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Queer Cinema Comes of Age In Hong Kong

There’s a Chinese saying: you're not fully grown until you hit 30 (三十而立). In its 30 years, Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival has grown from a fringe community event to one of the biggest LGBTQ+ festivals in Asia. It has seen a new century come, and a new generation of queer people and ideas emerge. CINEMQ caught up with festival director Joe Lam for Opening Night of their big 3-0 anniversary edition to talk about HKLGFF's legacy, and what the future holds.

HKLGFF has been around for 30 years, and you’ve been involved for 15 years. What do you think is the biggest change? I feel like we're more mature. One of the biggest changes is that we have more topics. In the old days, we only had movies about coming out, bad relationships. All of them were sad films. Now we have queer films, we have more stories to screen. This year we have our first intersex feature (Being Impossible, Patricia Ortega, 2018). We used to only have two sections of short films, gay and lesbian. Now we have six sections, like Queer Shorts, which is more diverse. I also feel like we’re more established. We’re trying to do something different every year. Back then we were smaller, and more underground. Now we can easily have movies screening in commercial cinemas, to bring LGBTQ+ movies to the public, so even straight people or families could come and watch. They’ll notice there’s a LGBT film festival around the corner. This year you have a Hong Kong retrospective, including Yang and Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema, Butterfly and A Woman is A Woman. Tell us about the idea behind this selection.

We wanted to do this to commemorate our 30th anniversary. Sadly, we don’t have many LGBT films made in HK. It’s hard to find a HK gay director, and even harder for HK lesbian directors. Our festival is part of the Asia Pacific Queer Film Festival Alliance (APQFFA), and every year we give a list of short films list to them. But every time you’ll see the films made in HK are the least of all members. We need more queer directors, HK needs more queer films. We’re proud to present the HK retrospective section this year. The films we’re screening are simply gorgeous. The directors will come to the screenings in the Art Centre, which is our original home.

In your forward to the festival, you ask How much has Hong Kong opened up since 2005? Where is the Hong Kong LGBT community standing now, 15 years later? Can you answer those questions? As I was typing the forward, I had a copy of the 2005 guidebook in front of me. That year, the theme was Open Up. It got me thinking about two questions. You can see we have more queer events, like Pride, like Pink Dot, etc. We’re more accepted by the society, and more people are fighting for equality. Back then, people would come to our festival wearing thick jackets to hide their faces, but we haven’t see that for a long time. They’re more care free now, and we even have straight people come to our festival now. But we’re still in the middle of a very long road. Very few LGBT rights have moved forward. We’re still living in a relatively conservative society; many people working in the government are conservative religious people, and they're very against homosexuality. It’s super hard to pass same sex marriage. In the past, we thought maybe when the older generation got old, the younger generations will be more open, Hong Kong will be more open, but no. What really bothers me is that sometimes when I read comments on the internet, I find that there are so many young people in Hong Kong who are homophobic. I’m surprised, I asked myself, are we moving backwards? Queer communities in Hong Kong should speak up more, be more visible. Let them know who you are, let them understand you. How does the festival support local LGBTQ+ communities? As I said, as individuals, people are more care free. People kind of feel like they are coming home every year when they come to our festival. They feel like it belongs to them. We've had more Asian feature films in the last 5-6 years. It’s important to promote Asian films. We want the whole program to be more diverse, with different countries, telling different stories. At the same time, people are still more interested in gay content. If it’s a gay movie, it’s easy to have a full house. I find weird that people really like and often talking about queer and trans communities, but when it comes to real life, they won’t show. We have so many films this year, different stories from different backgrounds. We want to show more. Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival runs until 21st September. Visit for more information.

HKLGFF Festival Director Joe Lam (r)

Interview originally conducted in English. Images are from the internet.

Interviewer: Xie Xiao

Translator: Xie Xiao



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 or email

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