Muyiwa in the projection room
Muyiwa in the projection room

The Bangalore Queer Film Festival turns 10

  • Joshua Muyiwa, one of BQFF’s organisers, tells us about the latest edition
  • There will be around 75 films screens, from over 30 countries

This year marks the 10th edition of the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF), but it almost didn’t happen. Several of the organizers, a close-knit group of 10, suffered personal tragedies and decided not to hold the festival in February, as they normally do. Their fans, however, didn’t take kindly to the cancellation. “People have written us hate mail, saying I have planned my travel to Bangalore around this," says Joshua Muyiwa, a writer, columnist and poet who is part of the organizing team. “The reason we are even doing it this year is because of the reaction to us not doing it."

The BQFF is curated and run by the group of 10, with the support of community groups and NGOs (they formed a trust two years ago, so the festival is now run by the Bangalore Queer Film Trust). There will be 75 films screened this year, from over 30 countries, short and feature-length, fiction and documentary. We caught up with Muyiwa over the phone, and asked him what the festival represents, and the changes over a decade. Edited excerpts:

What was the initial impetus for the festival? Were there queer film screenings in Bengaluru before BQFF?

Yeah, NGOs would hold public screenings once in a while. But there wasn’t like two-three days of films. Then, in 2008, Pedestrian Pictures, Swabhava, Sangama and Good As You hosted a festival that grew into this.

I guess one of the reasons we started it was that, 10 years ago, there weren’t many queer things happening in the city—there was just the Pride march and private, quieter things. It became something we wanted to insert in the cultural calendar of the city.

What kind of films do you look for?

Initially, the movies would be from America and the UK, because they were the ones making the queer films and those were the networks we could easily access. In the past, we have shown A Single Man and Prayers For Bobby. Now, if you go through the line-up, there aren’t many known films. We are more interested in showing work from countries we haven’t featured before. We have Iranian films, Egyptian films, films from Papua New Guinea.

From the fifth and sixth editions, that has been a major change. Now, it’s very Asia and India-focused. Those are the people who are responding to open calls; those are the networks we are accessing.

One of the big restrictions is that we don’t pay for any of these films. It’s a completely community-run, volunteer-funded event. We don’t have 10 lakh sitting with us; if we get 1 lakh, we run the festival with that. So we can’t pay for expensive films. And we don’t want to increase the scale by going to multiplexes, because this restricts access of who can come to the festival. The cultural spaces we hold it in, people are more comfortable coming there. It’s really important to us that this festival seem handmade.

Initially, when we started, we were happy to get any film. Now it has become like we are more conscious of what we want to show. The 10 people watching the films are making choices. We have some other people, not necessarily queer but whose opinion we trust, who also preview with us.

A still from Tathagatha Ghosh’s ‘Miss Man’
A still from Tathagatha Ghosh’s ‘Miss Man’

Are there disagreements over which films make the cut?

There will be films at the festival that only got one “yes", but the person who voted for it might have a very compelling reason. Even among the 10 of us, some are trans, some are gender non-conforming, some are lesbians, some are gay. We all don’t agree all the time. That’s actually the interesting thing about putting this together. If you look at the films in the line-up, there isn’t one single politic of the festival. This year’s festival is heavily lesbian and trans-leaning—but it’s just because those were the good films.

What does the BQFF look like as it unfolds?

It’s a very relaxed festival. It’s a small space. There are lots of mattresses on the ground—that’s the signature of our festival. People come, remove their shoes and just lie around, piles of bodies watching films. Three-four hundred come on an average in a day to watch.

We do other things as well besides screenings. As a curtain-raiser this year, we have a performance by B. Manjamma Jogathi. She’s in a jogappa troupe from Karnataka; jogappas are the male equivalent, or the trans equivalent, of devadasis. We have A. Revethi, who wrote The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story; she’s doing a play. There’s Hoshang Merchant, who’s reading poetry. And we have a lot of film-makers.

Any films you’re particularly excited for people to see this year?

I am really excited by the shorts. I think they are the standouts this year, because they deal with exciting topics. There’s an interesting lesbian break-up story. There’s another one about mother-son incest, but fantasy—it’s not as bad as I’m making it sound.

For so many years, the idea was that queer people read into films. Here you don’t have to do any of that reading—it is you. It’s less of a veil, which excites me.

Sometimes we sit in the projector room and look down at people watching. Everyone has a personal favourite, so later we are always like, oh my God, did people like my film?

This is the first BQFF after the Section 377 verdict last year. Did it feel any different organizing the festival this time?

No! Not at all. Honestly, in the first three-four years, we would have people cross-dressing at the festival and that was the height of 377. Now, in fact, people dress more toned down. I think we were showing much more risqué stuff a few years ago than we are now. So I don’t know if there’s any difference to how we put the festival together.

The Bangalore Queer Film Festival will be held from 1-4 August at the Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise, Bengaluru. For details, visit Bqff.in.

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