Considering LGBT Visibility

Mu Dan by Lincoln Chia

If one of the purposes of Short Circuit 4, a LGBT film festival, was to showcase the visibility of the community and their voices, it surely did succeed. Held at the Substation on the 9th of December, I had previously thought it to be a film community event – which it was -, but the space was mostly filled with gay males milling about minutes before the doors opened, as if an LGBT event. Before the event itself, news of Short Circuit 4 2010 was met with a heartening reception, with regard to the amount of ticket reservations snapped up and the subsequent online lamenting on their Facebook page by their slower fans. Managing to secure a ticket through SINdie, and a first attendant to Short Circuit itself, the idea of a queer film festival brought with it some questions about structure and format: what exactly was so queer about a film festival, so as to classify it as a LGBT one? Such divisions and categorizations must have tired out the LGBT community by now, but as the Q & A section of Short Circuit 4 that followed the screening of the 7 selected short films seemed to evince, the issue of what constitutes a festival touted as such, is brought forth continuously. The 7 films were: Dirty Bitch (dir. Sun Koh), Mu Dan (dir. Lincoln Chia), Masala Mama (dir. Michael Kam), Threshold (dir. Loo Zihan), Respirator (dir. Michael Tay), Cold Noodles (dir. Kirsten Tan), Anniversary (dir. Royston Tan).

Respirator by Michael Tay

In the first place, how does one curate and organize a LGBT film festival? The criteria for Short Circuit 4 seems innocuously simple: either the film content covers LGBT issues, and/or is made by one professing to be of the LGBT community. Yet the chronology of a film festival’s screening that follows such a criteria inevitably places a different pressure of viewing the films. As one film ends and the other begins, the content of the former film takes on the pressure of navigating the nebulous gap between the two specifications of festival selection, particularly problematic if the film does not depict overtly LGBT issues, whatever they may be. What occurs besides a possible overreading and picking out of all probable LGBT references as screened, is surprise after adopting only other alternative to view the film in another obvious context: the supposed LGBT background of the film-maker.

Threshold by Loo Zihan

Consider the first strategy of viewing: after all, what is visible onscreen is taken to be the starting point of viewing a film – in its direct context as visual content. Or is it?

As an audience member pointed out, a conspicuous aspect in the overall showcase of these 7 films, was the absence of lesbian stories, and a move away from the stereotypical camp gay males have long suffered to be portrayed as (except perhaps with the exception of Kam’s limp-wristed Indian shopkeeper in Masala Mama whose tender sensitivity and feminine behaviour on screen were met with light giggles from the audience). Then again, what exactly does LGBT content mean, or a homosexual narrative need contain, in differentiation to supposed monolithic heterosexual, straight narratives onscreen in Singapore?

A quick look at the selected films suggests an answer for this year’s Short Circuit: the dominant use of the flashback and disruptive scenes rupturing the narrative’s formerly established realistic tangent – either to depict the psychological desires and distress of the characters, or to posit the alternative futures and events that they hope for, their dilemmas resolved. When one audience member observed this familiar surreal thread running through most of the films, the curator of the festival Alfian Sa’at (the other being Boo Junfeng) suggested that to be a possible reflection of the duality that characterizes a LGBT struggle in an individual’s desire to voice out his or her sexuality, but remains distressed in the circumstances that restrain such hopes to be able to do so. This invariably brings in the second strategy of viewing the films through the background of the director.

Masala Mama by Michael Kam

True as that may be (and I believe that to be so on a personal level), it also assumes that LGBT directors inherently possess an alternative perspective built up from their struggles, that is posited in the films they make. Bringing that to the table with regard to the organization and selection criteria of Short Circuit then, does that sustain the basis of a queer film festival? After all, a film festival or at least in its organization and film selections, invariably throws up certain impressions of a collective community, here the LGBT community. Yet, for a film like Tan’s Cold Noodles that has nary a hint of a LGBT narrative or content (whatever they may be), how can it be viewed better in the framework of a queer film festival and the impressions it posits in a year’s running, beyond the film-maker’s background?

Cold Noodles by Kirsten Tan

One suggestion overheard after the event regarded the thematization of each year’s festival selections. This does and can ensure the visibility of LGBT issues within film narratives, beyond visibility by identity. That however, can also turn out to be a restraining framework. What I look forward to the future of Short Circuit - however it may turn out to be in terms of organization and being curated – beyond or instead of screening of existing films - films to be made for and inspired by its running. Now that, would be the next hallmark of a film festival.

written by Vicki Yang

Anniversary by Royston Tan

Vicki Yang is in her final year of university as a Literature, and Theatre Studies student. Upon graduation, she has plans to continue to freelance and work on her projects such as drawing political cartoons, writing, travelling, and acting. Plans for further studies in the field of film studies and drama are being nebulously concocted.

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