St. Petersburg's Bok o Bok (Russia) has become rather successful traveling to various provincial capitals in Russia, but survives continuing municipal-level interference from conservative politicians and religious leaders.
Bok o Bok's posters, among all other posters, may no longer use any word that indicates homosexuality. Any such explicit reference is now against the law in the city of St Petersburg.
Any type of festival that has some claim to community will be a ripe ground for contestation. The Gendercator by Catherine Crouch caused a stir the year it screened (or was pulled) from various festivals. If framed correctly, a festival can provide a superb “agora” for those interested in discussing issues that matter to them.
Zagreb, Croatia (former Yugoslavia), has its own annual queer arts festival.
The sole in all of Africa, Out In Africa is South Africa's touring LBGT film festival.
Hong Kong's vibrant queer film festival, retaining its importance internationally and in Asia.
In the Russian case, while the local press similarly vilified the idea of a festival organized around categories of sexuality, state action was anonymous and centered on refusing permits or inventing fire regulation problems at the last minute to close the venues (Tsiokos 2008). Simply put, the state participated in outright obstructionism. Curiously, the situation compelled the organizers to reinvent the Soviet period’s practice of samizdat, or secret clandestine communication and gatherings, in order to hold screenings. Messages and texts (SMS) were relayed by a cellphone network of trusted contacts each time an improvised venue had been secured. [open endnotes in new window]
The following year, festival organizers circumvented this Kafkaesque situation (Rabatzky 2008; de Guerre 2011). Instead of trying to use city-owned venues, they held all events on the property of various foreign consulates and cultural agencies. Apparently, the event was a great success. By choosing consulates as sites, the municipal authorities could no longer play the game of rendering the building unfit for an event. Now the festival tours provincial Russian towns, such as Novosibirsk and Archangel, among others, where the organizers still encounter similar resistance from certain members of the local authorities and the press.
While the network of LGBT film festivals has reached truly an international scale, with regular festivals not only in North America and Europe, but also in Asia and increasingly in Eastern Europe and India, there are hardly any such events in Africa or the Middle East. Evidently, both the density and paucity of such festivals around the world deserves serious consideration. In North America in the 1970s, the work of the lesbian and gay rights movement was accompanied by the development of the festivals as a part of a larger media activism, whereas in Africa and the Middle East homosexuality itself as an identity remains under suspicion. What is common in the development of the festivals worldwide is their local contingency, their adaptation to their contexts of emergence, their social struggles, debates, nationalisms, taboos, idea of sexual representation. Precisely how they manifest themselves in these diverse locations, each with its own contingent constellation of races, ethnicities, social classes and local sexual histories, is difficult to predict.
I wonder, will the queer film festival always carry with it the promise of a site for the unruly carnivalesque anywhere in the world? While the customary frame of the carnival or festival guarantees a space for free play, the accented theme on minor sexualities and consequent transgression of the private-public binary seems to ensure that lesbian and gay film festivals face conflict somewhere. Their unique festivality centered on sexual identities may be denied in certain places, provoking contestation.
Heterotopias admit the possibility of history and change (25). Festivals and carnivals have similarly transformed from ancient through modern times, fracturing into an endless myriad of secular types. In recent times in the United States, for example, we see the bifurcation from ‘film festival’ to ‘film and video festival’ alongside ‘women’s film festivals’ and ‘black film festivals’ to ‘gay film or video festivals’ to ‘lesbian and gay film and video festivals’ to the embracive ‘LGBTTQ film and video festival’ (the common acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, and Queer). At the heart of this trajectory in the United States has been the development of liberal civil rights, sexual and gender identity politics, and a broad ethics of inclusion and social themes trumping medium specificity in the way these festivals are organized.
While festivals do change in their programming priorities, structure, organizational identity, among others, what will be the next incarnation of this sort of (film) festival? For example, will the festival be able to accommodate adequately transgender and transsexual concerns; should separate festivals serve the trans community; or should both somehow be attempted? How interested are transgender and transsexual persons in associating with such a festival? How will issues of ableism and ageism work their way through their special liberal logic of inclusion? These questions are ongoing. They could arguably be considered a part of what Thomas Elsaesser calls the potential of festivals to serve as an agora (2005, 103), borrowed from the Ancient Greek city state notion of a public gathering place or forum. In this sense, a festival fosters a context, a space for conversations, discussions and heated debates over issues that matter to its publics. Just as the cases mentioned above provide excellent examples of how such identity-oriented festivals put agora in practice—enhanced or thwarted—international film festivals in general have a long history of providing contexts for protests or launching manifestos, whether the 1968 closing of Cannes or the 1962 manifesto at Oberhausen, among many others.
According to Foucault,
This principle brings out the sense of differences—the “hetero”—at the heart of the concept. He adds more about the concept of space, specifically about film screenings:
However, this concept of space does not simply imply a static projection of three-dimensional space but rather a sequence in time. I would elaborate further that screen space generally opens up an infinity of possible spaces and temporalities that we juxtapose against the rest of the room of the cinema. The room of the cinema invites a space of curiosity and promise, with expectations of adventure, fantasy, familiarity and difference, even a Benjaminian anticipation of shock. Cinemas produce their own sort of signature, particularly by dint of what they show. The festivals that temporarily inhabit and animate these physical spaces of the cinemas layer and produce their own meanings yet again.
I ask, what aspects of these possible spaces and temporalities are favored in a GLBT festival and why? The physical room of the cinema, its space, accommodates an ephemeral convergence of seemingly anonymous strangers melded into an audience of spectators, whose members perhaps share certain taste, education, age, class, race, gender or sexual identities and interests. It is likely that there is some prior relation between audience members who move in the same scene—e.g. shared spaces of bars and dance clubs, professional associations and community activism, dating websites, gyms, and other activities.
Some might argue that venues should be interchangeable, non-places in Augé’s sense, while others might be sensitive to the placeness of the potential venue, site of exhibition, or site of festivality. If we consider that the film festival might be a constellation of multiple cinema venues, that adds another dimension to this analysis. In a sense, the festival then creates a set of relations between the diverse sites, their audiences and the film programs. What films are screened in which venue? How do the sites relate to the host city in which they are embedded? For example, is the neighborhood friendly and familiar or alienating and dangerous?
“Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time,” or open onto heterochronies (26). The heterotopia begins to function fully once there is a break in traditional time.
Film festivals may be understood as archives of sorts, along the lines posited by Jose Munoz (1996) and Anne Cvetkovich (2003) regarding them in terms of performance and ephemerality. In contrast to the pursuit of time, accumulated by the traditional archive of documents, the heterotopias of the festival are flowing, fleeting, ephemeral. As Foucault writes:
The festival as event proposes highly complicated layers of temporalities, including the flows of narrative time in the individual film on the screen, groupings in film programs, and the whole selection of films. Not only are there temporalities within and between films, there are the larger temporal frames of the festivals as annual events and as events condensed into a definite number of days.
Historically, festivals and the carnival have their origin in the religious calendar of feast days. Often they require specific rituals to accompany their celebration. Festivals add seasonal rhythm, punctuate the calendar year, provide the social context for a collective gathering of people over a fixed number of days, and have an associated print culture and public. They also exist in relation to other festivals and events throughout the year. Modern (secular) arts and film festivals inherit all those general characteristics, while showing, in principle, the best films of the year, accompanied with retrospectives of favored films from the past.