The achievement of getting your film into any film festival these days is always good news. Being selected for film festivals has become a much converted prize, not only for all the hard work that goes into making the film, but also for getting your film out to audiences in order to create discussion and debate. Then imagine my surprise when a festival executive told me that the that audience numbers for LGBTQ festivals are falling. He said that the younger audiences simply were not attending LGBTQ film festivals, as there was a belief amongst the younger generation that the cause has been ‘won’ and that the LGBTQ politics of yesteryear were no-longer relevant to them because they had been ‘accepted’ by the mainstream. But my recent experience at an LGBTQ film festival really brought it home to me just how important attendance at these film festivals is.
This September, my film was selected to screen at the Q! Film Festival, and at the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and I decided I would attend both. However, a few weeks before the Q! Film Festival was about to start, the organisers told us that the festival had to be cancelled due to security threats. They said they would hold smaller screenings for regular festival attendees and they asked if we still wanted to be there. We had already heard about the death threats to the festival organisers in the past, so were really in two minds on whether to go or not.
We get little news in the West about countries like Indonesia and I had been ignorant of the oppression the LGBTQ community face. Strong anti-LGBTQ sentiment had been brewing in Indonesia since January 2016, seemingly precipitated by a comment made by the Minister of Higher Education Muhammad Nasir, where he wanted to stop LGBTQ students organising on university campuses. Several politicians jumped on the bandwagon declaring that, “The LGBT community is a serious threat to the nation” and “It should not be allowed to grow or be given room to conduct its activities” (Nasir Djamil, Prosperous Justice Party politician 24.01.16). However, the real threat to LGBTQ rights is that what started off as prejudicial sentiment has now been institutionalised through legislative proposals. On 23 August 2016, just before the Q! Film Festival, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court held its fifth hearing to criminalise sex out of wedlock and consensual same-sex behaviour. The petition, brought by a group of university professors asked for an amendment to the laws of adultery, but the amendment clearly targets the LGBTQ community. As an academic myself I felt hugely disturbed that the educators of society would be at the forefront of such bigotry.
Armed with this knowledge, together with the assurances from the film festival about their security arrangements for the screenings (they get security training from the UN), I decided to go to Jakarta for the screenings.
The festival was indeed scaled back, but the commitment and bravery of the festival organisers towards their cause was not. The organisers are all volunteers and the energy and the intelligence of these young Jakartians was inspiring. Before the threats, the festival had much support from the international embassies based in Jakarta and sadly some of that fell away. However, some officials did brave the screenings, amongst them the British Council and the United Nations. One of the festival organisers told me that having us at the screenings helped keep their spirits up, “knowing that their festival was being supported by international friends despite the crackdown on LGBT events”.
I have been to many film festivals, but the hospitality of the QFF organisers towards us was second to none. We were taken out everyday to explore Jakarta, eat dinner and chaperoned to the screenings. The screenings were intimate, but I had a real chance to engage with the audience, not only talk about my film, but also the wider issue of freedom of expression and their 100% Human campaign that reminds us that LGBTQ discrimination is a violation of Human Rights. Graeme Reid. the LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The proposed criminal sanctions before the Constitutional Court are not only a threat to LGBT people, but to all Indonesians….Laws that threaten privacy inevitably affect everyone.”
I felt honoured to hear first-hand about the struggle the LGBTQ community faced in Jakarta and impressed by the resilience as the recent events only as a ‘set-back’.
During this difficult time for us, identified as non-heterosexual in Indonesia, when there are efforts through supreme court to criminalise us, that we were given the opportunity to screen the movie, it meant tremendous support for Q! FILM FESTIVAL. As you know, we're a non-profit organisation, so to have international organisations and friends giving their permission, their film for QFF is the biggest help for us, to introduce, educate issues on LGBTQ for Indonesian public.
When I arrived for the screenings of my film at the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival the atmosphere was very different. During the Q&A, I thanked the audience for attending and tell them about my experience in Jakarta. An audience member replied that the situation is different in non-Muslim countries. I pointed out that in Larry Tung’s film Coming Full Circle, he showed how Christian fundamentalists tried to shut down Korea’s Pride and that fundamentalists exist in all societies. I finish by saying that we should not take for granted the importance of LGBTQ film festivals, as the struggle for self-determination goes on and cannot be taken for granted wherever we are.
The Q! Film Festival in Jakarta was established in 2002 and is Asia’s largest LGBT film festival in terms of the number of films shown, but in a country that is 80% Muslim the festival has often faced hostilities. The organisers have faced death threats from fundamentalist Islamic groups and have even faced opposition from the authorities. In 2009 and 2010 the festival members were asked by the local Jakarta government to prove that the Festival conformed to Islamic culture before it could go ahead. Despite all this opposition the festival organisers have kept on going.
For the screening at FACT on Saturday 20 November, Rosa will be introducing Deconstructing Zoe and take questions afterwards. Book your ticket here!