Queer Film Festival Closes After Pressure from Religious Groups
*Amendment: The headline and article were altered on March 22nd, 2017, at the request of Q! Film Festival, to reflect that the festival closure was a choice taken by the organisers in response to local factors.
After 15 years, organisers of Indonesia's Q! Film Festival chose to shut down earlier this week following increased pressure for fundamentalist religious groups. CINEMQ looks at the legacy of the country's largest film festival and how it lead the way for LGBTQ visibility.
'Disgusting homosexual agenda.' A man protests against Q! Film Festival in 2016
Barely a month ago, I was sat in a small café in Ubud, Bali, with a mix of locals and foreigners, waiting for a projector to light up. This was Q! Indonesia, a queer film festival held annually since 2002. It was my first time seeing Indonesian queer films, and I was mesmerized by their beauty and capacity to contextualize the country's LGBT issues within the framework of the global rights struggle. What does it mean to be Muslim and transgender; to be queer and married; to fulfill roles based on gender, on family, on social expectations of love? It was to the point, beautiful, amazing.
“Q! was the first queer film festival in a Muslim majority country,” says festival founder John Badalu. There are no specific laws against LGBT in Indonesia, but nor is there specific funding or recognition. The festival wasn’t the first LGBT organisation in the country, but was the first to achieve visibility.
The night that I found them, they were testing the waters after a difficult year. Fundamentalist religious groups had been targeting the festival, and the police said they could not ensure the safety of the organizers and audience. Whilst Ubud was seen as a friendlier environment, funding was decreasing and the audience declining. Having previously attracted up to 9,000 people, in 2016 numbers had dropped by 50%.
‘After all our efforts, it is time to rest.’ Badalu announced via Twitter last week. ‘We decided that it’s best to take a break for now. We have…given it a thorough thought from all different aspects. We might come back one day when the time is right.’
Full statement released on Twitter @QFilmFestival
Badalu is an Indonesia native who has earned a reputation as ambassador for his country’s film industry. With no funding, and the help of a couple of friends with a common interest in independent and underground cinema, he created a space to screen films that would otherwise never be distributed in Indonesia. Q! had no political agenda. It just ran...for 15 years.
Through Q! filmmakers discovered that there was an accepting audience, learned their tastes and were inspired to make films which fell outside mainstream culture. “People exchanged ideas about film, books and any other art or other activity that supports human rights,”explains filmmaker Kiki Febriyanti. “It was about art and education, creativity and humanity."
“It provided a safe space for queer audiences to mingle, connect and talk,” says Rain Cuaca, another local filmmaker.“It also gave them films where they felt represented. For the non-queer audience, it was a space to discuss, ask questions and learn new things.”
By its second year, Q! was the largest film festivals in Indonesia, a significant accomplishment. The organisers used their prominence to push the Human Rights Commission to include protection towards LGBT people as a minority. The festival was also a step up for Indonesian cinema internationally. “Q! became a reference for other queer film festivals in the world who were looking for Asian content," says Badalu.
John Badalu with CINEMQ co-founder Matthew Baren in 2016
On March 4th, Q! closed its doors. The name is gone but the spirit continues. “LGBT filmmakers will never stop working for what they believe,” declares Febriyanti. As one organization ends, another begins. Rain Cuaca and a group of filmmakers will launch 100% Manusia (Human) Film Festival later this year. “LGBT rights are human rights, and I hope once people recognize this, they will show more tolerance and acceptance.”
For Q! it was an emotional farewell. ‘We would like to thank you from the deepest corner of our hearts for all these years. We won’t be able to make it without all of you being there to encourage us, help us, support us and be part of our big family. Till we meet again one day!’
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.