Nov. 04, 2009 - Issue #733: Broke
Queer Films At Global Visions
If there's one thing worse than being gay in Jerusalem, it's being one
half of an Arab/Jewish pairing. If you happen to be a same-sex Arab/Jewish
couple, you might as well kill your parents where they stand. So goes the
heart-wrenching backstory to Yun Suh's documentary City of Borders, a film
showing with Tongzhi in Love at this weekend's Global Visions Film Festival
in partnership with the Exposure Festival.
Borders is an emotional ride as we follow Israeli and Palestinian patrons of Shushan, Jerusalem's only queer bar. Operated by Sa'ar Netanel, the city's first-and-only out city councillor, the club is a safe haven for customers facing discrimination from all sides. One of the film's subjects, Boody, is a devout Palestinian Muslim. He and his friends sneak past barbed wire and guard towers, risking imprisonment just to get to the bar.
Two of the doc's most compelling subjects are Samira Saraya, a Palestinian living in Israel and her partner of four years, Ravit Geva, who is an Israeli Jew. The couple struggle to move past the entrenched prejudices of the society they grew up in, and while they are obviously in love conflict still rages beneath the surface.
Borders also chronicles mounting clashes between religious groups and gays in the Holy City. Netanel receives countless threats as World Pride celebrations in Jerusalem approach. A particularly upsetting moment in the film occurs when he visits his elderly mother who has been receiving vitriolic hate messages on her phone because of her son.
"There was a very bizarre coalition between religious Muslims, Jews and Christians against the parade," Netanel says, "They were united in their hate against us."
Focusing less on threats of violence and more on shame is Tongzhi in Love.
The film follows three gay men as they try to navigate being good sons while
living secret queer lives in Beijing.
"There's no society where it's easy to be gay, but to be gay in China is to collide with the most central tenet of Chinese tradition: the honour-bound duty of sons to carry on the family name," explains director Ruby Yang
Long Ze, one of the documentary's subjects, debates with another gay man that their purpose is not to live their own lives but to make their parents happy by fulfilling their responsibilities, arguing that anything else is selfish. Soon after, he's relating stories of group sex and orgies at the spas. It may be the other side of the world, but it's the same closet.
The beautifully heartbreaking documentary is set firmly in the world of men with established gay identities who feel shackled by tradition. The film begins with a voice over from Frog Cui: "I met my first boyfriend through a friend. It happened last summer. I guess it was love at first sight. I'd never felt this way ... ever. Head over heels in bliss ... but it's not like your usual relationship. Our feelings stay underground like the subway. Sure, it's swift and intense but we can only speed through darkness."
I spoke to Roz Zulla, Exposure's director of community outreach, about why they chose to feature two films from the other side of the world.
"Exposure supports endeavours that examine the diverse spectrum of queer expression examining the multitude of perspectives of queer issues from around the world," Zulla replied. "We need to broaden our minds so that we may learn to appreciate and understand others' lives as well."
The films will be followed by a panel discussion that aims to explore race, class, gender and queerness.
"There needs to be more discourses about blended spaces. In the queer mainstream, we are so used to having discourses that focus on one of these identity markers but we forget how multifaceted we are as human beings," says Zulla. "Why can't we talk about being Jamaican and gay or Muslim and gay in one sentence without fearing exclusion from our communities? Why can't we talk about being a woman, Muslim and a lesbian? There is richness in our experiences when we can talk about being a woman, being part of an ethno-cultural group and being a lesbian."
Both films present viewers with cultures that are startlingly different and yet somehow also very familiar to North American queers who have had to fight for acceptance. One scene in Borders sees Saraya and Geva confronted by a homophobe during the Pride parade. Saraya bravely holds her girlfriend while declaring, "I prefer to die my life than live my death." We should all be so strong. V
City of Borders and Tongzhi in Love are screening together at the
Stanley Milner Library theatre on Sunday, November 8 at 8 pm.
For details visit globalvisionsfestival.com.
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