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The annual GAZE International Film Festival has been a flagship event for Dublin’s LGBT community since its inception in 1992. Now in its 24th year, the festival will continue to highlight LGBT cinema for all its diversity, or so programmer Roisin Geraghty assures: “promoting LGBT film is so exciting,” she says. “You’re trying to find a very fine balance in your programming… between the L, G, B, and T, [as well as] the narrative content and the documentary content, and breaking it down into light content and hard-hitting content. It’s difficult but so interesting.”
A glance at the screening schedule seems to reaffirm Roisin’s comments: the festival opens with the documentary Strike a Pose, which follows the seven young male dancers who joined pop singer Madonna in 1990 for her iconic ‘Blond Ambition’ tour. For many, this was a milestone in LGBT history for how it communicated sexual liberation through performance. This tour of course occurred at a time when such freedom was a novelty: prejudice was high and misconceptions surrounding HIV and the gay community were widespread. This film acts as accompaniment to 1991’s Madonna: Truth or Dare, which will also be shown at the festival, alongside a special guest appearance from one of the original seven dancers, Kevin Stea.
The Madonna double-bill is accompanied in the successive days by films that promise to be just as impactful, albeit wholly different in terms of content and approach. One such example is Kiki, an ‘unofficial sequel’ to 1990’s Paris is Burning. A joint American-Swedish production, Kiki offers insight into the lives of LGBT youth of colour involved in the ‘Kiki’ scene, which incorporates a series of social gatherings and ballroom competitions. These gatherings often lead to important dialogues related to Black-and Trans-Lives Matter movements.
Acclaimed director Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats will also be screened at this year’s festival, as part of a strand that aims to celebrate Québec’s rich LGBT cinema. The focus on Queer Québécois Cinema was born of meeting between the people of GAZE and the programming directors of IMAGE+NATION LGBT Film Festival Montréal, who will be welcomed to attend this year’s festival.
Not only is there a wide range of international content available to view at the festival, but as ever there will be more than enough indigenous content to survey as well. “The Irish content is always to the fore for GAZE,” says Roisin Geraghty. “It’s very important for us to highlight Irish LGBT filmmakers and films. We have an incredibly strong Irish shorts programme this year, [and] we’re also screening Viva just before its release in August. It’s really important to us to have a film like that – an Irish film of such incredibly high standard.” Viva is an Irish film by director Paddy Breathnach which follows protagonist Jesus, played by Héctor Medina, who is a Cuban man with ambitions to become a drag queen. This, in spite of protestations from his estranged father.
The festival is once again sponsored by consulting firm Accenture, who have been patrons of the event since 2012. Michelle Cullen, managing director of Accenture, emphasises the important role businesses have in supporting LGBT peoples: “The diversity of our people is very important to us. In our first year we did banners [for the festival] along the Liffey… Some of our clients and other companies have said that seeing it so publicly has helped them join it. If you’re not saying it publicly you don’t know what it could be like [for LGBT people in business].” Accenture is a member of the GLEN Diversity Champions and next weekend its employees will march with GAZE at the Dublin Pride Parade.
This year’s festival will take place in a different cultural climate to that of last year; while in 2015 GAZE showed films to an Irish public still celebrating the numerous pro-LGBT laws that had recently come into effect both at home and abroad, audiences in 2016 are still reeling from the events of June 16, in which 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a homophobic attack at the famous Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, making it the worst incidence of violence against LGBT people in American history. It acted as a stark reminder of the prejudice LGBT people have to endure, and the ongoing efforts being made to tackle bigotry. Commenting on this is festival programmer Roisin Geraghty: “In the run up to putting the programme together I thought, ‘wow, there aren’t as many hard-hitting human rights documentaries as there was this time last year. Is that a sign that things are positively progressing?’ And then, after what happened last Saturday… It was a real reminder to us that there’s such a long way to go.” Roisin then cites Upstairs Inferno, a documentary set to be screened at the festival, as an example of a film that will strike a chord with contemporary audiences. The film is about the firebombing of a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973: “Up until last weekend,” Roisin says, “it was the second biggest attack on LGBT people in US history. As our programme went to print that was still the case.”
And while incidents like the aforementioned attack in the United States inspire fear within communities who dare to exhibit difference, they can also help emphasise the importance of festivals like GAZE, whose narratives of liberation, love, diversity, and endurance – combined with an attendance at the festival by patrons from all across the country, and indeed the globe – prove that however overwhelming prejudice may be, we are stronger and better together, and this can be seen in the stories we tell.
The GAZE Film Festival runs from July 28th to August 1st at the Light House Cinema, Dublin. Further details can be seen at www.gaze.ie