, a documentary exploring queer sexuality and old age in Hong Kong. One man thinks that sex belongs to the young, whilst the second is in his 70s and enjoying his ‘third spring’ and cruising for younger men. Lin’s visual juxtaposition sees the two men in virtual conversation, with the melancholy lamentation of missed sexual opportunity from one proved woefully and sometimes hilariously naïve by his more active contemporary. What the first misses and the second realizes is that, at their age, they already occupy the future, and dreams and desires untaken at this point will be lost here, at the end of the road.

In The Birthday, a woman’s love for her friend is allowed to exist in a space outside of time. The two lay immobile on a train track, trying to decide what their favorite things are. Sex or family are the driving obsessions, and when the other choses family, her journey continues and the other is left behind, perhaps punished for wanting more than she can attain… lesbian screen death again. Jenny Man Wu rejects the notion in A Choice, Maybe Not, where her whimsical main character is allowed to continue to drift along, despite her indecision. “You always order the same thing,” remarks a waitress. “She is attracted to me,” she retorts to her friend.

These films and others will play online with Arthub until June 16th, when ShPFF returns for its second year. All screenings are free, and the program will be announced on June 10th. Full details will be available at shpride.com/films

All screenings and events hosted by ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival (17-26th June, 2016) are free and open to the general public. Check out last year’s ShPFF program here. The ten day festival is celebrating GENDER in all its forms, with films on transgender, non-binary and agender people, as well as a focus on queer women; for more information about the 2016 edition of ShPFF scan the QR code below: