Gay brothers, Muslim lesbians and a candid camera

Sunday, 22 May 2011 - 3:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Queer films are hard enough to make in our social milieu, but when you add incest, religion and candid personal history into the mix, you are in uncharted waters.

Queer films are hard enough to make in our social milieu, but when you add incest, religion and candid personal history into the mix, you are in uncharted waters. DNA talks to three film-makers who have dared to explore topics rarely discussed in living rooms, much less projected on to movie screens as they will feature in the queer film festival starting in Mumbai on Wednesday

Brothers in love

The poster of the Brazilian film From Beginning to End (Do Começo Ao Fim) shows its protagonists Thomas (Rafael Cardoso) and Francisco (João Gabriel) leaning against each other, their foreheads touching, a tender smile playing on their lips. A touching love story of two men, you’d assume at first glance. It is a love story all right, but it doesn’t end just there, because Cardoso and Gabriel are half-brothers. From Beginning… is one of the most keenly awaited films at Kashish 2011, the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (MIQFF), because its director Aluizio Abranches, has broken new ground by weaving incest into a homosexual love story.

Abranches says he didn’t do it to shock his viewers. “I did it because I’ve always wanted to explore the ideas of incest and homosexuality. And that extra step of putting them together — that, too, amongst a very loving family — really appealed to me.”
A family setting presented a further challenge. As children, the characters of Cardoso and Gabriel are unnaturally close, which their mother thinks is lovely. To have the same depth of feeling carry on to adulthood needed some serious bonding between the actors. “I met Gabriel and Cardoso more than a year before shooting the film. We met regularly, went out together, watched films and plays together, and became friends. More importantly, they became friends.”

Not surprisingly, a film with such a bold theme has drawn a fair amount of controversy both in Brazil and elsewhere, but it has also been well-received at international film festivals. For Abranches, this is important because he was trying to make a point through this film. “I was curious to treat homosexuality as just another sexuality, not a minority. The widespread acceptance of the film, the fact that it has been chosen to be screened in India, proves I managed to get it right.”

Behind the veils

Breaking more barriers than one seems to have been Rolla Selbak’s primary motivation behind filming Three Veils. Women directors are few, she says, and those making films on lesbian issues even fewer. Get the issue of lesbianism in the Middle-Eastern culture into the equation and you have almost nothing to speak of.

Three Veils traces the lives of Leila, Amira and Nikki from the Middle-East, who live in the US. Leila’s engagement, and the prospect of getting intimate with her fiancé on the wedding night only makes her less sure of the decision to marry. Amira, as a devout Muslim, never doubts her faith but harbours a deep angst over her attraction to women. A tragic death in Nikki’s family disturbs her and she acts out her promiscuity to deal with it.
“I chose to tell the story of lesbians from the Middle-East to make people imagine the sheer extent of the barriers a homosexual woman will have to break to be herself — her religion, her femininity and on top of all that, her homosexuality. I wanted to tell people that these women exist somewhere and that they go through these issues.”

Selbak says a Muslim lesbian tends to rile up people much more than Muslim gays. “Lesbianism, even today, is seen as a larger ‘issue’ than a man’s homosexuality. In some ways, that’s worse than homophobia.”

Making such a film also meant being careful that it isn’t taken as just another attempt at being raunchy with women getting intimate. “It’s a difficult path to tread, but you achieve it if you succeed in portraying the women’s emotional journeys. I was inspired by the women I know. I try to find truth, add in a bit of poetry with a hint of humour, to tell stories that entertain and affect audiences,” says Selbak.

He shot his family

In 1996 in Israel, when Tomer Heymann was 26 years old, he took a camera in his hands, and didn’t let go of it for the following 15 years. The result was two documentaries — The Queen Has No Crown and the recent, I Shot My Love, which will be screened at
Kashish 2011.
Tomer’s brother, Barak was a constant companion and ended up producing I Shot… The difficult part of the movie, says Barak, was not Tomer’s homosexuality, but putting an entire family’s life and all their intimate moments out for all to see.
The film documents Tomer returning to Germany — a country his grandfather had escaped from during the Nazi rule 70 years ago — to present a film at the Berlin International Film Festival, where he meets Andreas Merk, a German dancer. I Shot… reveals his family’s reaction to Andreas moving to Tel Aviv to be with Tomer.
“The film was our way of dealing with our reality. The camera became a part of us and we couldn’t get it off,” says Barak. He feels it was very strong of their family to agree to be shot for as long as 15 years — at social gatherings and hospitals alike.
It took Barak and Tomer a year after that to view all the footage at the editing table. “After all that effort, we still weren’t sure whether people will understand how much of ourselves we had put out there. So, we got people to the editing studio. I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to see them cry and get speechless at the same things that we did while Tomer held the camera,” says Barack.
The most defining moment of the film, adds Barak, is when Andreas asks Tomer to finally put the camera down. “It’s the same for
the family, too. They say it’s a relief to see Tomer without his camera.”

For registration and film screenings at Kashish 2011, visit

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