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SQIFF Interview: Out of the Archives!

As part of LGBT History Month Scotland 2020, SQIFF (Scottish Queer International Film Festival) presents Out of the Archives! – a programme of short films looking back into largely unseen and undiscovered aspects of the history of queer Scottish representation in the 20th century. 

Featuring archival documentaries and short films by queer filmmakers, screenings will be accompanied by discussions examining whether these films are a fair representation of the past, and asking what they may be able to contribute to an understanding of the future. Films include Bongo Erotico, a surreal nightmare of bisexual lust from 1950s’ Wishaw; groundbreaking documentary of Edinburgh queer life in the 80s, Coming Out; and Pratibha Parmar’s experimental 1990 short, Bhangra Jig, which follows a young Asian woman walking the streets of Glasgow with signs of colonialism ever-present.

We're delighted to be supporting the tour with Film Hub Scotland funding, and spoke to curator Marc David Jacobs about the programme. 

What’s the story behind Out of the Archives – what led you to this programme?

We were inspired by the concept of a touring archive project being a possibility (from Film Hub Scotland), but also the fact that at SQIFF we’ve generally been a festival more focused on new and cutting edge films - not because they are new, but in the sense that queer cinema has moved on such leaps and bounds. I suppose this applies across many types of national cinema - when you watch a queer film from 30, 20 years ago it’s very much of its place and time, and you’re aware of how much things have moved on, how much conversations have moved on even within queer communities – what was acceptable at a certain time, and representation of marginalised identities.

The further back you go, you realise that the experiences of white gay men dominate the conversation, excluding people of colour, trans identities – so there is a functional purpose to screening new films, as they’re now being made by and for those people! Then there are works that have made it through the canon, like Paris is Burning, and it’s important to look at the aspects of those films that may seem problematic or dated now. 

In addition, a lot of the queer cinema in the UK has focused on and been from England, in the same way that a lot of wider UK film retrospectives are English. So combining the two facts that there’s definitely a point to be made by showing historical films, and acknowledging the fact that there were queer filmmakers making work in Scotland, for a long time - that this past exists, and that we can show it! 

Could you talk a little about the films in the programme - how did you discover them, and find the rights to screen them?

The aim is to use the tour as a starting point for future editions - for example digging into the archives of the Glasgow Women’s Library and the NLS Moving Image Archive, really getting ambitious with unearthing stuff. 

We started with some films that we’ve shown in various programmes at previous SQIFFs, along with some newly discovered works. One of the films is an amazing 80s STV documentary called Coming Out that we showed at a one-off event in Edinburgh before SQIFF really took off. Then there’s Bhangra Jig by Pratibha Parmar, who went on to make Nina’s Heavenly Delights - the film is an exploration of postcolonial and queer identities in Glasgow and it’s very different from the work that she went on to make - it’s very 90s, artist-film inspired - we showed that in a strand called Gaysian Superheroes in 2017.

They’re all pieces of a puzzle, that have never been shown together in the same context. Then we have Bill Douglas’s Come Dancing – I suppose he’s always been known as a ‘quietly queer’ Scottish filmmaker. With the Bill Douglas trilogy, at the end of My Way Home he meets his life partner, Peter Jewell, to whom he often referred as his companion – but we can put the pieces together. Come Dancing is his graduation film from the London Film School and it shows a pick-up on a pier, but it’s not exactly a pick-up. It’s actually filmed in Southend, but Bill Douglas is very much a product of growing up in the Lothians. Then there’s Bongo Erotico; Enrico Cocozza is an amazing filmmaker - lots of people have been doing the work to rediscover him. Back when amateur filmmaking was a big thing in the UK, he entered a lot of competitions, won a lot of prizes - but he was just making films above his parents’ chip shop in Whishaw! His work is never openly, explicitly queer but says so much about different identities and sexualities.

Bongo Erotico was the only film that we got from the Moving Image Archive - we’re very aware of the gaps in archives, and what films are actually available for screening, and we’d like to frame some of the conversations on the tour around these gaps. What we have are the films that have ‘risen to the top’ - there needs to be more digging from all sides to find more films, that we could then bring to  future tours and editions of the festival - I’d love for this to be a regular strand at the festival. 

 

The tour is heading out across Scotland - where are you headed, and any plans for specific venues?

We’re going around the houses, all over Scotland (see all dates here) and want to engage queer people with lived experience from those places, at the time that the films were made - whether this programme reflects this to them and feels representative to them. We’re in touch with LGBT Age, LGBT Health and Wellbeing, and Pride groups in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Oban. At a SQIFF pitching session we saw a documentary about a 70-year old man from Largs who is very openly and proudly queer, talking about the bathhouse scene – the hidden gay history of the west coast of Scotland – and the film is going to get its world premiere at our screening in Ayr!

We’re going to have a Q&A with the subject and director, so this is the exact kind of collaboration we were hoping for with this project. In Oban we’re part of a double bill with
Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I’m really excited about. Jennie and their LGBT programmer have been really supportive. We’re doing sliding scale ticketing wherever we can, the Ayr screening is free. All the films are captioned and there’ll be BSL interpretation at the CCA in Glasgow, with all of the venues on the tour being fully accessible - that’s really important to us.

SQIFF and Film Hub Scotland go back a long way! Could you talk a little about that relationship, and how FAN support has benefitted your work?

We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do without Film Hub Scotland funding - our two organisations have been around for a similar amount of time, so it’s been great to develop this relationship over the years - we couldn’t pay for film licenses, guests, or touring programmes without it, as well as payment for our time to research and programme the festival and events. 

A shout-out for SQIFF 2020 dates: 14-18 October. Get it in your diaries!

 

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