GLITCH Film Festival – 'We're not just shopkeepers, gangsters or repressed women, or the best friend or the first to die'
Nosheen Khwaja, director of the UK's first film festival for LGBTIQA+ people of colour, discusses diversity, the future of film and what to expect from this year's programme
In times of adversity and injustice, defiance is often seen as an appropriate response. Within the current political climate, such a response is not only expected but significant, as minority groups are increasingly shut out from popular discourse and kept on the outskirts of mainstream culture. This is something that Digital Desperados are keen to address and dismantle with GLITCH, the UK's first film festival created for LGBTIQA+ people of colour. Now in its second year, the festival aims to strengthen diversity within the film industry by showcasing features, documentaries, shorts, live performances and exhibitions that are all either by or about LGBTIQA+ people of colour, while simultaneously welcoming individuals from all walks of life. Their slogan reinforces this goal of empowerment: 'We are a glitch in the system, our lives deny the lies, our complexity is dissent, we fight for love.'
This year's programme is set to continue the momentum, with a range of screenings and events from UK and Scottish premieres to panel discussions and director Q&As. We caught up with festival director Nosheen Khwaja to find out more about the festival and its 2017 offerings.
Can you explain where the idea for GLITCH came from and why you felt there was a need for such a festival in Scotland?
The name came from two places…queer people of colour existing as a glitch in the mainstream system – in the system of homonationalism, borders, capitalism, work, racism, sexism, this idea that our very existence disrupts the lies that are told to maintain existing power structures. The second reference is to do with creatively disrupting bigoted narratives. Making yourself heard above the clamour, with a beautiful interruption.
Of course as a queer person of colour I am frustrated and hurt by various lacks in society and the ongoing oppression we face. GLITCH feels like an exciting, expansive way to try to alter this and to create more space for us. It can be affirming and interesting for queer people of colour to come together and see ourselves reflected on screen. Also, all LGBTIQA+ people still need to generate community amongst ourselves. We need ways to hang out and make our own culture that isn't all orientated around the bar scene or NGOs.
Although it's true that LGBTIQA+ people of colour are underrepresented in film production, at the same time, people of colour are the majority of the world and a significant number of us are LGBTIQA+. So from a film exhibition point of view, there is lots of amazing work being made by LGBTIQA+ people of colour to find and screen, which is what we do!
Do you feel that there has been an increased willingness in recent years to discuss the lack of diversity in the film industry?
There has been more of an effort in the last while within the industry – some of it is genuine and some of it is intentionally limited to a lot of quite well paid discussion. I think it is crucial to ask specific questions like 'Why aren't there more people of colour in the industry?', 'Why aren't there more disabled people in the industry?', 'Why aren't there more deaf people in the industry?' and take time to address those issues in a detailed way.
Concrete action needs to be taken but not in quota form. I think that will just alienate those already in the industry and cause resentment. You have to begin changing things at a root level such as education, providing opportunities for people to experience and experiment with film and art. There need to be projects that support people from a multiplicity of racial, cultural and class backgrounds to create their own art and film. But not in a tokenistic limited way but giving dignity and autonomy and adequate resources to everyone participating.
What do you think could be done to improve the representation of LGBTIQA+ people of colour in film?
More research needs to be done by film festivals when it comes to selecting films. Films should also be chosen on quality at all times – I don't think it helps to advance the struggle against racism, homophobia etc to select films that are aesthetically or creatively weak but have 'positive' representation.
The casting system needs an overhaul too and an end to stereotypical roles being the only ones on offer. We're not just shopkeepers, gangsters or repressed women. Or in the case or LGBTIQA+ people the best friend or the first to die. It's highly insulting and damaging to future generations.
Also the way in which the arts are presented in relation to racial and national identity needs to be addressed. When you say 'Scottish film' for example, you don't immediately think of an Asian woman or black man making features or shorts, or of their family stories being preserved in archives. A vicious cycle needs to be broken where stories that don't centre white, straight people are somehow argued to lack universal qualities. The more that audiences become accustomed to seeing a truly representative range of the world's population on screen, the less stereotypical portrayals we'll have.
What kind of response did you have from both audiences and the wider industry during the first year of the festival?
We had a really fantastic response from audiences. People watched films and explored new types of films that they hadn't seen before. The fact that the festival is free entry was really moving and exciting to people. Total strangers came up to give me hugs!
One audience member said that as a deaf, black queer woman she's never felt so included at an arts event before. It's that kind of feedback that makes all the hard work worthwhile. I feel passionately that no-one should be disenfranchised from the arts or film for lack of cash. A large portion of our audiences had never been inside the CCA (our partner and venue) before and they came and had a good time so that feels like a real achievement.
What are you most looking forward to at this year's festival and is there anything that you would recommend to those new to GLITCH?
Well I do have my personal favourites although I think the programme as a whole is really strong. I would recommend M Lamar – it is such an opportunity to see and hear his multimedia performance live – and frankly normally it would be quite a bit more pricey!
Moonlight, which is our opening film, has obviously been in the news recently. The Handmaiden is very visually sumptuous and I Am Not Your Negro is an important film, that although focused on the civil rights struggle in the US, holds a lot of relevance for Scotland and Europe.
We have threads of exploration running through the festival such as a Jack Waters retrospective – who will be here in person for a Q&A and an examination of violence and self-defence from the perspective of an LGBTIQA+ person of colour. I really encourage people to dig into those and come to events with Q&As and discussions.
Our shorts programmes feature a range of new work by LGBTIQA+ people of colour and are very unique to our festival. We also have an exhibition by contemporary visual artist Daniel Baker, running in conjunction with GLITCH, in the Intermedia gallery that emerges from his Romani background and ongoing examination of Gypsy visual culture.
GLITCH Film Festival runs from 24 Mar–1 Apr 2017 at CCA, Glasgow. Entry to all events is free.