Upon its inauguration in 2015, SQIFF (Scottish Queer International Film Festival) held what could be deemed modest goals: to bring more opportunities for audiences to watch queer films; to give a platform to queer filmmakers and programmers; and to offer a space for viewers uncomfortable watching queer films in straight spaces. Half a decade later the Glasgow-based festival’s success has allowed its ambitions to evolve to tackle wider issues of access and play with its programme. This year strands include ecology, islands and oceans, South America, and science fiction.
‘The reason for that was partly our general love of sci-fi’, says Festival Coordinator Helen Wright. Yet the heart of the festival remains the celebration of queer films while elevating a broad spectrum of voices that touch on areas relevant to queer culture. Even science fiction, that most fantastical of genres, can address issues that affect marginalised communities, whilst also offering escapism from problems such as difficulties faced by LGBTQIA+ people seeking asylum in the UK and what Wright believes is a resurfacing of queerphobic attitudes.
Like the majority of festivals, SQIFF is going online for 2020. The technicalities of the move include placing all films on Vimeo on Demand (UK only) and supplementing these with live events via Zoom (no geographic limit). The live events will incorporate discussions, workshops, and watch parties, ranging from lessons in film criticism and film-making to a closing ceremony pub quiz. One advantage of being online has been the ability to corral a few speakers who would normally have been unable to travel to Scotland, although Wright confirms the Scottish concept remains strong as the festival cooperates with local organisations such as LUX Scotland, LEAP Sports Scotland, and the Scottish Documentary Institute.
Holding a mantra that all queer people should have access to queer culture, access and affordability have always been a major presence at SQIFF. This year films are ‘pay what you can’, starting at £1, although anyone who feels they are unable to pay can contact the festival for an access code. Events are similarly flexible, with participants choosing from a sliding scale of free to £8 – although paying more is certainly welcome. Meanwhile BSL, live captioning, English subtitles and audio descriptions will be prominent across the two weeks. And individuals or community groups in the Glasgow area without internet connectivity can borrow laptops with elements of the programme pre-installed.
In regard to the programme, this year’s is diverse enough to cover pioneering titles such as Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied and modern shorts showcasing new talent, with a viewers vote for the Best Scottish Short. A Shu Lea Cheang retrospective, entitled Cruising the Future, will showcase two of her feature films, Fluidø and I.K.U., as well as a variety of her experimental films from the early 1990s. “It’s really a unique chance for people to access her work, which is otherwise not very available” says Wright.
Other highlights include The Cancer Journals Revisited, a thought-provoking return to Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals writings that will be accompanied by a Q&A with director Lana Lin, and Blindsided, a documentary following the life of a deafblind lesbian woman. Furthermore, the individual strands are providing a rich well of work, with Queer Ecologies offering Derek Jarman’s The Garden, musings on H2O and sex from Annie Sprinkle in Water Makes Us Wet, and LGBTQ community responses to climate disaster in Fire & Flood. Two accompanying shorts programmes will air the voices of queer people of colour and indigenous people.
Also worth noting is the Islands and Oceans strand, and not merely because it will show a world far removed from Scotland’s shortening days and dream-deflating travel restrictions. Island nations are seldom shown in any form of cinema, and films exploring their queer culture and history are a rare breed. Documentaries Leitis in Waiting and Tchindas, respectively about the culture of trans women in Tonga and queer identity in the Cape Verde archipelago, promise to educated on an under-represented portion of the world. The live screening of Tchindas will be alongside The Whole World is Turning by Ada M. Patterson, who will be in conversation afterwards.
That message of education is important to SQIFF, and is one reason Wright hopes the festival can continue to reach viewers both inside and outside the queer community.
‘It is important for us to reach people who aren’t queer to some extent because there is so much ignorance that leads to real life discrimination and oppression. So, it’s important that straight people and straight society have access to queer culture as it could be educational.’
However, that serious note is followed by a cheeky aside: ‘And, of course, queer art is better than straight art, and straight people should learn to appreciate it more.’
Scottish Queer International Film Festival 2020, 5th till 18th October