On the eighth night of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, my girlfriend and I and about 175 other people crowded into the Vancity Theatre to see The Love That Won’t Shut Up, the first production in the Out on Screen Film and Video Society’s Queer History Project and one of the most hyped films of the festival. The film is a twenty-two-minute collection of clips from interviews with seven queers (three gay men, two lesbians, one transgendered man and one woman who used to be a lesbian but has been with her male partner for thirty-eight years). The audience was craving knowledge of our past, and the most satisfying parts of the interviews were the stories about what it was like back then: warning lights flashed before police raids on the Vanport bar; butches carried knives for protection; drag queens could only wear women’s clothes during their performances—on the street they could be arrested for soliciting. Unfortunately, there were only a few stories like this to latch on to in a sea of personal reminiscences about some unspecified time in the past (’50s? ’60s? ’70s?). Of course, personal reminiscences can be the perfect way to hand down knowledge about the past. But in this case the tales were not detailed enough or contextualized enough to shed light on much more than the interviewees themselves.
The panel discussion afterwards, led by the directors, Ivan Coyote and Veda Hille, and six of their subjects, was derailed by the panic that ensued after an audience member asked why all the interviewees were white. Some of the responses were all too familiar—we talked on the way here about how we would answer that question if it came up; we couldn’t find any people of colour to talk to; we found people of colour but they didn’t want to be interviewed; we picked the best interviews and they happened to be with white people. The subjects on the panel added to the confusion by suggesting other reasons: there were no out queers of colour in the olden days because their families were more repressive than white people’s; there were very few people of colour in Vancouver before immigration opened up in the early 1970s; only white gays and lesbians had enough privilege to be active and visible enough in the old days to be included in this film. Then some of the panelists took offence at the suggestion that they had any privilege at all and reminded us that mere decades ago—before they were being interviewed in their posh apartments—they were risking jail time and dressing like hippies. One of the directors reminded the woman who asked the question in the first place that she was free to go interview people of colour and make her own recording. All it takes is a camera and a mike, she said.
I saw at least eight excellent films at the festival, among them Female to Femme, a documentary by two San Francisco dykes that included interviews with smart hot femmes of many races, ages and sizes; and Super Amigos, Arturo Perez Torres’ documentary about social luchadores in Mexico City who connected gay liberation struggles with poverty, homelessness, environmental destruction and cruelty to animals. Just for fun my girlfriend and I watched Alan Cummings’s new film, Suffering Man’s Charity, over-the-top intense with lots of blood and histrionics, and a stylish retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray set in the twenty-first century. But since the festival, I have thought less about the films themselves than about what the festival might tell us about our queer community in Vancouver. I keep coming back to the discussion after The Love That Won’t Shut Up and thinking about how many queers hunger for history about their communities, how willing we are to wait in line for twenty minutes of it. And I try to figure out how in 2007 a film about a few white people’s history can be promoted as a film about “Vancouver’s queer history.” We queers have known for a long time that films about straight people’s history are not films about everyone’s history. Which is why we have queer film festivals, isn’t it?