27th GAZE International LGBT Film Festival

A look at the Irish short films playing the 27th GAZE International LGBT Film Festival

“Half the country is gay these days.” Among the many challenges in mounting the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival, about to embark on its 27th edition, must be processing via its programming the extraordinary evolution of queer concerns seen across that remarkable span. The brunt has long been borne by the Irish shorts programme, a collection of snapshot glimpses whose slow shifts from year to year, as perhaps the country’s premiere outing for indigenous queer cinema, speak best to the changing context of LGBT life in Ireland, from pre-decriminalisation to post-equality. But chief among the takeaways from this year’s crop, as cheekily invoked in that casual quip from Boardwalk, is how nonsensical a notion is post-equality at all; if we’re to take just one lesson from this year’s slate, it’s that the movement and its movies aren’t ready to rest on laurels yet.

That’s most urgently expressed in a duo of docs from Northern Ireland that seek to counter any complacency in the south’s 2015 marriage equality win. Gillian Callan’s Equal is explicit in aim, taking a first-person perspective on the indignity of a love caught up as a political pawn in the north’s tribal particularities; recent advances in the outlook for that civil rights movement only add to the emotional pull of the similar stories Callan seeks out to tell here, finding in the domestic antics and righteous anger of her interviewees the same personal spin that helped bring the Republic’s own campaign to victory. More aggressive in tone, if overlapping in outlook, is Becoming Cherrie, Nicky Larkin’s caustic contrast of DUP domination and drag defiance, a vibrant and viciously funny portrait of queen Cherrie Ontop that shines a spotlight on HIV stigma in another of the slate’s welcome invocations of our queer community’s most pressing issues.

The sense of work still to be done, though, isn’t only confined here to voices from the north: It’s present too in the fictional framework of Sarah-Jane Drummey’s 134, a pensive piece evoking the traditional trappings of Irish family life toward a moving outlook on trans youth and the pressing need for an extension of self-identification rights. Its tender, raw dramatics make palpably felt the pain of prescribed gender roles, finding in its expressive cast a ripe contemplation of generational norms. Boardwalk does much the same in its story of a father and son uneasily discussing the latter’s engagement to a characteristically camp man, its unresolved tensions pointing to a latent sense that for all the rapid advancement of gay rights in recent memory, there’s much yet to be settled; not for nothing is its titular structure precariously set over unsteady bogland.

Making sense of the past in the light of swift change is the very essence of the programme’s most outwardly ambitious effort. Katie McNeice’s In Orbit establishes itself early as a work of unique intent in its striking sci-fi high-concept. Its coup lies less in its queering of genre—though there’s much there to tout—than in the way it works older perspectives into its worldview, broadening the whole slate’s horizons with a platform for voices too-often unheard. Where many queer films have looked to the past’s untold stories and the lingering shadows it casts, In Orbit offers a rare advance unpacking of the movement’s future: the emotional impacts yet to be felt and the likely lasting legacies of present struggles.

But if these films’ diversity of perspective—gay and lesbian; trans and cis; north and south; old and young; past and future—seems to suggest a rising tide for LGBT film in Ireland, it’s in Boy Saint we get the sense of a wave about to break. Adapted by debut director Tom Speers from Peter LaBerge’s poem, rendering its verse in voiceover and moving to its rhythms, its striking cinematography and ethereal edit conjure a vision of queer and Irish identities that’s expansive in its intersectionality. Individually at their best and collectively as a whole, these films offer the image of a movement, and its movies, ready to take the next steps. “Like trees struck by lightning,” goes one of Boy Saint’s lines, “we aren’t visible until we’re on fire.” This selection of shorts feels on the cusp of a new visibility; there is to this slate the impassioned energy to set Irish queer cinema ablaze.

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