The Scottish Queer International Film Festival

In the next of our profile pieces related to our Equality Matters survey for Scotland's Film and Television professionals we speak to Helen Wright from the Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF).

Something Must Break from the SQIFF 2015 programme 

The first Scottish Queer International Film Festival ran in September 2015, what were the aims of the festival?

The aims of SQIFF were primarily to provide a welcoming space for LGBTQ+ people and their friends and supporters to come together and to explore cinema as an art form. We wanted to promote queer films, especially those that wouldn't screen in Scotland otherwise, and we wanted to contribute to building LGBTQ community and individual wellbeing.

What sort of line-up did you pull together for the first SQIFF?

The programme had a wide range of different content, aesthetics, and styles. We had quite a few documentaries that spoke about various angles of being LGBTQ. For example, we screened Open Windows, about older lesbian women in France and Spain, Peace of Mind, about a trans man and queer activist who lived and worked in Haiti before his death there, and Alive!, in which a filmmaker recorded five gay men who have HIV training to do a parachute jump together. We had features including comedies, like our opening film Dyke Hard, love stories such as Frangipani, about a bisexual love triangle in Sri Lanka, and classic queer movies like Pedro Almodovar's What Have I Done to Deserve This? and John Waters' Desperate Living. Then we had a good number of shorts programmes organised by theme or by political identity plus we had a programme of Scottish shorts. We also tried to include as many filmmaking workshops as possible in order to encourage more queer filmmaking activity in Scotland.

Members of the SQIFF committee and the director and cast of opening night film Dyke Hard

What were the challenges in curating the programme?

The main challenge of putting together a queer film programme is being inclusive and intersectional. We wanted to represent as best we could all the letters in the LGBTQ acronym and to be aware of intersectional identities which affect people's experiences of being LGBTQ, particularly race, age, class, and disability. To meet this challenge requires doing a lot of research on all the work that is out there and thinking long and hard about what your programme should look like. There is also a difficulty with programming an intersectional breadth of queer feature films because access to funding and training which making a feature film generally requires is restricted for people who are especially marginalised in society, such as transgender women and deaf and disabled queer people. Our response to this in our programme was to include filmmaking workshops either aimed at or accessible for trans people and deaf and disabled people to try to counter these groups' exclusion from getting involved in film culture and the industry. We hope that through focusing on representing marginalised groups as best we can and by trying to make our festival itself accessible to them we can contribute towards improving the intersectional nature of queer arts in Scotland and encouraging a wider range of LGBTQ individuals to have a go at making films themselves.

Festival guests Cary Cronenwett, Bitte Andersson, and Campbell X take part in a panel discussion on queer filmmaking 

What reactions and responses did you have to the festival?

Responses to the festival were overwhelming positive. People let us know they were very happy to have a safe and welcoming LGBTQ community arts event on their doorstep. Some people had never attended a queer film or arts festival before and were really pleased they had the chance to do so. We got particularly good feedback on our accessibility measures. People noted how good it was that we only used venues which were accessible for wheelchairs, that we screened all films with subtitles and had BSL interpretation to make events more accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people, and that we converted the toilets at all our venues to gender neutral. Many of our international guests noted that these measures and the inclusivity of our programming made us stand out from queer film festivals in other parts of the world. Responses to the films we chose for the programme were mostly good. Though, of course, people had different opinions on what they enjoyed and what they didn't but this resulted in real dialogue and debate about queer film as a genre and art form, which was great.

Actor Jo Clifford and director Annabel Cooper accept the audience award for Best Scottish Short

How are plans for 2016’s festival looking, what’s next for SQIFF?

We have just announced the dates for SQIFF 2016, 29 September to 2 October, and submissions to the festival are now open!

We want to replicate the success of last year's event and work on how we can improve it to be more accessible and welcoming for more people. We are happy to take any feedback from LGBTQ+ individuals and communities in this regard. One of the best ways we know to keep improving is to get more people involved in programming and planning and we have expanded our organising committee to include LGBTQ+ people with a wider range of identities, experiences, and film expertise, which we hope will feed into an even better programme and festival for 2016.

Find out more about SQIFF.

Equality Matters

Creative Scotland is calling on Scotland’s Film and TV professionals to take part in a wide-ranging screen equalities survey, to inform our understanding of issues of under-representation. The findings will help us to address these issues through positive action, going forward. The survey opened on Wednesday 10 February and will close on 7 March.  Take part in the survey.

This article was published on 19 Feb 2016