Beijing Queer Film Festival 2009: Allowed to Proceed
The Beijing Queer Film Festival 2009 started without police confrontation on Wednesday, June 17. Some 500 people were estimated to be at the opening event of the second annual Beijing Queer Film Festival, which showcased 16 artists over the course of a week.
But this Wednesday, Cui and other organizers managed to pull off the opening to the five-day Beijing Queer Film Festival with no police interference and no disruptions _ drawing only an appreciative and low-key crowd to the Songzhuang Art District on the city's outskirts.
While the lack of incident at the opening of the film festival is cause for celebration by China's 40 million GBLT individuals, there are reasons for the subdued nature of the proceedings. There were absolutely no advertisements of the 2009 Beijing Queer Film Festival. The only marketing occurred on the Beijing Queer Film Festival website.
A discreet location was chosen for the Beijing Queer Film Festival 2009, the Songzhuang Art District. A permit is not required for events hosted in the Songzhuang Art District – issuing permits has caused problems for past queer community events.
These pre-emptive actions were in response to the shutdowns of the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2001 and Gay Cultural Festival in 2005. Despite these attempts to stay off the radar of Chinese officials, Cui Zi'en, the lead organizer of the Beijing Queer Film Festival, was asked to take part of the exhibition down.
The film festival – if it lasts – will showcase films from mainland China, the United States, Europe, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Homosexuality was first legalized in China in 1997 but was not removed from the Chinese Psychiatric Association list of diseases until 2001. Though the Beijing Queer Film Festival could not have even been conceived of 10 years ago, the conservative Chinese culture still has a long way to go before accepting its GBLT community.
"You can't publish books about it."
"Movies? You can't show them publicly – mainstream theatres won't allow you to screen them."
In 2004, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television launched a campaign to rid the airwaves of anything that went against "the healthy way of life in China." That included any programming related to homosexuality.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was recently questioned in a conference about the Chinese government's aggressive stance on the GBLT community – specifically the reason for the word “homosexuality” being placed on the list of filtered words in the government's Green Dam censorship software.
What I'd like to remind you is this.
This is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference
and not a forum for the discussion of gay issues.
Shanghai Pride 2009 kicked off a few days earlier and was disrupted mid-week, with local government officials shutting down film screenings and a play. All events took place in private venues, with a specific entertainment theme. In stark contrast to the large political movements affiliated with pride events all around the world, the events did not showcase any political clout for the GLBT community. but simple recognition may be cause for hope.
BBC, The New York Times, China Daily, NPR and Le Monde wrote up tributes, and gay and lesbian bloggers in China and around the world followed the festival with intense interest.