Experiencing a Festival’s ‘taste’ in Film Selection and Organization

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curating for Festivals
By Feargal Agard

Oriented_038-1
On Wednesday, the ninth of December 2016, Amsterdam’s newest film festival addition finally launched. International Queer & Migrant film festival is the name and it was festively and proudly introduced with an affectionate speech from its founder Chris Belloni. After his speech was rewarded with a thunderous applause from the audience. The lights in the room slowly went dark as the screen began to portray Roy Dib’s fiction short film Mondial 2010 (2013), which is thematically a film about love and place. A Lebanese gay couple is seen who decided to take a road trip to Ramallah. The film is recorded with their camera as they chronicle their journey. Viewers are invited through the couple’s conversations into the universe of a fading city. Mondial 2010 was followed by Jake Witzenfeld’s feature length documentary film Oriented (2015). His documentary follows the lives of three gay Palestinian friends, which confronts their national and sexual identity as they live as legal residents in Tel Aviv and not with their family in Palestina. The ‘eye-opening’ and intriguing film screening ended with a Q & A session between the audience and the director Jake Witzenfeld who was present through Skype.

The festival opened with a geographically and politically interesting selection. A community is represented and given a voice that we otherwise would have never seen. Though, in creating this new and unique ‘Queer’ and ‘Migrant’ experience, what processes around decision-making, selection, criteria and politics are involved? How does the ‘taste’ of this festival’s programmer dominate the programming agenda? Is this ‘taste’ lead by aesthetics or politics?

In order to wholly understand the criteria on which this festival selects its films. We would have to be present throughout the whole selection process and ask the programmers and the ones who participate in the selection process to get an accurate representation of their decision-making. Unfortunately we are not able to do such fastidious work. On the website of the International Queer & Migrant Film Festival it does state the following requirements: Submissions should be of interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgendered, intersex people; Submissions should be related to queer, migrants or minorities; Submissions in languages other than English must be subtitled; Works in progress and rough cuts may be submitted, with the final cut being available for preview by end of July 2016. And on an interesting note, on the about page it states that “In most cases the films are made by filmmakers who are queer and migrant themselves”.

Author and former director of Queer festivals, Jamie June, writes in her article about the criteria and selection process for programming Queer film festivals. According to June’s research based on gathered information from a variety of Queer festivals. It is safe to assume that the Queer & Migrant festival also made use of a screening committee of maybe three to twelve people in the decision-making process. Next to that, she essentially defines what would be Queer enough as “lgbtq film, within the queer film festival context, is any film that is of interest to the lgbtq community and is likely to contain lgbtq content and characters, but is not necessarily made by a filmmaker that identifies as lgbtq” (June 2004, 2). It is not surprising to see that her definition is remarkably similar to that of the Queer & migrant festival. It is a festival that focuses on a specific community, a minority community of you will, but this does not explicate whether films are chosen based on ‘taste’, aesthetically or politically. It must be kept in account that a film festival does not receive the exact amount of films that they will screen at a festival. Usually hundreds of films are submitted and a fraction of that will be shown. This makes it clear that the criteria shown on the website and defined by June are not enough. The criteria that is utilized during the screening committee’s sessions remain a mystery.

Scholar and theorist Elizabeth Czach discusses programming and the building of a national cinema in regard of film festival, which could be seen as a totally different subject. But she addresses international film festival programming in a relevant execution. First off she refers to critic and scholar Ruby Rich who in Czach’s opinion would call “the worship of ‘taste’ [that] dominates the international film festival circuit’s programming agenda” (Czach 2004, 84). Because she argues that there is a distinction between national and internatonal film festivals. Selection on ‘taste’ is downplayed at a national film festival as they value a political aspect. International festivals might be suspicious of the “notion of quality” (Czach 2004, 84). Which means that the programmer’s focus is aimed at “quality, value or good taste” (Czach 2004, 84). In essence aesthetics.

Czach might be right when it comes to mainstream national and international film festivals, but a Queer and Migrant film festival might be a special case. Though it’s focus is international, it presents a niche or small group that shares a general identity and not per se many identities, that is why you could position a Queer festival right in the middle. Why? Because the experience that the audience has at this festival is international and very political. Instead of international and full of quality and ‘taste’. The sense of a focus on aesthetics, quality or ‘taste’ is kind of absent. The film Mondial 2010 is aesthetically not pleasant as it is filmed without any mainstream cinematic aesthetically artful approaches. It is literally a home video taped event, but it contains a politically strong message. Oriented on the other hand is aesthetically beautiful. Although at times it does intermix with images filmed by the characters from their daily lives. Still, the political aspect of Oriented persists as the significant reason that exemplifies why this film was selected. The film discusses grave issues about queers who are migrants in a land that is almost constantly in conflict. In other words it would not have mattered if the films was recorded with the worst camera or smartphone quality or not, if the message serves the interest of the Queer and Migrant community it. The only way that ‘taste’ forms this festival would be in a politically, but ethical form.

Bibliography
Czach, Elizabeth. “Film festivals, Programming, and the Building of a National Cinema.” The Moving Image. Volume 4, Number 1. University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2004. Pp.76-88. Article.
June, Jamie. “Defining Queer: The Criteria and Selection Process for Programming Queer Film Festivals.” CultureWork. A Periodic Broadside for Arts and Culture Workers. Volume 8, Number 2. University of oregon Press. January 2004. Pp. 1-5. Article.

Filmography
Oriented. Dir. Jake Witzenfeld. Perf. Khader Abu Seif, Fadi Daeem, Naeem Jiryes, David Paerl, Nagham Yacoub. Conch Studios. 2015. Film.
Mondial 2010. Dir. Roy Dib. Perf. Ziad Chakaroun, Abed Kobeissy. Lebanese Film Festival. 2013. Film.

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