Fairy Tales provides catalyst for discussion

Queer film fest uses AIDS issues to provoke participation

Like other film festivals the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival (formerly the Fairy Tales International Queer Diversity Film Festival) will provide its audiences with a screen a set of plush seats and of course concessions in the lobby. But in a showcase for minority sexual communities that have fought tooth-and-nail for acceptance and respect it’s no surprise that festival organizers hope audiences will go a step further. Through its “AIDS as Catalyst” series Fairy Tales is hoping to provoke discussion and action.

Inspired by John Greyson’s Fig Trees an operatic documentary that takes aim at the corporatized face of HIV/AIDS activism AIDS as Catalyst is a collection of visual art installations films — Fig Trees Frank’s Cock The Island General Idea: Art AIDS and the Fin de siècle and Darling! The Pieter Dirk-Uys Story — and discussion panels featuring artists and arts administrators. For “co-conspirator” Ted Kerr the Edmonton-based writer and artist responsible for grafting the series’ interactive components onto the festival’s films it’s a comfortable introduction to a difficult subject.

“First and foremost HIV is a virus” says Kerr “and it’s hard to talk about illness and wellness and to talk about something that is transferred by bodily fluids and notions of death and behaviour that the church might not like. So people don’t necessarily have to put their cards on the table; they can be talking about a film or a photograph and we can have a dialogue that way.”

Each panel will provide a different approach to the disease and its cultural impact. Teach a Queer to Fish featuring directors Greyson and Trevor Anderson ( The Island ) will be a participatory session designed to embolden would-be filmmakers and arts activists. Opera as Relevant Art Form moderated by Gordon Sombrowski one of the creators of AIDS as Catalyst will involve the Calgary Opera in a discussion on the ongoing relevance of the medium. And Social Action and the Queer Aesthetic the festival’s final panel will include a wide-ranging talk on the essentially elusive queer esthetic. It will feature Greyson Anderson Kerr and flamboyant performance and visual artist Keith Murray.

Deeply embedded in the gay lesbian bisexual transgender and ally (GLBTA) communities the topic of HIV/AIDS is a multifaceted point of connection. For Kerr that connection begins on two fundamental levels.

“One is that I consider myself to be a global citizen and HIV/AIDS has taught me a lot about the world and globalization” he explains. “And as a gay man I think that HIV/AIDS is part of my history. It’s something that makes me informs my daily experience. A lot of gay men back in the day did a lot of work to change the world for the better and there are still activists working to ensure access to medication and reducing the stigma;to ensure people are able to live long healthy lives.”

For Jessica Dollard festival and programming director the ongoing importance of advocacy is one of the most important reasons for the festival’s existence. The founding artistic director of feminist theatre company Urban Curvz she maintains that while her medium of choice has changed the reasons for her art haven’t.

“Film is one of the most powerful mediums for effecting social change and I think that this project in particular brings out some wonderful discussions” says Dollard. “Those kinds of discussions for me as a programming director and as an arts administrator are what give me juice and energy to understand what I do.”

“I’ve always worked in the arts because I think that’s the tool I’ve been given to make a difference and change the status quo” she says.

In her first year as the festival’s director Dollard’s selections (15 features and 35 shorts) provide a few basic themes she says come more from the films themselves than from any kind of overarching vision. Human rights documentaries follow the struggle around the world and in North America — in Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement the titular couple is followed through 42 years of living with the seemingly impossible hope of being married in the U.S. Transsexual narratives meanwhile include films like A Woman’s Way: Strella about a recently released convict who falls in love with a transgendered prostitute. Add to that the festival’s international feature-length content and a slew of shorts and the festival’s diversity provides no small number of entry points and perhaps a few headaches.

“People keep asking: ‘How are things going?’” she says. “We’ll find out next week at this time.”

But if the desire to express the themes of the GLBTA communities provides a myriad of perspectives the result certainly isn’t homogenous. More than just a venue for films Fairy Tales provides a venue for argument too.

“We were all in this homogenous group fighting for the same thing but now with [some] really huge milestones behind us and a level of social acceptance that we’ve never had before in a very healthy and awesome great way the sexual minority communities are starting to disagree” explains Kerr. “In the one camp you have the gay and lesbian activists who just want to add a touch of pink to the structures that already exist. The other camp — what you could call the queer camp — are working to question the status quo.”

“I think that Calgary is a fertile ground for discussion and disagreement and I think there is a huge bridge to the crowd that is going to come out for the opera conversation and the queer-summit event” he says. “I hope there is discussion and disagreement; I think we grow when we have healthy conflicts.”