The recent Government announcement that Dublin is moving to Level 3 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19, meant that the two main physical locations for GAZE - the Irish Film Institute and the Light House Cinema - would have to close. While this will have some effect on the Festival, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line, as, thankfully, the wise organisers had planned ahead!
The GAZE team shared, “Naturally, we are heartbroken not to be able to gather in cinemas at the end of the month, but the show must go on! We made every plan to respond to public health guidelines and were prepared from the start. GAZE 2020 was planned as an exciting hybrid festival and every film and event programmed for 2020 will still be taking place online.”
So from September 30 to October 4, you can enjoy a specially curated programme of the most engaging, mind-bending and life-affirming cinematic experiences from the comfort of your own home. It may be a brave new world out there, but GAZE endeavours to make a big celebration for the community while highlighting the importance of LGBT+ stories on-screen.
The team have curated a broad programme that includes brand new films as well as rediscovered classics, with accessible comedies and dramas as well as urgent contemporary films detailing the experiences of migrants and queer people of colour, there’s even an unmissable Irish language documentary about two young trans people.
Talking about this year’s festival, Sarah Williams, Chairperson of GAZE, shared: “Queer culture, in all its glorious nuances and subversive contexts, is something GAZE tries to curate through film. We hope you’ll be inspired, enraged, encouraged, that you’ll laugh and, most importantly, feel connected. We are immensely proud of our team, who, despite all uncertain odds, have delivered a beautiful, topical and compelling festival of films and events, in this extraordinary year that continues to shake us all to the core.”
Alongside all the film screenings, planned ‘live events’ will also migrate online. Drag Storytime is coming back, and this year host Avoca Reaction will beam into homes via YouTube live. Along with the kids in your life, you can enjoy a Sunday Morning Story Time session coming direct from the GAZE pillow fort.
Creators of Spicebag, the hilarious pairing of Sarah Devereux and Stephen Quinn, will guide their audience by the hand through queer cinema’s greatest moments. Expect highbrow peaks and messy lowbrow troughs as the pair double down on crowd-pleasing movies so shockingly bad you can’t help loving them. The duo promise, “We will serve you up a plate of Showgirls with a side-salad of Mommy Dearest and a sprinkling of flavoursome Pink Flamingos (if you don’t have high blood pressure).”
Here’s a short selection of the gems you can expect to see.
Max and Victoria are boyfriend and girlfriend. They met in the Gaeltacht, and have been seeing each other for a few years. Victoria studies film and Max studies biotechnology. They also both happen to be trans.
Tras is a radical little documentary for a few reasons, not least that it’s in the Irish language. But its power is in the quiet strength of the protagonists. As Max and Victoria grow up as their true selves, we watch the people around them adapt.
A Q+A with the director and protagonists will follow the film.
STEELERS: THE WORLD’S FIRST GAY RUGBY CLUB
For a lot of LGBT+ people, growing up involves reclaiming things from which we once felt alienated. Right at the top of that list for many of us is sport. Or, to be more specific, team sports! For one group of mates, their dream was to form a gay rugby team. And so, the Kings Cross Steelers were born. In these strange days when physical contact is a no-no, Steelers is a story of friendship and community, and a must-see in trying times.
A Q+A with the director and protagonists will follow this screening.
TWO OF US
Nina and Madeline are neighbours, pensioners living across the hall from each other. Nina is a passionate free spirit, and Madeline is a widow with grown children, who too often treat her like she didn’t raise them from infancy. But how would her children react when she tells them that she and Nina have been together for the last ten years? Skilfully avoiding the conventional structure of a love story, this tender film is laced with the pain of life lived under the eye of expectation.
A Q+A with director Fillipo Meneghetti will follow this screening.
THE WATERMELON WOMAN
A rare screening of Cheryl Dunye’s seminal work: a homage to the forgotten black women of cinema, and a game changer for black lesbian identity on screen. Dunye herself plays Cheryl, a young woman who works behind the desk of a video store in Philadelphia. Cheryl becomes fascinated by one particular black actress -known only as the Watermelon Woman - and embarks on a quest to find out more about her.
THE FATHERS PROJECT
The coronavirus has shown the world what a pandemic looks like. Ordinary citizens have felt it in every part of their daily lives. But the LGBT+ community, and gay men in particular, have lived through a pandemic within living memory. More than just lives, the queer community lost a whole generation of our elders: the artists, future politicians, community organisers, and older voices to guide younger ones.
In pseudo-documentary style, The Fathers Project imagines a world in which AIDS never happened, charts the creation of “queer colonies” and posits some fascinating ‘what ifs’ about the future that never was. Afterwards there will be a discussion to dissect and dream featuring Chase Ledin of the University of Edinburgh, and Stephen Quinn, performance artist.
WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
Welcome to Chechnya is an astonishing documentary, featuring guerilla filmmaking of the highest order. Following escapees from Chechnya, and the tireless and life-threatening work of LGBT+ activists in Moscow and St Petersburg, the film gives a human face to the invisible people risking their lives to fight for their very right to exist. It demonstrates that, although we have achieved hard-won rights in many countries, to simply be an LGBT+ person in many parts of the world remains a death-defying act. This is urgent and necessary viewing, and a masterpiece of documentary cinema.
A Q+A with the film makers will follow the screening.
