Reelout 2015 Film Review: Around the World in 8 Short Ways


The banner for Reelout. From left to right, The Priest, Bendik and the Monster, and I Love Her. Taken from the Reelout website.

The Reelout Film Festival took place from January 30th to February 7th and the focus of the festival was to highlight the importance queer representation in film. Ultimately, all these films are designed to challenge heteronormativity – the establishment of being heterosexual as the social norm and thus, most depictions within media as heterosexual relationships which reinforce it as the norm – and gender binaries – the idea that gender is fixed as either male or woman, and that gender is based on biological sex. This is also loosely based on biological essentialism which is the idea that everything about us is explained by biology. For example, that people who are born as a female are genetically designed to be “caregivers”. Obviously, these ideas are very harmful as they often erase identities, and have been used as excuses in systems of power, hence the importance of Reelout.

For this festival, I watched Around the World in 8 Short Ways; series of seven (despite the name) short films from around the world. Reelout typically features at least fifty percent Canadian content. Their summaries can be found on the Reelout website.

I found this aspect of the films to be quite limiting as only one of the seven films were made/set outside of Europe. I was informed at the beginning of the movie by one of the coordinators that they selected from over five hundred films. For a film festival that boasts diversity and uniqueness of perspective, I found that this was quite western-centric despite a clearly diverse choice. I would have liked to see a film that explores disabilities in China, or perhaps an intersectional analysis of Afro-Latinxs in South America by examining how different systems of powers interlock and operate in conjunction with one another. Indeed, I found these films overall to primarily focus on white people. While there was clearly representation in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans people (LGBQT), only two of the seven films featured a person of colour. As a woman of colour, I definitely feel that racial diversity is needed in this section of the festival, especially since being queer is often seen as an aspect of whiteness – a powerful social construction that refers to the social, cultural, and political privileges granted by being white (Understanding Whiteness).

My favourite film is Das Phallometer which is based off a Czech law. The film follows a gay Iranian man’s attempt to enter the Czech Republic after fleeing Iran from being persecuted for his sexuality. The film criticizes the notion that you can “measure” or “prove” one’s sexuality through hyperbole. By presenting the process of the phallometric test as ridiculous (through the officer’s exaggerated eyes and responses to the test) and humiliating, the film criticizes heterosexist – discrimination against homosexual people and favoring heterosexual people— attitudes as straight people do not have to “prove” their sexuality. This film demonstrates the ridiculousness of this premise, and how degrading it is.


Commentary on making Das Phallometer. (Iben)

I also enjoyed Bendik and the Monster. This film reminded me of Pixar style animation, initially I thought it was some sort of parody of Monster’s Inc, but the film instead emphasized following your dreams and questioned gender identity – what gender we choose to identify as which can be woman/man or neither/non-binary. Bendik, a young boy who lacks the traditional qualities of masculinity (unlike his mother’s “tough” boyfriend, Freddy) tries to help a Monster achieves his goals of being a singer. In order to achieve this, the Monster requires that Bendik dress up as a girl as he can only sing the song to girls. Bendik, wanting to help the Monster, doesn’t even question this, and quickly puts on his mother’s dress. The Monster applies make up on him, and the final scene has Bendik in full face of makeup. The way he appears is reminiscent of a drag queen, clearly not “passing” for a girl but the emphasis in this film is not the “transformation”. As pointed out by Julia Serano in her essay Skirt Chasers, most media depictions of trans people have a fascination in the transformative process to “prove” that trans people put on a “mask” when they identify differently from their gender assigned at birth (Serano, 2005). Instead, the response and transformation and downplayed, and the song that the Monster sings to Bendik is emphasized with a colourful background contrasting with the dark, neutral shades of the previous scene. The Monster’s song, and his work in achieving his dream, as well as Bendik’s help is what is considered important rather than the transformation. In addition, Bendik is not presented as the “pathetic” or “deceptive” trans person as described by Serano either. Instead, when Freddy walks in on the two, Bendik turns around to “scare” Freddy with his appearance. Freddy screams, something considered un-masculine as it shows “weakness”, and asks why Bendik is dressed like one of “them”. Freddy’s mother chastises Freddy, praises Bendik for being himself, and kicks Freddy out of her house when he voices his transphobic opinions. I thoroughly enjoyed the positive message that encouraged being yourself, whether that is being a singer when you’re supposed to be a scary monster, or choosing not to conform to gender binaries and exploring your identity.


