A preview of the 30th GAZE International LGBTQ+ Film Festival
“Sexy gay existentialist crisis” is not the official tagline of the GAZE International LGBTQ+ Film Festival’s 30th edition—just the tantalising description pitched for one of this year’s screenings—but it might as well be, resonating as it does with the mindset of many a queer person facing into a fourth decade on Earth. Since the early ‘90s, Ireland’s flagship showcase of the best in indigenous and international gay cinema has presented an oversight of LGBTQ+ identities and their changing place in the world; this anniversary edition’s simultaneous forward and backward glances offers a suitably stock-taking insight on how far we’ve come, and the ways still to go.
Core to that is about as fun a Friday night as a film festival is likely to deliver: the Light House Cinema will play host to a decadent double-bill of queer transgression in Pink Flamingos and The Living End, the former marking its fiftieth anniversary, the latter—like the festival, these mere youths—its thirtieth. John Waters’ riotous filth-fest has a reputation that proceeds it and a towering performance from Divine that continues to shock, but it’s Gregg Araki’s AIDS-era revenge fantasy road movie I’m all the more keen to see with a crowd. Its grisly exploitation edge plays as thrilling wish fulfilment for a community left to waste away: watched with a mixed crowd of those who remember the age well and those new to its evils should be something really special.
There’s particular power to it, of course, because much of that stigma lives on, as evidenced by two of the programme’s contemporary features. The First Fallen, following on from a recent wave of new dramas set against the pandemic’s onset like 120 BPM and It’s a Sin, tracks an initial outbreak in 1983 Brazil and should see a strong turnout from that country’s sizeable queer community in Dublin. On the homegrown front meanwhile is documentary hybrid How to Tell a Secret, adapted by Shaun Dunne from his extraordinary, moving stage show Rapids and co-directed by Anna Rodgers: foregrounding a conversation still too scarce in Ireland at a time when HIV diagnoses are rising, it will be followed by a panel discussion to unpack the many issues it’s sure to raise.
Often the site of some of GAZE’s most interesting entries, the shorts programmes this year are once again stuffed to bursting with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives to suit all interests. Among the Irish shorts slate “Queer Éire” is First Date by Clara Planelles—recently announced as nominee for this year’s Iris Prize, one of queer cinema’s most prestigious awards—and the immigrant experience-centred The Concept of Self by Pradeep Mahadeshwar, whom Dublin residents might well recognise from the Stand by Me campaign billboards spread across the city. More shorts come packaged under “The Art of…” headings, with “…Experience” attesting the lives of older LGBTQ+ people, “…Cruising” featuring the 2022 Berlinale Teddy Award winner Mars Exalté, and “…Imagination” seeing the return of former GAZE jury prize-winner Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair with lesbian ghost story Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You.
Indeed it’s more lesbian ghosts in a trio of documentaries delving into the past and queer women’s hidden love lives. Nelly & Nadine has clocked up teary-eyed praise at a run of festivals with its moving story of a secret affair that survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp, while Esther Newton Made Me Gay explores the work of the pioneering anthropologist in codifying queerness as a culture worthy of study in its own right. In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction rounds out the field with a look at authors from Radclyffe Hall to Sarah Waters, and the panel discussion hosted afterward is likely to throw up many more favourites in between. Another unmissable way-paver in the mix is the great Cheryl Dunye, whose landmark The Watermelon Woman has enjoyed a deserved resurgence over the last number of years: her 2012 Mommy is Coming is a chance to enjoy another of this singular voice’s boundary-pushing delights.
All that comes sandwiched between two coming-of-age features that gesture to the possibilities of queer cinema’s future just as GAZE nods too toward its many forebears. Opening film Wildhood from nonbinary director Bretten Hannam is an indigenous Canadian road movie that’s scooped up award nominations in its native land. And it’s to Finland for the closing film Girl Picture, premiered at this year’s Sundance to a rapturous response: an energetic outing that foregrounds female desire. As existentialist crises go, this sexy gay sort seems the right way to go about it.