Queer Shanghai cinema

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-16 18:13:01

ShanghaiPRIDE puts on the city’s first-ever LGBTQ-themed film festival

Every year, June marks the city's film awards season. In addition to the grand annual Shanghai International Film Festival, this year brings Shanghai's first-ever film festival for LGBTQ-themed movies (movies that tell stories from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community). The festival aspires to give the public insight into the lives of LGBTQ people - a perspective that is usually ignored in China's film industry.The ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival (ShPFF) lasts from June 14 to 21 and is organized by a group of Chinese and foreign volunteers as an important part of ShanghaiPRIDE 2015, the city's biggest annual event for the LGBTQ community. A total of 31 films will be showcased during the festival, and all screenings are open to the public for free.

Makers of the 31 films are from home and abroad. "Some of them are film professionals, some are film students and some are just people with cameras who were inspired to tell their stories," said filmmaker Matthew Baren, ShPFF's coordinator and programmer.

Posters for the films to be screened during the first-ever ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival and a flyer (left) for the festival Photos: Courtesy of the event organizer

Queer characters on the big screen

Eight of the films to be screened are award-winning feature movies. Lilting, a film directed by the young, talented filmmaker Hong Khaou in 2013, was presented at the festival's opening ceremony on Sunday afternoon. It tells the story of a Cambodian-Chinese mother who lives alone in a home for the elderly in London. Unable to speak English, the mother's only companion is the memory of her son Kai, whose untimely death has left her isolated in a culture that she never fully assimilated into. One day, the mother's solitude is disrupted by Richard, Kai's English boyfriend. With the help of a translator, Richard and the mother come to know each other in grief, and their mutual love for Kai transcends the boundaries of language.

Sunday's opening ceremony for ShPFF marked the first time that this touching film was publicly screened in China. Chinese-American actress Cheng Pei-pei, who starred as Kai's mother in the film, attended the screening and participated in a Q&A session. She told the audience that she was surprised and happy to see the film being screened in Shanghai. "I was born in Shanghai, but I never thought that the film would be showcased publicly in this city one day," she said.

Cheng told the Global Times that before acting in this film, she spoke with and got to know a few LGBTQ people. She herself is friendly to the community, but the mother she played is a traditional-minded woman who doesn't accept LGBTQ people at the beginning of the film. "The mother in the film is like many ordinary and typical Chinese mothers," Cheng said. "They are eager to control the lives of their children, but fail to really understand their children."

Another feature film that Baren recommended is Our Marriages: Lesbians Marry Gay Men, which is about contract marriages in northern China. As the pressure to marry continues to be a central component of traditional family culture in this country, a number of mutually consenting lesbians and gay men have begun entering into agreements to get married. These contract marriages have detailed terms and conditions about daily life, and are actually meant to provide more freedom for both parties. "It can be quite controversial, but it is just about some people who want to control their own lives," Baren told the Global Times.

Documenting LGBTQ China

Many of the films being showcased are participants in ShPFF's Short Film Competition. "The competition specifically supports Chinese filmmakers who tell stories about the country's LGBTQ experience," said Baren. The festival began soliciting submissions from the public last November, and received more than 30 original short films with various styles and characters.

Among the 30 or so submissions, A Straight Journey: Days and Nights in Their Kingdom, made by a Beijing-based duo nicknamed Masamojo, won the competition's Best Film Award. Masamojo comprises two heterosexual photographers who interviewed 48 gay men, lesbians and their families in 11 cities across China.

"The filmmakers attended ShanghaiPRIDE 2014, and were inspired to make a documentary about the gay and lesbian Chinese experience," Baren said.

Masamojo's work and some of the other award-winning short films will be showcased at the Iris Prize Festival in the UK, one of the world's most dynamic LGBTQ film competitions.

"Our main goal is to establish a constructive and proactive platform for emerging LGBTQ filmmakers in China," Baren said.

On Saturday afternoon of the festival, the Queer University Filmmaking Workshop will be held. The Queer University is a non-profit filmmaking training program. It's for LGBTQ community members and those who work or volunteer in sexual minority communities. "We hope the workshop can help those who are interested in filmmaking to master the basic ideas of independent creation," said Baren.

The workshop is open to the public for free as well. For a detailed schedule and other related information about ShPFF, visit the festival's bilingual website http://www.shpride.com/films/?lang=en.

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