Ace Ventura proving she’s a man as discussed by Serano (Ace Ventura Proving She’s a Man!).


Trailer for Bendik and the Monster (Sunshine).

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at the festival, and was happy to see a diverse range of people. More importantly, I found the movies presented to really question my own privileges and help me learn about some of the issues queer people face around the world.

-Jac

References

“Ace Ventura Proving She’s A Man!” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

“Around the World in 8 Ways: Shorts Program.” Reelout. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.reelout.com/event/around-the-world-in-8-ways-shorts-program/&gt;.

Iben, Torr. “Phallometer Making of with Engl. Subs.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Serano, Julia. “Kirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.” Bitch Magazine 1 Jan. 2005. Print.

Sunshine, Frankie. “Bendik & the Monster – Teaser.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 May 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

“Understanding Whiteness.” Understanding Whiteness. University of Calgary. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness&gt;.

 

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9 thoughts on “Reelout 2015 Film Review: Around the World in 8 Short Ways

  1. aba

    Hey Jac, awesome review. (: Haha, to add to your comment about how deceiving the title of the series of shorts is… I find it funny/ ironic that it’s around the world, but as you said it predominantly features a western-centric point of view. The short films sound great but this lack of racial representation definitely shows how media still has a ways to go, although it has come a long way.

    And also with reference to your summary on Bendik & The Monster, it really shows how gender stereotypes are taught to us, as opposed to it being natural or assumed at birth. Although I didn’t watch this film, it seems like Bendik represents a liberating freedom of choice. It almost makes me think of when I was a kid and knew little about gender stereotypes, identity, etc… I think everyone deserves to still feel that way and it’s very empowering to see that his mother was supportive of the initiative Bendik took to express himself however he wanted!

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    1. Jac Post author

      Thank you so much for a response!

      And I definitely agree, I found the limitations of the short films a bit saddening, but overall I did like the the films they did select. I definitely agree with what you mean by Bendik, and not just him but the Monster as well since both choose to defy what they stereotypically should be (for Bendik a “masculine man” like Freddy and for the Monster well, a scary monster). I really loved how the mother approved his choice, and I think that’s partially why this is one of my favourite films. I think it’s definitely clearly shown me what it means to be supportive of people’s choices.

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  2. MJ

    I think that today’s society focuses on a very western-centric or more specifically a North American centric point of view. Looking at Western values and beliefs and applying them to a different non-western society has become popularized in the past years, beginning within colonization. I agree that the media today is very focused on the West, their beliefs, celebrities, values, etc., and has a long way to go before it can accurately represent a cultured world. In addition, the idea of essentialism seems to be prominent within the short films, and many of the Reelout featured films. Many believe that heterosexuality is essential, or a normal aspect of the human condition, when in reality it is not. Personally, I think that some parents today are moving towards a way of raising their kids with limited gender boundaries, which allows them to explore and express themselves however they wish. By allowing this, a new generation of people will grow up with less harsh gender expectations and a better understanding of how society constructs gender.

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    1. Jac Post author

      I definitely think that a lot of western values and viewpoints have been pushed into non-western countries. Especially when these countries are often used in an orientalist sense, where in which these places are used as objects to further some sort of magical exploration of identity (often by) white people. For example, right now it’s very popular to write books about marrying a Thai woman and “experiencing the rough farm life in rural Thailand” as if it’s some sort of enlightening experience that cannot occur in farms within North America. Which suggests that this construct of the orient is somehow magical, or spiritual in a way that North American is not. They also tend to follow a lot of trends of objectifying Asian women through stereotypes and reducing to fantasies which I personally find depressing. And I definitely agree! It was very refreshing to see the films at Reelout challenge the heteronormative ideas I think a lot of us have grown up with. Thanks so much for you response. 🙂

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  3. mac2121

    Jac! This film review was very insightful and presents a great analysis. I appreciated your critique about the film being limiting as six of the films were set in Europe. I believe most media focuses on the West which is important, however, I believe it is important to focus on other parts of the world as well. I too would like to see a film that explores challenges brought upon different parts of the world such as South America. Bendik and the Monster seems like a great film that should be introduced to children to help provide a positive outlook on all of the topics the movie covers in a fun/kid friendly way. I think it’s great that you benefited from the festival! Thank you so much for the review!

