The 2020 Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) displays an array of low-budget queer gems. Here are 3 favorites. Today is the last day for UK residents to watch the film online, and they’re pay what you can.
The Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) is, like most festivals, virtual this year, and it puts the accessibility of most virtual film festivals to shame. Every film, short or feature, is on Vimeo On Demand across the UK at a pay what you can basis (from free to £10+). All films have English language captions, all live events have live captioning and BSL interpretation, and several films and events have audio description available. Their accessibility guidelines list a myriad of other ways the festival strives to be accessible for all people, including braille, text only, and audio versions of its brochure.
It’s wonderful to attend a film festival celebrating the stories of marginalised queer people when you know the festival is making an effort to include typically marginalised viewers. It stands in stark contrast to the lack of captioning at the London Film Festival, even though it’s a much larger and well-funded festival.
I only sampled a small selection of SQIFF films this year, but these three were absolute gems. The festival is also screening Lingua Franca, which Seventh Row contributor Milly Gribben reviewed and recommended earlier this year. Today is the last day you can watch these films online — and you can do so for free, although if you have some cash to spare on your ticket, this is an organisation worthy of it.
Cindy (Rosanagh Griffiths)
Rosanagh Griffiths’ snappy, deftly paced short Cindy is a warm hug of a film that celebrates the affirming power of chosen family. Bronwyn James stars as Cindy, a young lesbian who is about to perform in a drag bar for the first time, after two years working in the bar’s cloakroom. As Cindy waits in the wings, she looks so nervous that you’re worried she won’t go on. But when she puts on a massive pair of glasses, completing her look, her fear fades away as she embraces her drag persona. Cindy’s killer performance gets off to a raucous start, and the crowd is loving her. Their enthusiasm, as well as Cindy’s confidence, wanes when Cindy accidentally kicks her high heel into the face of an audience member, knocking her out.
Cindy goes on to explore the shameful morning after, when the high of performance is gone and Cindy has to deal with the reality of being a queer drag performer in the world. A video of her wardrobe mishap goes viral, and her family sees it, exposing Cindy to a fresh wave of rejection from a mother who had only just come to terms with her being a lesbian. She’s even on the receiving end of hoots and hollers from a boy on the street who recognises her. But all that fear and self doubt is made easier to bear by the queer community at the drag club who welcome her back with open arms; even the girl she hit in the face is obsessed with how amazing Cindy’s performance was, and the two strike up a romance.
Framing Agnes (Chase Joynt, Kristen Schilt)
When I interviewed Canadian director Chase Joynt about his feature documentary No Ordinary Man at TIFF, he told me he was “working on a feature film called Framing Agnes which is about never before seen case studies from trans history.” What I didn’t realise was that this feature is a continuation of a short film of the same name, co-directed by Kristen Schilt, which is playing SQIFF, and acts as a brilliant companion piece to No Ordinary Man.
Like No Ordinary Man, Framing Agnes reclaims long-lost transgender history by reenacting it with trans actors, drawing attention to how history — or an absence of it — reverberates today. Six trans actors dress up in 1950s garb and reenact audio recordings from the UCLA gender clinic. In these recordings, trans men and women explain why they require gender confirmation surgery; what they’re saying would have been instrumental in shaping society’s understanding of trans people, but sadly, the tapes were buried for 60 years. The film reimagines these conversations in a setting where they might have reached the public: a doctor’s office, which is where the conversations actually took place, has been changed to a TV interview, with Joynt playing host.
Joynt said of No Ordinary Man, “We’re invested in revealing the process behind a story for very strategic reasons. Part of the broader questions of our project is about who controlled Tipton’s story in the past? We need to be accountable to ourselves and the people on screen.” The same is true of Framing Agnes. The film shows us the process of putting together the re-enactments, from makeup to camera setup. Behind the scenes, the actors talk about their own experiences as trans people while they hang out on set or get their makeup done. Footage of them recounting their characters’ life stories on set is sometimes even intercut with them recounting their own life stories behind the scenes, which blurs the lines between the two, drawing attention to how little has changed. Many of these actors are recognisable names, particularly from TV: Angelica Ross (Pose), Jen Richards (Her Story), Silas Howard (director on Pose and Transparent), and Zackary Drucker (Transparent).
Queering the Script (Gabrielle Zilkha)
Following in the footseps of other documentaries on queer representation on screen, from The Celluloid Closet to Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, is Canadian filmmaker Gabrielle Zilkha’s Queering the Script. Zilkha’s film focuses specifically on representation of lesbian and bisexual women in television. Queering the Script is about how queer women react to representation (or a lack of it) through fan fiction, conventions, and social media. It’s as much about how fans have shaped media as how media has shaped fans.
While Zilkha’s film isn’t formally inventive, and it’s less insightful on racial and gender diversity, it’s an entertaining and informative watch that invites you to empathise with the women who participate in fandom. The film does a particularly great job of examining why ‘Bury Your Gays’ — the storytelling trope of introducing and then killing off a queer character — is so harmful. Between 2015 and 2017, queer women represented 2.5% of regular characters on scripted television but 27% of all character deaths. These statistics really hit home when Zilkha shows YouTube videos of young women weeping after the death of bisexual character Lexa on The 100. Queer female fans attached so much of their identity to Lexa because she was one of the only characters on TV they felt seen by, so they experienced very real grief when she died. The uproar on social media in the aftermath was so huge that it drew international attention to the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope, and TV writers took notice; far fewer queer women have died on TV in the years that followed.