The Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF), perhaps the largest film festival to deal with LGBT themes in the south, is a yearly fixture in Bangalore’s cultural calendar. Run entirely by volunteers – a small group of friends – the festival is committed to the circulation of good queer cinema, including films from non-Western locations, films by independent filmmakers, popular cinema that experiments with LGBT concerns, and experimental films that push aesthetic limits. BQFF has brought, and will continue to bring films for and by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other communities that fall outside the heterosexual norm.
This year, BQFF was held from 9th to 11th March, at the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore. With over 1300 registered participants, this meant a really packed hall, and a long line of eager film viewers snaking all the way to top, where it met the line of people waiting to get their coffee and croissant.
The BQFF is relatively unique in the queer subculture of India, since the only other festival of comparable scale takes place in the city of the Mumbai. There is indeed a South India focus at the BQFF.
One of the first ever queer film festivals in India was called “Larzish: International Film Festival of Sexuality & Gender Plurality” and took place in Mumbai in 2003. In the same year Bangalore held its first queer film festival and has never looked back since.
Never looked back since
For the last nine years, each edition of the festival has had between 1000 and 1500 registered participants, who have entered free and often donated their own money to sustain and keep the festival going. This scale of participation – largely unchanged throughout the years – indicates both a need felt by LGBT people for community spaces, as well as a growing taste in cultural consumption for newer forms of video and films. And BQFF has delivered on this, with short and feature length fiction films, documentaries, animated films, and more, screened every year.
Yet, films have only been one part of the festival, which brings to Bangalore many other forms of art. One major aspect has been the performances, very often by members of the LGBT community. BQFF performances are a stage for non-professional performers to showcase dance, music or theatre.
Trial and error, humour and bawdiness
There is a spirit of trial and error, humour and bawdiness in these performances, making them some of the best attended events of the festival with loud and raucous audience participation. Any image of film festivals as a purely silent space and studied nonchalance simply goes away during BQFF performances. This intense audience participation helps create a sense of the city’s progressive and LGBT community — something that is difficult to gauge except at events like BQFF or queer pride. Another important aspect of the festival has been photography and art exhibitions accompanying the film screenings. The decade or so of BQFF has also coincided with a spike in the visibility of queer arts and culture in India.
The sheer numbers of Indian films that can be screened every year grows as both mainstream and independent filmmakers gain more exposure to the topic, and more members of the queer community - in Bangalore and outside, come out as filmmakers, and tell their stories.
One important contribution of the festival has been to showcase popular commercial films in Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. These films, usually reserved for the thronging crowds in single-screen cinemas, have been received with great enthusiasm by a queer film festival audience used to assuming that all LGBT cinema is indecent or western.
The definition of the term queer cinema
An important and ongoing discussion amongst curators of the festival is about the definition of the term queer cinema. One meaning is easier to grasp: cinema by and about LGBT people. Another definition holds that queer cinema can simply be experimental cinema, changing how we think about films themselves. This productive tension between the two meanings of queer cinema has animated the aesthetic vision of BQFF.
How this will play out in the years to come, is what makes BQFF one of the most exciting film and cultural festivals in the country.