The Not Gay as in Happy, Queer as in Fuck You film festival opens tomorrow at The Bioscope in Johannesburg. The Con’s Dean Hutton is curating the festival, so we got the lowdown on what to expect.
The Con: How did the Not Gay as in Happy, Queer as in Fuck You film festival come about?
Dean Hutton: Darryl Els, a co-founder of The Bioscope, and I have been informally chatting about presenting a queer programme at the space for years, and a chance was finally presented when the Goethe-Institut approached us to programme a series of films alongside a cross-continental lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ) networking meeting it is scheduled to host in June.
TC: You use a quote from Audre Lorde on the programme for the festival: “… and that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength”. Where is the quote from, why did you choose it, and how did you interpret it to instruct your curatorship of the festival?
DH: The quote comes from Lorde’s Sister Outsider, where she speaks about the transition from silence into language. She speaks against the tyrannies of silence, that embracing visibility renders you a warrior, and how there is nothing that can be done to you for speaking out, for presenting an authentic self to the world, because “the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not you speak”. There is nothing more courageous than being yourself in a world that tries to render you invisible in mundane and violent ways. Lorde speaks particularly to blackness and queer and gender intersections. She challenges us to do our work, and our work is to define ourselves, name ourselves and speak for others instead of being defined and spoken for by others. We must live our truths and help others live theirs.
TC: Lorde struggled to confront racism in feminist thought. She was a feminist who refused to divorce the race struggle from the feminist struggle, and criticised the American feminists of the 1960s for focusing on the struggle of white middle class women. Lorde was a pioneer of what today is termed intersectionality. You have said this is important to you in terms of your curation of the film festival. Can you explain how it guided your curatorship, and why you see this as crucial in the South African and African context?
DH: There can be no ethical queerness without an appreciation of difference. We cannot combat oppression without acknowledging and decoding the intersectional struggles we face with regard to the various identities ascribed to and by us via race, sexuality, gender, ability, class and ethnicity. This is particularly important when checking our various privileges. We need to see cultural representations of ourselves, because so much our humanity relies on the expression of authentic human interaction. Festivals like this are important because queer people’s lived realities are made visible by, between and for queer consumption. We are queer through other queers, a queer ubuntu if you will, and we are in a war against the mythical norm.
TC: South Africa is already struggling with attempts to minimise the race issue in the broader gay/queer struggle – recent disputes about the Pride march are an obvious example. What are your thoughts about this struggle in South Africa?
DH: Most gay and lesbian visibility has been co-opted by an apolitical “pink dollar” capitalism as part of mainstreaming LGBTIQ identity. This is most prevalent in white, middle class gay communities that already benefit from whiteness. Commercial interests have chipped away the political from the equality movement to turn us into consumers. I support Johannesburg People’s Pride and Soweto Pride. I have for the past two years boycotted Sandton (white) Pride because I believe queerness is political.
TC: Looking at the name of the festival – Not Gay is in Happy, Queer as in Fuck You – and some of the films you have chosen, it’s clear you see the need for militant positions within the queer community. There is a lot of subject matter in films you have chosen that deals with resistance to the heterosexual white world’s judgment of queer identity and life. Is this where this sense of a need for militancy comes from?
DC: That’s a fair comment. Being visibly queer is an act of defiance. To be queer and to love is an act of civil disobedience. I think narratives that that say we must conform to heterosexist norms are dangerous. They say you can gain acceptance only through assimilation. Queerness encompasses a form of gender dissidence that is not confined to sexuality, and the more we challenge those kinds of oppression, the less vulnerable we are. Films like these can create safer spaces for us speak, and also for us to shout, to be, without restriction. There more we see ourselves in film, the more we can see that just because we reject “normality” does not make us either unnatural or abnormal. I’m suspicious of the heteronormative conditions imposed on queer people.
TC: What were the biggest struggles you faced when curating the festival?
DH: The only struggle was finding enough quality local queer film. The costs of producing feature films still keeps the medium elitist, but in typical queer fashion I decided to present more experimental short films to create local interventions on a really strong African and classic queer cinema programme.
TC: Lorde wrote that, “poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought … As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring ideas”. This quote resonates with me when I think about your recent body of work, Transitions: In search of an authentic queer, which was exhibited last year at the Goethe, as well as your choices of films for the festival. Is it fair to say that you see photography and film in much the same way Lorde saw poetry?
DH: In many ways, photography is poetry made visible, especially because a photographic moment, like a poem, exists as just a fragment of experience. And the more experiences at which we are present, the more elastic our minds become. Just as grand ideas are moved to action by poetry, words shift us to action. Photography and film allow us to interact intimately and empathically with the stories and lives of others. And it is in those moments that we cannot ignore what makes us powerfully and vulnerably human.
TC: Lorde argued that the erotic can empower women if it is embraced and released from the judgmental tag of pornography. Again, this resonates when considering your recent exhibition and film choices for the festival…
DH: Lorde is referring to erotic justice. Erotic justice considers how we can recoup our erotic power and deconstruct oppressive notions of body, sex and sexuality – reclaiming pleasure from pathology and judgments enforced by patriarchy, especially in the Judeo-Christian paradigm where men control women’s sexuality. Presenting queer love and desire on screen is just one of the ways we can shift dominant culture.
TC: You mentioned that queerness as opposed to gayness was an important issue for you in your curating decisions. How did this inform your film choices?
DH: I locate queerness outside what is understood as homosexuality. Queerness encompasses a range of gender dissidence that is not confined to sexuality and challenges concepts of binary gender identities. I see sexuality and gender on a spectrum, and often-essential categories of straight, lesbian or gay ignore the continuum of gender expression. I also identify outside of the gay or lesbian box, because those identities often operate in conservative and exclusionary ways, so many of my selections explore the concept of fluid sexuality, often outside gender binaries. Stud Life is one of the films that best explores the concept. In it, a butch/masculine-presenting “stud” navigates her relationship with her best friend, a gay man.
TC: You mentioned that performance of gender is important to you – how did this influence some of your choices?
DH: Gender performance is how we express our gender and sexuality in various ways – how we dress, how we behave, how we interact with others. I’m also very interested in how queer expression becomes art performance, and you’ll see that in many of the films, particularly Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?, I Am Divine and One Zero One in a very literal sense. The characters wear costumes that immediately situate them outside of the norm in an unmistakably performative way.
TC: Which films are you most excited about screening?
DH: Every time someone asks me that I start going through the schedule and picking out all the unmissable ones, but for brevity I’ll cut to the chase. They are all exciting films. You cannot miss Stories of Our Lives (Thursday 8pm and Monday 7.30pm), a Kenyan film that presents beautifully heart-rending vignettes of the complexities of queer life in Africa. Saturday’s Drag and Divine evening is compulsory. Sunday’s silent movie matinée (5pm) – of the first gay film, Different from the Others, made in 1919, and Stanimir Stoykov’s Thrush – will have live scores by Tony Bentel and DuPreez Strauss. Stud Life is sexy as fuck. I love love love Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (Tuesday 9.30pm), the director of whom I met in Los Angeles (while on residency; she was dressed in a vagina costume). It also examines the artist-muse relationship in a way that speaks directly to my own artistic process. Oh, and don’t miss the short film programme on Saturday. My short film, Memoirs of a Killarney Houseboy, and Jessica Denyschen and Marlé Coetzer’s Just Then will be shown, as well as a “mystery” feature.
Stories of Our Lives
Who’s Afraid Of Vagina Wolf
I AM DIVINE TRAILER
Out in the Night
Gif Credit: From Stories of Our Lives – by Dean Hutton