BY KEZIA DWYER
2017 was in many ways a great year for queer cinema. Kicked off by Moonlight, it went from strength to strength. A glance at the Guardians’ top UK films of 2017 reveals the growing popularity of queer films, with four of the top 15 spots being given to LGBTQ films: Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, The Handmaiden and God’s Own Country.
On the festival circuit, the Cannes Grand Prix award went to BPM (Beats Per Minute), the authentic and absorbing story of Parisian AIDs activists of the 90s; while Fantastic Woman, a Chilean story of a transwoman under suspicion of her lover’s death, scooped a number of international film festival awards, as well as being Oscar-nominated at the 90th Academy Awards.
Yet, the reality of the situation is that very few of these films made it to the major multiplexes. Venturing outside the liberal Guardian list, and looking at the top 50 highest grossing films they’re nearly all heterocentric. Hollywood, once again, is still remarkably behind the curve with their representation of LGBTQ people. Advancements are only slowing being made with just a small number of hints and ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ gay narratives in major blockbusters (apart from the wonderfully refreshing Battle of the Sexes).
The reality is unless you are really looking and are willing to go to the film festival and search for an indie house showing, finding somewhere showing the amazing breadth of queer film can be quite a challenge. And on-screen representation is critical. Studies have shown that what people consistently see in the media creates our understanding of ‘normal’. Without getting too academic, there is a body of research called symbolic annihilation which is based on the idea if you don’t see people like you in the media it means you must somehow be unimportant. One hard-hitting line from the research1 explains “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.”
This is why projects showing queer films and creating spaces for these marginalised voices are so important. In 2012, Jonathan Hyde started the Eyes Wide Open Cinema, a queer film strand based in Brighton. The cinema hosts regular screenings across the city, exploring the lives and work of sexual and gender minorities in film. Eyes Wide Open Cinema is centred around the understanding that cinema can hold the radical potential that challenges status quo, resists hegemony and subverts established norms.
‘As exhibitors we have an obligation to present a diverse selection of stories and bring visibility to the margins. In my position as a cinema manager I felt well-placed to use that platform to organise screenings of films that shone a light on LGBTQ voices. Audiences in Brighton and beyond clearly responded to this extra choice and highlighted the importance to seeing lesser-told stories on the big screen.’
The programme is a mix of old and new queer cinema with previous screenings including the radical arthouse Multiple Maniacs, the South Korean The Handmaiden and a raft of great documentaries like Kiki, along with one-offs such as Orange is the New Black season two marathon.
The much-anticipated first screening of the year is Hope Along the Wind, a biopic of Worthing-born Harry Hay, who founded the earliest homophile organisation, the Mattachine Society, and the queer group the Radical Faeries. Following the screening there will be a Q&A with Harry’s long personal friend Joey Cain, visiting from San Francisco. The rest of this year’s programme promises to be a wide variety of queer cinema with last year’s programme featuring an impressive 45% of films directed by people of colour and less than 43% of films directed by men.
This year’s programme pledges to include an increase of films directed by women and representation of disabled queer people, asexual and aromantic people and intersex people. The Eyes Wide Open spring programme promises not only to be an enjoyable night unveiling the brilliant creative queer films of the past and present, but also giving an important to space those overlooked by the mainstream.