China's Beijing Queer Film Festival Concludes Without Government Interference

Gay Rights in China H

While American gay rights supporters were celebrating the Supreme Court's gay marriage decisions, China's LGBTI community had its own news to cheer: the first gay film festival to go off without government harassment.

While gay rights supporters across the United States were celebrating the Supreme Court's decision allowing the resumption of same-sex marriage in California last week, Chinese gay activists had some welcome news of their own to cheer: for the first time in its 12-year history, the Beijing Queer Film Festival went off without a hitch, or government interference, in the Chinese capital.

“Through word of mouth, the festival gathered a full house at nearly all of its screenings, and only the occasional attendee was surprised to notice that the Beijing Queer Film Festival was behind the different queer film activities,” organizers said in a statement.

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Established in 2001 as the country’s first film event dedicated to LGBTI themes in cinema, the first bi-annual festival was shut down early by government authorities. The second edition was forced to relocate its screenings from the prestigious Beijing University to the then semiunderground 798 arts district. The festival in 2011 was again ordered shut down entirely by government officials.

To stay a step ahead of repressive government forces, organizers this year did no public advertising for the event. Many screening venues were announced at the last minute, “gorilla style,” according to online gay issues outlet, Gay Star News. Several more publicized screenings were held at the French and Dutch embassies, and the American Center, out of reach of the local authorities.

In total, 28 films from nine countries were screened, including Chinese-language titles from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. This year’s event also had a section of Japanese queer cinema, curated by Genya Fukunaga of Japan’s Kansai Queer Film Festival. The festival also hosted a debate on the topic of film censorship in China.

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According to GSN, the festival also funded 25 guests from rural parts of China to travel to Beijing to attend the screenings. “They gladly embraced the opportunity to watch and discuss queer-themed films, an unknown luxury in their respective hometowns,” the organizers said.

At a closing ceremony, the organization selected two new chairmen for the next festival in 2015: Wei Xiaogang and Stijn Deklerck.

“A lot can change within two years,” said Wei, according to GSN. “The only thing that's certain is that we need to continue to fight to obtain greater freedom of expression.”