Queer cinema LGBTQ+ films Queer Palm award Film festival diversity LGBTQ+ representation Film industry norms Cinematic diversity Queer narratives LGBTQ+ cultural impact Film festival inclusivity Gender-fluid cinema LGBTQ+ filmmakers Queer film industry Diversity in film LGBTQ+ community visibility
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Tessa Roy
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December 26, 2023
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Defining Queerness In Cinema With Bartholomew Sammut, Franck Finance-Madureira And Sylvie Cachin

During this Table Ronde at Everybody's Perfect Festival, we delved into Bartholomew, Franck, and Sylvie's diverse perspectives and their pivotal roles in redefining queerness within the cinematic realm. Their insights, from the inception of the Queer Palm to the evolution of LGBTQ+ film festivals, illuminate the transformative power and societal importance of embracing queerness in cinema.

I now turn to each of you to ask what your definition of Queerness is within the context of cinema?

Bartholomew: I grew up in a small town of three thousand people in Australia, on a sugar farm. To me, the term "queer" comes from my mother. She often used it, but not in a sexual or gender identity sense, but she would say, "Why are you asking this? Why are you doing that?" She found that I was doing things she considered strange. So she used this term because she couldn't quite label or describe what I was doing. It was strange to her, and she couldn't quite put her finger on it, and she obviously said it with affection. She would laugh and it was kind. So for me, it was always a positive term. My queer approach and my attraction to cinema come from this experience, from my childhood. I would watch a film, and if I couldn't define it, categorize it, but I felt that there was something there. It was falling in love with certain forms of cinema, not quite knowing and not quite being able to explain why. I believe I use this term when I'm faced with cinema that I can't define, that I don't want to define, that is a source of wonder.

Franck: I didn't grow up in an English-speaking country, so my relationship with the term "Queer" developed later. When it came to creating the Queer Palm in 2010, the question of what to call it did arise. Well, "Palme" seemed a bit obvious, especially since we were using it in English, which allowed us to have the right to use it because "Palme" in French was trademarked. And I didn't want to work with the acronym we all know, « LGBTQ." Since we could keep adding letters to it indefinitely, I found that it categorized us rather than united us. Now, the term "queer" is inherently political because it covers films that can address the history or characters from the LGBTQ community. It encompasses people who aren't assigned to a specific gender or sexuality. It includes all the fluidity that we increasingly experience nowadays. It allows us not to limit ourselves to LGBTQ stories or characters. It also enables us to examine how films can, in a very political way, position themselves in a sort of denial of established norms and, I would say, politically, in a broader struggle against patriarchy. When we're asked how we establish the list of selected films at Cannes for the « Diversity » section, well, when a film has a genuine feminist message, for example, fundamentally, it's queer because it challenges the patriarchal framework.

What are the specific action you established in order to make Queer cinema part of the mainstream cultural scene, and for it not to stay too niche?

Franck: Creating an award at Cannes is a way to bring a different perspective to the world's largest film festival. We tend to believe that the film industry can be a kind of isolated haven of complete tolerance where everyone is welcome. But after a few years in there, you realize that it's just like everywhere else.The same people are in control, the same people have the money, and the same people dictate their norms. The film industry is probably one of the most normative arts, as it's one of the best-funded arts, and money often goes hand in hand with the imposition of norms. In any case, it grants a sort of power that effectively perpetuates the existing system. In fact, before creating the "Palm," I had just made the observation that it was quite surprising; there's the Teddy Award in Berlin since 1987, and I had been going to Cannes for years. It was crazy to me that there wasn’t an equivalent to the Teddy, one that highlighted these themes, that offered a different perspective. I like that term too, but you see a different perspective. 

The major difference between the Teddy and the Queer Palm is that the Teddy is an integral part of the Berlinale and benefits from public funding, whereas the Queer Palm was created independently in 2010. Here we are in 2023, and we are still independent because the Cannes Film Festival is the only festival in the world that has not officially recognized the Queer Palm. The next step for us is developing the Queer Palm Lab, which aims to support young filmmakers working on their first feature films by providing mentorship and a residency for project development. The first class will be announced at Cannes next year and will be sponsored by director Lukas Dhont.

Bartholomew: As part of the Teddy Awards side activities, one annual event we would hold was called the Queer Programmers Meeting, because this is how the Teddy Award was born, and every year this group of festival programmers who would gather. Filmmakers would also join, and everyone would discuss the films they had seen, what they liked. Filmmakers would casually pitch their film to programmers, some would bring DVDS back in the days. It was a fantastic meeting where cinema and films were discussed. It was a rather joyful mess, going in all directions.

From this, an idea grew, and we developed the format to allow all filmmakers the space and stage to present themselves and pitch their films. Once we received support from the European Film Market, we were able to integrate this meeting there, and every filmmaker had two minutes to present their work to a room full of Programmers. Afterwards, we hold the Queer Industry Reception, where the programmers could go directly to the filmmakers and network.

Other activities we have developed over the years grew into what we called the Queer Academy Program, which started in the 30th anniversary of the Teddys, as a format to further hold talks and panels, highlighting Queer Filmmakers and people working within the queer film industry. With the Queer Academy, the Teddy Award became more than a Queer Film Prize, but a central host and event celebrating Queer Film.

Sylvie: In 2010, when Everybody’s Perfect festival was born it was quite a big surprise for me. Prior to this, a friend and I had decided to integrate ourselves into another film festival that showcased independent films from around the world and we proposed to create a new section. We called it "mauvais genre." That same year, we learned that a queer film festival was also being launched in Geneva. We rushed to the cinema to see what it was. The festival had already experienced some success, but for the first four years it had an insufficient structure. I joined the team of this festival in 2014-2016, on a volunteer basis and offered my skills, did some editing, curated films, and mainly observed. It's not that it was poorly done, but we could be more efficient with ressources, and that's what we did. We professionalized the team, focused on the quality of film selection, and worked to integrate the festival in the cultural landscape, to move away from the niche label, emphasizing that an LGBTQ+ film festival is not exclusively for those directly concerned but for everyone, for society as a whole. 

Bartholomew: I also believe we must not underestimate the fact that these films truly represent a percentage of the population aspiring to political rights, political and social representation, and legitimate cultural existence. A festival like this serves and meets these aspirations. It creates possibilities, opens doors, widens perspectives, and enables others who might not consider themselves directly concerned. I believe it also plays a crucial role in providing inspirational models and iconic figures. For example, drag queens appearing on television screens all of a sudden. We realize that these people have always existed, and now we can be more open about it and affirm our identities. Beyond fostering solidarity and a sense of community, a festival like this is vital because it demonstrates that all these individuals within the population seek recognition and simply the freedom to live as they are.

In which way are LGBTQ festivals important? 

Bartholomew: It’s a truly important network because without it, some films would hardly be shown. It acts as a springboard for broader distribution. This is a way to keep these films alive, piquing people's curiosity, making them want to see more. Once they've been featured in these festivals, they might attract programmers and broadcasters who want to showcase them. Additionally, they may become available online, extending their lifespan and reaching a broader audience, rather than remaining niche and elusive. Moreover, what COVID has shown us is that festivals like these serve as essential places for community, gathering, being together, and human interaction.

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