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    Reply
    1. Jac Post author

      Thanks so much for your response! And I’m glad to hear you agree with some of my points. 🙂 And I would definitely recommend Bendik and the Monster to children of all ages, it’s an excellent film that really talks about exploring and choosing your own path, not one restricted by society. I think it’s a good film for parents as well, since it demonstrates what I personally think being an accepting parent looks like.

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  4. rau

    Hi Jac. Fantastic film review. “Around the World in 8 Short Ways” seems like a very intriguing film. From the title, I would have expected the series of short films to be representative of 8 different minority groups across the world. It is unfortunate to hear that there was a strong lack of people of colour in this film. Considering that they selected the 7 short films from a large variety, I would have expected there to be a larger representation of people of colour, especially since so many other films at Reelout focussed or touched upon this aspect of underrepresentation in society.

    I found your description of “Bendik and the Monster” to be very intriguing. It seems like an unusual, but effective, way to get the message of gender stereotyping across to all individuals. Unlike the film I saw, Blackbird, it seems like there was a strong sense of motherly support in “Bendik and the Monster” when Bendik was being degraded by Freddy. In Blackbird, the main character, Randy, was told his homosexual feelings are a sin. I think Randy could have benefitted greatly by having the motherly support showed by Bendik’s mother in “Bendik and the Monster”.

    Considering I have not seen the short film “Bendik and the Monster” that was showed in “Around the World in 8 Short Ways”, I am wondering if you think “Bendik and the Monster” would be an effective film to show to children in school. Do you think young students who are at the age of internalizing stereotypical gender roles would benefit from seeing “Bendik and the Monster” as an introduction to the idea that there is no “right” way to act based on your gender?

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    1. Jac Post author

      Hi Rau, thanks so much for your response!

      I think Bendik and the Monster is an excellent film to show children. Firstly, it’s very funny. I laughed quite a few times throughout the film as a result of the things they said or did. I definitely think that kids would like that. Secondly, it’s a film that physically appeals to kids more. Bendik is a young boy, which is more relatable to children than say, an adult. In addition, the entire Monster’s Inc feel to the animation is very familiar and obviously, appealing to kids of all ages. It does resemble more of a cartoon with its fun colours and interesting character designs. I definitely feel that children would be able to benefit from this film because it does convey the message that you can do whatever you like, whether that is career-wise like the Monster or gender-wise like Bendik. I think there’s also a strong stance from the mother (who indeed was very supportive) against things like transphobia and strict gender binaries which can show kids that these types of comments aren’t okay, and that they are very harmful. In a subtle way, I think it also encourages to stand up to bullying (essentially what Freddy did to Bendik) and not to let people tell you what you should be. Overall, I really think it’s a fun, uplifting film suitable for children. If I was a teacher, I would definitely have my students watch this.

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  5. Ash

    It’s awesome that you went to see more than one movie, and pointed out Reelout’s flaws. Although the festival is doing a lot of good for the LGBTQ community, the lack of racial diversity in the films stands out. Even in the movie I watched, Before the Last Curtain Falls, there was no representation of coloured individuals. In elementary school, and even secondary school, I don’t recall ever watching a film that did not agree with hetero-normative perspectives. I believe teaching children to be accepting and inclusive from a very young age, and by exposing them to material that we don’t often see in media, everyone in future generations will be benefitted. Your analysis also made me think about the privileges I have in my life, how I often don’t acknowledge them and their effect on other people within the social hierarchy. Overall your review was great and I’m glad you enjoyed Reelout!

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