2014 marks the launch of the first Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. If cultural events offer any insight into the attitudes of the communities that hold them, then what does TIQFF say about Taiwan today?
By Stuart Hill
Imagine the main characters in arguably Taiwan’s most famous queer novel — Crystal Boys — waking up in present day Taipei. What would they make of a national support hotline for alienated “comrades” hosting its own variety show to drum up funding? Or an annual march for queer pride in unabashed pursuit of marriage equality? Perhaps they’d not even bat one highlighted eyelid, taking in the welcoming atmosphere at the Red House in XiMenDing, sipping on a cocktail or two as they prepared for the evening’s “second round.”
On the other hand, would they be much surprised by street marches and press conferences in support of “traditional family values”, or preachers espousing that gays should burn away their sins? Would they understand a world of AIDS, internet porn, and Jack’d?
In the 30 years since Crystal Boys was first published — and roughly 10 years since its TV adaptation was shown on Taiwanese television — Taiwan human rights and social equality has quietly evolved, bobbing along a stream of growing world-wide acceptance and understanding of LGBT people. As if to underscore its own LGBT credentials, in 2014 Taiwan Pride celebrates its 12th year.
“Since the democratic awakening in the 1980s, Taiwan has made great improvements politically, socially, and in so many ways. As a result, Taiwan is one of the LGBT-friendliest countries in Asia,” says Vita Lin co-director of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF).
Echoing her sentiments is her comrade-in-film, co-director Jay Lin. “Taiwan is one of the most liberal countries in Asia.” That said, when it comes to issues of gender, sexuality, and even attitudinal difference, “Taiwanese sometimes find it hard to openly talk about certain issues.”
For years, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights have been played by Taiwanese politicians of all persuasions, looking to flaunt their human rights records while delivering little of substantial value. Surprisingly, as a society that trades so freely with overseas markets, its local social trends have perhaps less openly reflected the shifts happening elsewhere. Yet in contrast to Taiwan’s official policies and law, at the grassroots level things have been moving along regardless.
It’s in this mix of local and global context that Taiwan is hosting its first international film festival focused purely on “queer themes”. The Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) held in Taiwan’s largest cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung, covers five days of screenings, showcasing 60 feature films, documentaries and shorts.
TIQFF covers topics such as living with AIDS, persecution, working in the gay porn industry, love, trust, tragedy, and awakening — it’s a program covering a huge spectrum of concerns touching the lives of people within queer communities from all around the world.
According to festival co-director Jay Lin, CEO of Portico Media, one of the key event sponsors, “We hope that TIQFF will not only play an anchor role in showing to the Taiwanese people the diversity of the LGBT community, but, at the same time, the similarity to everyone else in this country.”
If that’s possible, the festival is certainly doing its bit to educate and entertain. On the serious side of the festival program are the award-winning documentaries How to Survive a Plague and God Loves Uganda, as well as Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda. Long time “AIDS activist” and advocate for greater research into HIV (who is also a subject of Survive a Plague) Peter Staley, has been invited to speak to local HIV-AIDS groups.
On the other end of the spectrum are US comedies G.B.F. and Boy Meets Girl, Switzerland’s Hazel and German film I Feel Like Disco — which is opening the festival. The inclusion of Ang Li’s The Wedding Banquet — released in 1993 — couldn’t be more fitting as the festival’s film in retrospective.
Short films are also in abundance, with sessions grouped as Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and HIV, and a special set from Korean director KIM JHO Gwang-soo. The short films have been sourced from across Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Israel. The festival organizers have created Taiwan’s first Queer Shorts Competition, which after receiving over 100 entries has been narrowed down to five films with the winner announced at the end of the festival.
Despite its small team of 12 full-time staff and another 15 volunteers during festival screenings, the festival organizers have gone to great lengths to create a program equal in quality to more established events around the world. In addition to hand picking well-known films that have done well at other festivals, TIQFF is intended to showcase queer content made from Taiwan and Asia.
As a boost to local film making, both at the production and distribution sides of the industry, TIQFF has launched the Taiwan International Queer Production Workshop to support Taiwanese screenwriters, producers, and directors. The organizers have invited overseas and local industry experts to share their experiences across two days of presentations and discussions. Speakers include Stephen Israel (G.B.F.), Gavin Lin (In Case of Love), S. Leo Chiang (Limited Partnership), Michael Leow (Au Revoir Taipei), KIM JHO Gwang-soo (Two Weddings and a Funeral), Josh Kim (The Postcard), and Diana Lee (The Priestess Walks Alone) among others.
Says Taiwan-born S. Leo Chiang: “I’d love to have conversations around placing Taiwanese queer stories in the context of a larger, global LGBT narrative.” The USC Film School graduate — who is using his current queer project “Out Run” as a case study for the workshop — comments on his own career trajectory: “School teaches us the fundamentals of the craft, but we did not get a lot of exposure on how to navigate and build a career, and how to manage the obstacles that may come up.”
For a festival like this to “create a platform for discussion about human rights, self-identity and love” where topics are not just ABOUT queer individuals but FOR queer communities, the obvious challenge has been how to be as inclusive as possible. To achieve this local engagement, the organizers reached out to local associations and organizations, including the Gay Hotline Association, lesbian magazine Lesz, several university, transgender and parents associations.
“Thankfully, they have all been very receptive to the idea (of TIQFF) and have helped us enormously spreading the word about the festival,” reflects Jay Lin.
Equally important is the festival’s engagement with the local business community, especially where sponsorship is concerned. “The hardest part was that this is our first year, so many sponsors don’t know what outcomes the festival will have,” comments Lin. Despite not traditionally targeting Taiwan’s LGBT community, various enterprises have nevertheless backed the festival through sponsorship. As a way of applauding their financial support, Lin explains “None of them focus on the LGBT consumer and yet…are willing to sponsor a queer film festival.”
For the films themselves, the organizers have been acutely mindful of not leaving anything or anybody out, ensuring they “choose movies that represent as many
people as possible within the queer community,” offers Lin. “We hope that the festival can create dialog and discussion, that LGBT as well as straight people can on one hand enjoy a good movie, and on the other open their minds to different points of view and realities.”
More about the first Taiwan International Queer Film Festival
- Taipei screening dates: 26-30 September 2014
- Taipei screening location: Shin Kong Cineplex (新光影城) 4F, 36 Xining South Road, Wanhua District, closest MRT is XiMen. (台北市萬華區西寧南路36號4樓)
- Kaohsiung screening dates: 3-7 October 2014
- Kaohsiung screen location: Oscar Digital Theatres (奧斯卡影城) 287 RenZhi Street, XinXing District, Kaohsiung (高雄市新興區仁智街287號)
- Ticket sales through: FamiPort and FamiTicket at Family Mart convenience stores
- Taiwan International Queer Film Festival Workshop dates: 27-28 September 2014
- Official website: www.tiqff.com
- Facebook page: www.facebook.com/tiqff