Choice Objects: Gay and Lesbian Film and Video

Article excerpt

Is it possible to speak of queer representation, of a gay and lesbian representation? Looking at the traditional format of gay and lesbian film festivals, which nearly always schedule boys' nights and girls' nights, thus encouraging the audience to segregate itself along gender lines, one would infer that the answer is no. While gay men and lesbians do share concern over certain legal and social issues related to sexual orientation many would maintain that our communities each have their own political, social, cultural and aesthetic needs The complex relationship between the two communities, their overlaps and their differences, has hardly been broached as a topic within theories of representation.

One would think that media festivals and the discourse that develops around them would provide an appropriate arena in which to explore the social relations internal to the gay and lesbian community. Yet while festivals showing gay and lesbian media together have proliferated in New York City recently, public forums for discussion of works in these festivals have been minimal. For example, the 1989 New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film ("The New Festival"), June 7-20, 1989 at the Biograph Cinema, presented some 70 films and one lecture (several directors were available for questions after their films); the Third New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival, September 18-24, 1989 at Anthology Film Archives, 61 films and one panel discussion; and the Lesbian and Gay Video Festival '89 at Downtown Community Television, October 10 and 13, 1989, 22 tapes and no forums. In each case, works by gay male producers substantially outnumbered those by lesbians.

"How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video Screenings and Conference" featured six lectures on October 21-22, 1989 and screened nearly 60 films and videotapes over a 10-day period. Organized in part as a response to previous festivals, its screening series was characterized by near gender parity; its conference was free and designed to encourage discussion; and audiences for the lectures ranged from at least 150 to more than the 250-person capacity of the Anthology Film Archives auditorium. Additionally, "How Do I Look?" was a response to a general lack of theoretical work on gay and lesbian representation. According to Douglas Crimp, in his opening remarks to the conference, the reading group to which he belongs "decided to read media theory about the representation of gay men and lesbians - and didn't find much. So we decided to make some."(1) The reading group, which calls itself Bad Object Choices, organized the conference with the support of the Collective for Living Cinema, October, and Anthology Film Archives, where most of the events were held.

"How Do I Look?" featured lectures by Boston political and health activist Cindy Patton; Toronto videomaker Richard Fung; British film- and videomaker Stuart Marshall; Judith Mayne, a professor at Ohio State University at Columbus; Kobena Mercer of the British Film Institute; and Teresa de Lauretis, author of Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (1984), among other works. To ensure that dialogue took place, a number of prominent media scholars and producers were invited as informal discussants, including several whose works were included in the "How Do I Look?" screenings: Marusia Bociurkiw, John Greyson, Isaac Julien, Sheila McLaughlin, Marlon Riggs and others.

This festival provided a unique opportunity to consider the current state of "queer" representation, addressing issues of both practice and theory. Problems were revealed in the theoretical realm that derive from the relationship between gay male and lesbian forms of representation and meaning. As Martha Gever has stated, "an inquiry into the representation of gay men in cinema . . . cannot simply apply or rework feminist film theories. Nor can homophobia be reduced to a form of misogyny. Nor is homophobia directed against gay men identical to homophobia directed against lesbians. …