Kashish dares to dream: Films from South Asia's biggest mainstream LGBT festival that stood out

Sunday, 25 May 2014 - 7:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Reflecting its theme Dare To Dream, South Asia's biggest mainstream LGBT festival Kashish explored issues of identity and acceptance in societies across the world through films that were moving, profound and funny. Yogesh Pawar looks at some films that stood out

In its fifth edition, the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2014 not only moved to a new venue — Mumbai's historic art deco theatre Liberty Cinema — but its Dare To Dream theme saw an eclectic mix of 154 films from 31 countries.

South Asia's biggest and only mainstream LGBT film festival kicked off with Michael Mayer's Out In The Dark (Alata), a profoundly moving love story of an ambitious Palestinian student and an idealistic Israeli lawyer caught in a minefield of socio-political conflict. Nimer, an ambitious Palestinian student, dreams of a better life abroad. One fateful night he meets Roy, an Israeli lawyer, and the two fall in love. As their relationship deepens, Nimer is confronted with the harsh realities of a Palestinian society that refuses to accept him for his sexual identity, and an Israeli society that rejects him for his nationality. When his close friend is caught hiding illegally in Tel Aviv and sent back to the West Bank, where he is brutally murdered, Nimer must choose between the life he thought he wanted, and his love for Roy.

American stage and film director Mayer, who has won the Tony Award for best direction of a musical for Spring Awakening (2007), says, "Far too much of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is described as a border issue, geo-strategics and so on. For me, the human element is what cries out for attention."

"While researching Out In The Dark, I met many real-life people caught in the same situation as my film. All of them had such compelling stories," adds the 53-year-old.

Sri Lankan feature Frangipani and its filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram came in for a lot of praise from the audience. The film tells the story of two young men and a woman entangled in a love triangle, tabooed in their remote but rapidly changing village. In what is a first for Sri Lanka, Frangipani speaks out on gay people's right to love, using popular local cinema and musical traditions. Without taking an antagonistic approach towards local cultural practices, the film focuses on innate human emotions that make people smile and cry, and make them pursue the ultimate joy of love.

"My film is reaching international audiences but may never be seen by locals due to the Sri Lankan government's harsh homophobic censorship regulations," the Australia-based Chandrasekaram laments.

Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert's Canadian English feature Margarita is about a pretty and vivacious young Mexican woman, who works hard as a nanny for a Canadian family. Life, though, is not all work and no play for her. She is in love with shy, commitment-phobic Jane, who also cares for her deeply but is hesitant about bringing their relationship out of the shadows. Life is good until Margarita's cash-strapped employees fire her, setting off a chain of events that threaten her with deportation. Everyone scrambles to save her. But is it in her best interest? This buoyant comedic drama about love, loyalty and the families we create uses humour to bring about nuances in mainstreaming LGBT relationships.

"Using humour to drive your point home can be very effective. I am happy this film was liked and got such a great response," says director and producer Laurie Colbert who is also known for Finn's Girl (2007) and Thank God I'm a Lesbian (1992).

In 2008, eighth-grader Brandon McInerney shot his classmate Larry King, a gender variant youth of colour, at point blank range. Unravelling this tragedy from the point of impact, Valentine Road, a documentary feature by Marta Cunningham, reveals the circumstances that led to the crime as well as its startling aftermath. Was this a hate crime, one perpetrated by a budding neo-Nazi whose masculinity was threatened by an effeminate queer kid who may have had a crush on him? Or was there more to it? This award winning HBO documentary is a heartfelt, harrowing story of two victims — the deceased and the murderer — whose paths led them to this incident.

"In tracing the human wreckage of the tragedy, we wanted, through the film, to question notions of justice and identity," says Cunningham.

Born This Way, a brave documentary by Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann, reveals the climate of homophobia and intolerance that gays and lesbians in Cameroon live in and had the audience riveted. It follows Cedric and Gertrude, two young Cameroonians, as they move between a secret, supportive queer community and an outside culture that, though intensely homophobic, is in transition toward greater acceptance. This film describes both the impossible and the possible. The filmmakers' unobtrusive proximity to their protagonists has yielded conversations in which their interlocutors discuss their longing for a love life they are forbidden to have. The film also follows Alice Knom, a human rights defence lawyer who's often the only person willing to defend LGBT people in Cameroon. Her story revolves around defending two women being pursued by the state on the basis of their homosexuality.

The festival, held from May 21-25, which tried to have something for everyone has now become completely SoBo (as south Mumbai is often referred to) with simultaneous screenings at Liberty Cinema and Alliance Fran├žaise de Bombay.

"The USP of Kashish has always been that it has been held at a mainstream theatre — this is our effort to take queer films to a larger audience so that they understand more about the community and their lives," says festival director Sridhar Rangayan. "For the last four years, PVR and Cinemax multiplex theatres have supported us and we're thankful. But it was time to move to a larger theatre because we always had over 30 per cent extra audience we couldn't accommodate."

Voted as one of the Top 5 coolest LGBT Film Festivals in the World, the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is committed to work with LGBT and civil rights organisations to take ahead the struggle for upholding human rights and ensuring a nondiscriminatory world. Organisers say the Supreme Court decision on December 11, 2013 that gay sex was illegal was a big setback to the nascent queer rights movement in India

"The festival believes films and art are powerful mediums to bring about social change, and it continues its commitment to bring the best of international and Indian queer cinema to Mumbai to mainstream queer issues and lives," says Rangayan. We couldn't agree more.

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