2 min

Local festival, global issues

Out on Screen responds to heated debate over ad

Out On Screen executive director Drew Dennis Credit: Out On Screen

The Vancouver Queer Film Festival turned 26 this year. The festival featured 86 films from around the world, a special focus on women-directed cinema and a spotlight on LGBT rights in Russia. The festival provides an opportunity for Vancouver’s queer communities to come together for discussion, reflection, celebration and yes — disagreement.

In this year’s program guide, we accepted and ran an ad from a local volunteer-run group. The advertisement depicted an Israeli flag flying alongside a rainbow flag and sent congratulations on our 26th year.

I have heard from some that the ad is celebratory and represents bridge-building between Jewish and LGBT communities. I have heard from some that this ad has felt hurtful in light of the tragedy occurring in Gaza. We’ve heard loud and clear from folks who feel that, by accepting this ad, we’ve strayed from our values as an organization. And we’ve heard loud and clear from those who can’t imagine why a local film festival would take a position on this issue. Within our own organization, there exists a diversity of viewpoints; our own internal conversations have been robust.

We’ve received letters from community groups, activists, filmmakers and individuals. One letter reminded us of the famous ACT UP motto: Silence=Death, explaining that choosing neutrality in a situation of oppression is a form of complicity. Some letters have expressed frustration, calling the ad pinkwashing and asking that we formally sign on to the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. Another letter asked if we’d be having this conversation if it were another country’s flag flying beside the rainbow flag.

Three filmmakers chose to cancel their film screenings, and while disappointed, we honoured their requests.

As a leader, there are many times when I do not have all the answers. This is one of them.

Many of us in Vancouver — including me — live with much privilege. As someone who is queer, as someone who is transgender, I know what it is to own a body that is inherently political. I know what it feels like to be called upon to take a stand, to draw a line and to make a decision that isn’t easy. I know what it feels like to feel the strength of others — my allies, my friends, even those whom I’ve never met in places I’ve never visited — as they have drawn a line and risked their own lives in support of someone like me.

Our board of directors and our leadership team will be convening in the fall to review our own internal policies and review processes. Our goal will be to chart a clear way forward, with decisions that ensure our programming and advertising honour our mandate and uphold our values.

We’re listening and considering all feedback we receive; if you’d like to share your thoughts, please email me at feedback@outonscreen.com.

Telling our stories and celebrating queer lives is the Vancouver Queer Film Festival’s raison d’être. We’re activists. We’ve never shied away from difficult conversations — but I have to say, this one feels different. Our staff and volunteers are being drawn into debates on social media, and friendships are being tested. The discussions are intense, political, personal. This is tough. And like most things in life, the things that really matter often are. This will require open minds and open hearts.

I am continuously impressed, honoured and proud of our team, which brings such dedication and care to this discussion, and am appreciative of Vancouver’s queer and trans communities for holding our feet to the fire — especially on the big issues.