Visit www.gaze.ie for more information on the Festival.
Screening as part of the IFI Documentary Festival, Pier Kids follows three homeless queer people of colour who find community at New York’s Christopher Street Pier. Conor Behan spoke to director Elegance Bratton about capturing their stories and his own journey to creating the film.
[W]e’ve all clung to documentaries and dramas during lockdown to recognise ourselves and see worlds different from our own. For queer audiences, Pier Kids is a must watch. We meet charismatic Krystal who navigates sex work and family life, the outspoken DeSean and likeable rogue Casper. Director Elegance Bratton spent from 2011 to 2016 making the film. He joined GCN on Zoom to discuss bringing the documentary together.
“The movie comes from my own personal desire to make peace with my childhood. I was kicked out of my house for being gay when I was 16,” he tells me, noting that his time around Christopher Street and the piers in New York City while homeless was where he found other queer people of colour.
While Bratton was drawing on personal experience he still had to pay attention to what those on camera were telling him in order for filming to really work.
“I learned how to make movies at first in the Marine corps as a combat filmmaker. It’s a very straightforward way of making films.” Bratton confesses that one day Krystal told him: “I can’t let you make this movie about me unless you’re my friend. You’ve gotta be on my side when things are going bad. I’m a Black trans woman, homeless in New York City and I need people in my life that I can depend on and I can trust. If you could be that person in my life then I’ll give you access to it”
Bratton admitted that “people started to meet me halfway” as he adapted filming methods, careful not to use bright lights when out at night with the cast as the police would spot them.
At one point in the film, Krystal nods to her namesake Crystal Labeija who appeared in the ‘60s documentary The Queen, and Jennie Livingston’s seminal 1990 classic Paris Is Burning - which covered similar ground. Of the latter film’s legacy, Bratton is able to acknowledge the good and the bad.
“Paris Is Burning is a fundamental movie for me,” he says, recalling seeing it on late night TV as a kid and identifying with it. He notes, “A film like Paris is Burning, and many other entities in the marketplace right now that feature Black trans people, they do so that in a way that fits within the tropes of how it’s acceptable to see poor Black people. They’re fabulous and they’re singing and they’re dancing. They’re glamorous against all odds somehow.”
He notes that Black stories only work with audiences if they are “wrapped in colourful pageantry and resilience and the certainty that people we’ve invested time in can overcome according to our standard.
“Pier Kids is not that kind of film. These are not kids who are gonna go to Ivy League schools. These are kids who do have agency, and I wanted to really lift up the power of agency and survival”
In one particularly moving segment of the film, we see Krystal with her mother and aunt who clearly care for her but also struggle to accept Krystal as a trans women. artists, voices toFor Bratton it was “super triggering” as it brought up his own experiences with family. He shares, “in that moment I was making that movie to have conversations with my family that I never got a chance to have, I never had that conversation with my mother. I never got a chance to experience that nuance within my relationship. I was just under the suspicion of being gay and was pushed out of the house.”
It represented a challenge for Bratton who admits “it was especially difficult because as much as I have to be Krystal’s friend, in my style of documentary I’m kind of on everybody’s side. So I have to create space for her family to say what it is that they have to say.”
For Bratton, this ties into a wider conversation about LGBT+ rights. Text at the beginning of the film notes the 50 some years which have passed since the Stonewall Riots and how queer youth homelessness is still an issue. Bratton points out that while strides have been made for LGBT+ equality in the US, “the people who started that revolution and the people who look like those who started the revolution are dealing with this epidemic of homelessness.”
Bratton saw the scenes with Krystal and her family as “a middle ground to start the healing,” noting that “as much as it triggered me and upset me, I also understood that this was a model conversation, a teachable moment for anyone who watches this film to be able to contemplate the meaning of the gay rights movement”.
The director notes that being able to make Pier Kids helped him deal with his own past. “It has been quite healing and helpful to me,” he shares. “Whenever I need to feel access to that time in my life that was such a blur, now I’ve slowed it down and can re-examine those experiences.”
Bratton notes that the impact of racism and segregation in the US “has put a lot of Black folks in America’s cities into a situation where they really cannot afford to be. They don’t have the money to be in all of these places and as a result they don’t belong and that gives the police the excuse to harass and brutalise them.”
Bratton adds, “I hope that films like Pier Kids help those who are on our side be much more aggressive” citing the “disruptive” work of ACT UP as an example of holding institutions to account.
Representation too has become a buzzword as the entertainment industry tries to be more inclusive. “I think representation is important but it’s also a baseline.” Bratton expresses his desire for more work to deconstruct existing systems, telling me “we need movies that inspire, that break apart what it is so that we can get to something better.”
He points out that white people in positions of power behind the scenes need to realign their thinking too: “They need to stop thinking about what will make white people uncomfortable and think more about what art is for. Art is supposed to be provocative.”
Describing Pier Kids as a kind of personal film school Bratton tells me, “What I’ve come out of with it is the certainty that queer Black American culture is the vanguard of this historical project of Black people using their creativity, their art, their imaginations to compel the people who hold our rights in their hands to release those rights and give us what we’ve earned.”
Pier Kids will be showing as part of the IFI Documentary Festival and available to view from September 25. For more information on the festival, visit www.ifi.ie