With global Pride Weekends done and dusted for the year, it’s an ideal time to take stock of where things are at. An excellent place to start is the Persistent Vision conference held in San Francisco in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the San Francisco’s International LGBT Film Festival.
The conference was an attempt to refocus the gains and losses of the last five years in the US, some predictable, others unforseen.
It was a chance to ask questions: What kind of political, social and media landscape is queer media arts inhabiting now? What kinds of emergences have taken place?
What kinds of class, urban and other constraints still control what constitutes queerness? What makes a work of art queer? Is there such thing as a queer sensibility or is the queerness in the audience reception? Are we queering the mainstream?
John Cameron Mitchell (famous for his film Hedwig And The Angry Inch) offered one of the most twisted takes on these last few questions.
In his keynote address, he insisted that at the opening of his new film Shortbus (which takes a we’re all in this together approach to the sexual spectrum) the auto-fellatio sequence did not in fact constitute a gay sex scene.
Film scholar B. Ruby Rich added another question to the list. How do we position this eternally male-orientated queer culture?
This question was addressed by a panel titled We Want Our Dykeback Mountain with Jamie Babbit (director of But I’m A Cheerleader), Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) and Guinevere Turner (Go Fish and The L Word) discussing the dearth of well-funded lesbian features crossing over.
Babbit declared that it was leadership in the studio that saw Brokeback Mountain through its breathless reception.
Homophobia in the studio system constitutes a lack of leadership that is directly responsible for the small number of queer feature films able to crossover or even be produced in the first place, she said.
This was supported by Angela Robinson’s comments about her experience making D.E.B.S. (a kind of lesbian Charlie’s Angels that played Mardi Gras Film Festival 2005), a film that, like Brokeback Mountain, opened up some of the most popular genres to being queered outright.
Produced and distributed by Sony, D.E.B.S. was banned by the distributor from the majority of the North American LGBT film festival circuit.
Robinson told us that marketing screening tests suggested that the target audience for the film was straight black men, despite it being the first lesbian film to get a PG 13 rating. In spite of identifying this target audience, the film got an art-house cinema release in the US. What’s more it opened on the Dinah Shaw weekend, the largest US lesbian party event of the year.
There was an ongoing emphasis during the four days on the fact that we have Brokeback now is not a sign that the war on representation has been won.
Rich was quick to outline the mainstream market’s ongoing call to disarm. Accepting the mantra that the marketplace takes care of everything, she reminded us, will not necessarily reward us with the product we want to see.
At the Emerging Voices Panel, many of the panellists, who included representatives from the Hispanic, black, women of colour, transgender and intersex filmmaking communities, asked why they were still considered emerging voices when the majority of them had been making films for decades.
The consensus was that these voices are continually being marginalised rather than being allowed to emerge.
Concern was expressed throughout the conference about the ways in which new queer TV channels in the US police queerness. Alarmingly, these TV channels have already censored a lot of queer filmmakers’ work and many voices are still missing.
This reflected anxiety around how queers can utilise new modes of delivery, including video on demand and peer-to-peer networks.
The worry is that corporates are already attempting to colonise these new technologies before we’ve all had a chance to work out what we could possibly do with them.
Clearly, some progress has already been made on this front as the majority of conference sessions will be podcast from the Persistent Vision website as of next week.
This means those who were not in the room in San Francisco can now enter these discussions at the Persistent Vision 2006 website.