The 14th Out In Africa Film (OIA) Festival is set to fulfil its promise of two smaller events this year when it kicks off again this November. It’s been a tumultuous time for OIA – not only has it had to manage the transition to a new annual date, but also the launch of another local gay and lesbian film festival.
Timed to coincide with this year’s Joburg Pride, the Pride Film Festival was put on by OIA’s former theatrical partner, Ster Kinekor. Matters weren’t helped when Ster Kinekor affiliated with the organisers of both Joburg and Cape Town Pride to put on fundraising premieres and to share marketing space.
OIA’s Director, Nodi Murphy, was not amused by this turn of events. Mambaonline asked Murphy (and OIA’s board) for her take on these recent developments as well as the relevance of gay and lesbian film festivals in general.
Do you think that having the Out In Africa Film Festival twice in the same year might be overkill?
Certainly it has doubled the load for Out In Africa staff, but we feel we didn’t have much choice. The Sithengi / Cape Town World Cinema Festival decided that they wanted to move to March from November. We believe that two film festivals in Cape Town at the same time would mean that we would lose audiences, and the press could not cope; there’s only so much space to review films. We made the decision to have a smaller festival in March 2007, and a second even smaller festival in November as a transition to a new date. From next year Out In Africa will take place annually, later in the year
How do you feel about Ster Kinekor launching its own gay and lesbian film festival?
Out In Africa has clearly done its job – we have demonstrated that there is a market for gay and lesbian films, and we have been phenomenally successful. Ster Kinekor obviously regrets the loss of Out In Africa. And we regret that they see fit to behave in this manner – setting up a ‘rival’ festival (although not in quality).
Ster Kinekor is taking advantage of the market that we have taken 14 years to build. It is obvious that their concerns are purely financial; they are a business after all. However, there are deeper concerns; note their choice of films, the lack of representation, and their marketing on their website – “In line with the celebratory tone of Pride, the Festival has moved away from the genre’s traditionally issue-based fare, with ‘in-flight’ entertainment value being the key criterion in selecting the films on offer.”
They trade on the words “Pride” and “Out”, words redolent with meaning for our community and our struggle for recognition and rights. Unfortunately Ster Kinekor’s “key criterion” is de-valuing the meaning of the words and our struggle. And of course they cheapen the word “festival”: they have no guests – directors, actors, producers, scriptwriters – and contribute nothing of what is meant by the word.
You were upset that Joburg Pride and CT Pride seemed to be supporting the Ster Kinekor festival. Why is that?
You know very well we, the whole of Out In Africa and many others besides, were upset by the Prides’ “supporting,” as you describe it, the festival. In fact it was an endorsement, nay, a full embracement of this so-called film festival! I have been given the rationales of: “We can’t stop them using our name ‘Pride’ as we do not have copyright… They are going to do it any way… Everyone will confuse us with them, so we may as well do it… “
That’s not “Pride”, that’s “Roll over and use us.”
Ster Kinekor want Out In Africa back, they have said as much. Their Pride film festival is intended as a threat – they are not interested in replicating, or improving upon what we do. They will do it as cheaply as possible for the maximum monetary gain. That’s understandable – they are a business looking for profit. But they are taking advantage of our community’s weaknesses and not contributing anything to our strengths. What exactly did Pride gain from their support of this film festival? What marketing did Ster Kinekor provide for Pride’s other activities?
“Out In Africa takes sexual orientation as the common denominator but does not feed into that stereotype exclusively…”
Can the market sustain two competing LGBT film festivals in South Africa?
I don’t know – we’ll have to see. But I am interested in how you phrase your question and the use of the word “competing”. It seems as though you too see Ster Kinekor’s effort as competition. Perhaps you can answer that question, and tell me why Pride supported Ster Kinekor’s so-called film festival, and if the Prides saw it as “competition” for another gay and lesbian section 21 company? Or was it not thought through properly by the Prides?
So, in which way is Out In Africa different from the Ster Kinekor Pride Film Festival?
Out In Africa is an NGO / NPO “owned” and run by homosexuals and involved with the community it serves. It is the longest running film festival in South Africa and the only one of its kind on the continent. It is a trailblazer: the first to go national; the first to use commercial sites; the first to go digital; the first to create an “inreach” (providing transport and tickets for about 7000 disadvantaged members of our community in the past two years); the first to create “outreach” through satellite festivals (19 in places like Soweto, Gugulethu, Bloemfontein, George, Potchefstroom and Ermelo, among others); and the first to run scriptwriting and filmmaking workshops.
We recognise the diversity of our community – and the issues. And we have a range of product – from trash to high art, mainstream to experimental, studio to independent, fluff to challenging – that recognises and represents our community in all its diversity and complexity. Our profit is political and social; we’re not in it just for the money.
Now that gay characters are becoming increasingly common in mainstream film and TV, are gay and lesbian film festivals still relevant?
The Out In Africa Film Festival is not only about seeing gay or lesbian characters on screen. It is about socialising; creating a safe public space for gay and lesbians in a very heterosexual public space – that’s why we chose to go the route of mainstream cinemas all those years ago. We receive about 30,000 column centimetres of editorial in press – reminding everyone out there that there are real, live homosexuals in their midst, not just the characters in a soap. And it is a particular social space that we create – unlike clubs – encouraging real engagement between people, and discussion and debate prompted by films and the guests that we host.
Your question assumes that the characters one sees on TV, and the plot-lines involving them, are sufficient. We need more, in every market place. And of course, TV (and cinemas) will never show the range of films, issue and warts-and-all, that we screen on the festival.
Is the nature of the LGBT audience and its needs changing? And if so, how is Out In Africa adapting to those changes?
Of course… Young gays and lesbians are growing up in a different world; so much of the fighting has been done, though the mistake would be to think that the struggle is over. We are not yet full citizens of this country.
More has changed for lesbians. Since the advent of The L Word we cannot go back… Even as recently as five years ago screen lesbians had to be punished. Women want to see stories that reflect the complexities of their lives, a