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Gay and lesbian film festival looks east

One of the highlights is the Russian film, You I Love.

(Queersicht)

Switzerland's oldest gay and lesbian film festival in the capital, Bern, is focusing this year on filmmaking from eastern Europe.

Organisers at the Queersicht festival say they hope that in this way they can highlight some of the problems facing filmmakers from the region.

The festival, which is in its ninth year, starts on Thursday and will show more than 40 films, short films and documentaries from all over the world.

One of the highlights will be the focus on gay and lesbian cinema from eastern Europe, with films from the former Yugoslavia, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Sam Linder, the festival's co-president, said that it had needed a lot of effort to find productions as not so many gay and lesbian movies were made in eastern countries as in western ones.

"There is not the same system of film distribution and sponsoring that is around in other countries, so it's really niche and low-budget productions that make their way to festivals," he told swissinfo.

Evolution

One of the aims is to look at how gay and lesbian cinema evolved after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Communist era in many of these countries.

Linder explained that before those developments homosexuality was not usually directly addressed in eastern European films. However, he said nowadays filmmakers were more free to address the issues facing gay and lesbian communities.

He pointed to two films that were particular highlights.

"There is Go west, from Bosnia, which has been produced under really difficult circumstances – there have even been death threats against the director," he said. "This movie is really successful in festivals and has won several awards recently."

"There's also You I Love, from Russia, which is more mainstream but still has a definitely eastern touch."

Apart from showcasing films and documentaries from the region, the festival also organised a pre-festival workshop for those associated with eastern European gay and lesbian cinema.

Up to 15 people took part in the seminar, which took place in Salecina in the Swiss Alps, and was designed to help professionals network. A discussion of human rights and the situation facing gays and lesbians in eastern Europe also took place.

The results of the workshops are due to be aired during the festival's Open Forum.

Exchange views

Katrin Kremmler, a member of the Budapest lesbian film collective in Hungary, was at the seminar.

She told swissinfo that she appreciated the opportunity to meet colleagues and exchange views.

"In Hungary we are a bit isolated, only a small group of people are used to international conferences and travelling... so it's very important to have connections to similar projects abroad and foreign film festivals," she said.

Kremmler said her organisation was the only one of its kind in Hungary and the domestic film industry was "far from dealing with that kind of topic".

But she said a gay and lesbian film festival had existed for ten years in Budapest and a lesbian film festival was founded this year.

Anatoly Yerema, a TV presenter from Ukraine and film festival organiser, said that he had found the workshop a valuable opportunity to discuss various problems and issues.

He said that a gay film festival had been introduced in Ukraine four years ago and got a mostly favourable response.

Visibility

In terms of rights, Yerema said Ukraine was normally quite tolerant but that there was a lack of legislation, such as a law on registered partnerships.

The situation appeared to be the opposite in Hungary. Kremmler said registered partnerships had existed for ten years but many people were still too afraid to come out to the authorities and their families.

Switzerland voted to introduce registered gay partnerships earlier this year.

Yerema and Kremmler – who are attending the Bern festival for the first time – agreed that film festivals such as Queersicht were important platforms.

"It shows that gays and lesbians also have some problems, that they are like other people and that they need support, more understanding and in some cases more tolerance," Yerema told swissinfo.

"I think gays and lesbians should be more visible and this kind of festival is a good chance to be visible."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Queersicht was founded in 1996 and is the oldest Swiss gay and lesbian film festival.
The programme includes short films, feature films and documentaries.
This year's focus is on eastern Europe.
The festival takes place from November 10-14 in the Swiss capital, Bern.
Up to 3,000 visitors normally attend the festival.
The Rosa Brille is a prize awarded by the public for the best short film.

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