Magazine article Variety

Palestinian Gay Film Fest Opens NEW BORDERS

Magazine article Variety

Palestinian Gay Film Fest Opens NEW BORDERS

Article excerpt

It was an LGBT-themed film festival held outside the borders of Palestine, featuring a number of works by directors who were neither gay nor Palestinian. But the first-ever Kooz Queer fest, which had a modest bow earlier this month in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, made little ripples of history in its own right. The tiny three-day fest, established by grassroots org Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women, and held across a handful of Haifa coffee shops and art venues, opened up a dialogue about the overlaps of occupation and sexuality; and of the borders of individual identity in the context of an uncertain international existence.

The goal of the fest: to provide a platform for home-grown, gay-themed films at a time when most LGBT Palestinians still feel a need to stay closeted.

Films made by, and about, gay Palestinians are few and far between. But the team at Aswat, inspired by similar grassroots festivals around the world, nevertheless felt the time was right to launch their fest.

"Most films talking about gay Palestinians are made by Israeli or Western eyes, and they don't represent the real voice of Palestinians," says Hanan Wakeem, Aswat's educational project manager.

To that point, Israeli helmer Eytan Fox introduced gay Palestinian characters in his films "Walk on Water" (2004) and "The Bubble" (2006); Israeli Yariz Mozer made history in 2012 with his expose "The Invisible Men"; and British documentarian Jake Witzenfeld debuted his groundbreaking "Oriented," about gay Palestinians living inside Israel, this past summer.

But Palestinian audiences have yet to encounter a successful full-length feature film on LGBT issues made by one of their own.

There are so few such works, in fact, that the dozen films in Kooz's lineup featured only three made or co-made by Palestinians. One, "Condom Lead," the Cannes-screened debut short from the Gaza-based Nasser brothers, deals intimately with straight sexuality, but doesn't touch upon homosexuality at all. The other two were the short "Diary of a Male Whore" by Tawfiq Abu Wael; and full-length docu "Homecoming Queen," in which a Jewish-Palestinian couple chart their personal experience traveling home from the debauchery of Stockholm drag shows and back to occupied Ramallah.

To supplement their material, Aswat turned to movies from Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and even the U.S. Despite the films' diversity, they all circled around the same broad themes: sexuality, borders both real and relative, and the evolving presence of LGBT activism in the broader Arab world.

Wakeem describes the fest as a response to so-called Israeli "pinkwashing," the term, often used by Palestinian advocates, to describe a deliberate Israeli strategy of promoting the Jewish state's gay-friendly policies in a bid to turn attention away from the occupation. …

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