Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival explores themes of sexuality, gender, and humanity across globe

The 19th Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival finished its 2010 run last week on the Ocean Day national holiday, following a two-weekend run in two separate metropolitan venues.

Much-loved amongst Tokyo’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, the festival—whose home for over a decade has been the Spiral Hall venue in Tokyo’s upscale, artsy Aoyama district—has added an additional weekend since 2008 at a large, mainstream theater in Shinjuku (adjacent to Tokyo’s well-known gay neighborhood, “Ni-chome”).

Screening a total of 30 films representing nearly 15 countries, and including six discussion/audience Q&A sessions with both domestic and overseas directors, producers and actors, the festival highlighted numerous issues affecting sexual minorities worldwide.

While the festival title reveals that the event focuses on issues of sexuality moreso than those of gender identity, two Swedish documentaries—Regretters and I’m Just Anneke—both explore gender identity-related issues from progressive viewpoints not dealt with in previous films. Following the screenings, a discussion was held between Regretters director Marcus Lindeen and Dr. Mia Nakamura, a sexologist and cultural researcher with the Tokyo University of the Arts. The video below features an excerpt from the discussion (English interpretation included), and the full series of videos may be seen on the “Diary of an Ordinary Gay Guy” blog here. A 2007 Japan Times article on gender identity issues in Japan also features interviews with several individuals, including Dr. Nakamura.

Also on offer was Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, a documentary from New Zealand that busted the charts in its home country before going on to win awards around the world in both gay and mainstream festivals. The film follows the lives of twin entertainers Jools and Lynda Topp, who are cultural icons in their homeland—as well as both out lesbians. Detailing their many identities, from rugged farm kids to performers of numerous hilarious characters to passionate activists for social causes including nuclear disarmament, Maori land rights, and LGBT equality, this brilliantly put-together documentary left me laughing out loud—as well as a full package of tissues lighter.

Following the screening, director Leanne Pooley explained to the audience that the twins’ wholesome, down-home image—combined with their simultaneous openness about their sexuality—has helped to play an important role in New Zealand’s largely accepting attitude toward LGBT individuals. “Sometimes, Jools and Lynda will go out drinking with local farmers—supposedly the most traditional, conservative people in society—while in character as a pair of chain-smoking, straight-talking fellows known as Ken and Ken,” Pooley commented. “It’s fascinating that here are these two out lesbians breaking through these social barriers, which may be credited to their humorous, completely down-to-earth approach.”

The festival’s closing feature was Contracorriente ("Undertow"), set in a gorgeous Peruvian coastal fishing village. The film tells the story of local resident Miguel’s secret affair with Santiago, a painter from the city who is mistrusted by the villagers due to his different ways. When Santiago drowns in an accident and returns in the form of a spirit visible only to his lover, Miguel must deal with his own long-repressed feelings—while also struggling to hold on to his family and his place in society when shocked community members discover the truth about the affair.

The film deals with issues of love, loss and identity in a profoundly spiritual way, and had an obviously strong impact on festival viewers. “The movie focused on the social death that occurs when people are ostracized because of their sexuality,” commented Tom Pranalia, who is Japanese and also speaks fluent Spanish after having lived in Paraguay. “At the same time, the film also represents hope in that Miguel was finally able to deal with his feelings and gain acceptance in a way that made sense in his social context.”

The festival was endorsed by the Embassy of Sweden in Japan and the Instituto Cervantes Tokio, and also received sponsorship from several organizations. One was Amnesty International, which encouraged festival-goers to sign a petition calling for the Japanese government to extend equal rights to sexual minorities.

“The Amnesty Japan Gender Team works to collect information about violence and discrimination against women and sexual minorities,” explained Alumi Senoo, a volunteer with the team who helped run the organization’s booth in the Spiral Hall lobby. “Our petition is demanding specific remedies from the Japanese governement in conjunction with paragraph 29 of the 2008 United Nations International covenant on civil and political rights, which calls for a wide array of LGBT rights that are presently lacking in areas such as housing, employment, and health care.”

Above: Kana, an Amnesty International volunteer, holding the organization's LGBT rights petition

Right: Amnesty booth volunteers Naomi (left) and Alumi Senoo

“Speaking on a personal level, I would eventually love to begin an Amnesty campaign focused on domestic partnership or marriage policy,” Senoo continued. “It is impossible to end discrimination simply by creating new laws if there is no accompanying social awareness, however, which is one reason why we began with this initial campaign to create awareness about the existing problems.”

Time Out Tokyo ran a recent interview with director Hideki Miyazawa detailing the festival's history, and articles may also be read about the 2008 festival in Fridae: Empowering Gay Asia, and about the 2009 festival in Curve magazine. An interview with Yun Suh, director of the award-winning documentary City of Borders, which screened at the TILGFF last year and looks intimately at the lives of Palestinian and Jewish LGBT individuals creating community against all odds in Jerusalem, may be read here.

The festival promises even more excitement next year for its 20th anniversary...more details forthcoming on the official website!

Festival director Hideki Miyazawa and emcee Rachel d'Amour

--Kimberly Hughes

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