Reel Desires, Chennai International Queer Film Festival is on from July 11 to 13

The short film Kuch Palon Mein, which was screened this May 2013 Kashish, Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, seeks to portray the state of gay relationships in contemporary urban India. The film traces a few moments in the life of Mihir, a bright and openly gay student who discovers that one of his crushes, his senior, is also gay. Another short, Gay_Lonely, is about a 30-plus gay man, who is open about his sexuality but is still lonely. The reasons are many, according to the director Zameer Kamble. One is the stigma related to homosexuals. Another is the way a culture of cruising has been established in the gay community, with their unwritten laws related to beauty standards. Is it easy to find true love in the world which has become a bazaar?

On the surface, these films might be perceived as catering to a niche audience. After all, how many mainstream films in the country look at stories about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people? But Kuch Palon Mein director Avinash Matta says, of his film, “I think it would appeal to not only the LGBT audience, but also a large young Indian audience. It is highly inspired by the Bollywood style of filmmaking, and there’s music, romance and punchy Hindi dialogues.”

This sense of inclusivity is important, feels L. Ramakrishnan, whose NGO SAATHI is one of the seven organisations and collectives that are bringing out Reel Desires, Chennai International Queer Film Festival, from July 11 to 13, at the Goethe-Institut. He adds, “We have selected films keeping in mind that it’s a mixed audience. Had it been a purely LGBT film festival, preaching to the choir, we may have included some of the more explicit ones, but because we’re expecting a general public, including family members, we’ve been prudent and conservative about the selections. We’ve been fortunate to have a rich pool to choose from, so it’s not as if we settled for second-best just to omit some scenes.”

The “we” Ramakrishnan speaks about refers to the volunteers. Reel Desires is volunteer-driven in every sense of the term. The budget for the festival, a princely Rs. 25,000, came about wholly through individual contributions, which is why some films, such as an acclaimed Ugandan documentary, could not be obtained for screening (it cost 150 Euros). The selection of films, too, was by volunteers. Vetri, media partner of the event, through his portal OyeChennai, says, “There are over 200 LGBT film festivals across the world. We contacted each one, got recommendations, and wrote to the directors of the films and the organisers of the festivals to submit entries.” A special web page was set up for this, with an online submission form. The result? Ninety one films from 22 countries.

To increase awareness

The volunteers, then, sat down over a number of weekends and watched these films, to come up with a final list of 35. One of the selection criteria was relevance, as the festival aims to (i) increase awareness and visibility of gender and sexuality diversity, (ii) promote inclusion of LGBT people in society, and (iii) advocate non-sensationalistic portrayals of LGBTs in the media.

There are, therefore, films about suicides and high-school bullying and how clueless health-care providers can assume their patients are all heterosexual and make grave errors in their diagnoses.

Production quality was another criterion, though this was not adhered to very strictly. Says Deepan Kannan, of Orinam, “If we’d only gone by the quality of production, a lot of Indian films would have not made the cut. The aim is also to encourage young filmmakers”, many of whom are represented through their short films. The festival will also feature panel discussions on film and theatre for LGBT rights and social change, and how corporates can make their workplace LGBT inclusive.

Reel Desires (July 11 to 13)

Over 35 films including shorts, documentaries and feature films from India and over 10 countries will be screened. On July 12 at 7.30 p.m., a few directors from Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Chennai will discuss the use of film and theatre for engendering LGBT rights and social change.

On July 13 at 5.30 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on ensuring LGBT inclusion in the workplace.

Films will be screened at Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan auditorium from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first two days, and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the third day. For details, visit Reel Desires or mail orinamwebber@gmail.com or call 28331314 / 9841557983.