Riding the wave of the movement for marriage equality and pushing for defiantly camp representations on screen, does Taiwan International Queer Film Festival have what it takes to challenge both conservatives and the LGBT mainstream at home and across Asia?
Artwork for TIQFF 2016
Taiwan is lauded as a regional leader for LGBTQIA+ rights. An amendment in the island's Civil Code at the end of 2016 allowing for same-sex marriage emboldened gay-rights activists, and has seen mass demonstrations for equal rights. The movement has been met by so-called defenders of ‘traditional values,’ such as conservative Confucian and Christian groups, vocally opposed to progressive legislature.
According to Vita Lin, conservative citizens, “seek to suppress the interests of multiple sexes through public criticism of gay marriage and gender education laws,” in defense of traditional family values and the gender binary. Lin is co-founder and director of Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) launched in 2014 and entering its fourth year at this crucial turning point for the Taiwanese queer community. Lin had previously made her mark on the Taiwan festival scene as a founder of Women Make Waves, ‘a film platform outside the male-centric mainstream perspective,’ back in 1993.
Lin sees TIQFF as a platform to challenge opposition and promote solidarity in the new queer social movement. “We hope to see and understand the diversity of pluralism through screenings of and reflection on films.”
Vita Lin attending ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival 2016 with regional programmers
“This year we are trying to subvert the existing gender binary,” she explains, “in the hope that audiences can rethink sexuality and gender.” The festival seeks to defend the progressive components of Taiwan's legislative and educational systems, as well as educate the population. In this spirit, this year’s theme is camp (敢曝), curating films relevant to queer issues and “campiness”: discussions on gender, aesthetics, and camp culture in general.
The festival is also trying to bring Taiwanese queer cinema to exposure in a market saturated by Western films. It’s a welcome shift from last year, when TIQFF was criticized for opening with Stonewall, director Roland Emmerich’s biopic about the New York riots that kick-started the modern queer rights movement. Stonewall was dogged by accusations of whitewashing and trans-erasure, and suffered at the box office.
The decision to focus on Asian cinema hints at a more developed and attuned trend as they seek to expand their reach and impact at home. The festival already hosts events in Taipei, Kaohsiung and Tainan, and this year will expand to Taoyuan and Hsinchu.
2017 also marks the departure of festival co-founder and Portico Media CEO Jay Lin (no relation) who has served as co-director with Lin since the festival's inception as a platform to promote local queer talent.
Jay Lin (L) with Vita Lin (R) in 2015
Mr. Lin has been an outspoken advocate for marriage equality in Taiwan, and a high-profile proponent of queer representation. In 2016, he founded Queermosa Awards, recognizing regional queer rights advocates, as well as GagaOOLala, a new queer media platform in Taiwan. He was also the initiator of Asia-Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance (APQFFA), a first-of-its-kind cooperative of regional festivals.
“2017 can be considered a banner year for LGBT content,” he explains. With that said, he is also satisfied with what he has always considered to be a three-year project.
“I feel I have built the festival significantly over three years, both domestically and internationally,” he professes, “and so I knew before going into the third year that it would be my last.” In addition to his continued advocacy and professional work, he is also a new father to two sons, and wants to devote more time to them.
Meanwhile, with the festival now under her guidance, Vita Lin seeks to further solidify TIQFF's position as an annual component on the local and international film scene. If her previous work and plans for this year are anything to go by, she sees marriage equality as only one step in achieving equal rights for the country's LGBTQIA community, pushing for empowering and empowered representation of Asian women and for queer people. TIQFF may live up to Taiwan’s own reputation, emboldening artists and activists throughout Asia and beyond.
'Marriage Equality' - demonstrators for same-sex marriage in Taiwan
TIQFF Short Film Competition is free to enter and open until May 31st. Details can be found at tiqff.com
Words: B. Browder Thompson
Translation: Annabel Li
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.