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.
“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/>.
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>.