3 min

Money for queer culture

City hall to consider funding Out On Screen

Credit: Robin Perelle

Vancouver’s annual queer film festival may be about to get a little financial boost from city hall. Staff in the city’s cultural affairs office will urge council to give Out On Screen a $5,000 grant when it meets again Mar 25.

“It’s really great news,” says Out On Screen’s director, Drew Dennis. “We’re very happy with the recognition.”

In the past, Dennis says, Out On Screen has never been eligible for city funding. In fact, staff have refused to even give the queer festival an application form, let alone consider its proposal. “It was very frustrating,” Dennis says. “They were acting as a gate-keeper.”

The cultural affairs office is supposed to screen a variety of local arts and culture initiatives then recommend its picks to council. Applicants are supposed to compete with each other for financial support. But Out On Screen never got the chance, Dennis repeats. Instead, staff supported the Vancouver International Film Festival to the exclusion of all other film festivals.

Until now.

Last fall, Dennis met with representatives from other local film festivals and together they asked cultural affairs head Burke Taylor for an explanation. Taylor, Dennis says, examined the situation and apologized. He was “actually pretty quick to be responsive.”

Taylor could not be reached before Xtra West went to press. But Duncan Low, the cultural planner now responsible for Out On Screen’s file, confirms that the festival is being recommended for funding. He says he doesn’t know what happened in previous years because he’s new to the department. But this year, he says, staff have decided to back four local film festivals-and Out On Screen is one of them.

Out On Screen is “an excellent festival, an important part of the city’s cultural fabric,” Low says. It is well worth supporting.

Councillor Tim Stevenson agrees. He’s been working with Out On Screen for months to help it get funding. “This is a part of our culture and an important group in the city that has, for a long time, been struggling at a very low budget,” he says. “This is a modest grant and certainly one that, in my opinion, the city can afford.”

It’s about time local government supported Vancouver’s queer film festival, Dennis says. The federal government understands the value of this festival; it’s “disappointing” that the city and province have historically been less supportive.

Right now, government funding accounts for more than half of Out On Screen’s $325,000 operating budget, with box office sales, donations and sponsorships covering the rest. And the “vast bulk” of that government funding comes from the federal level.

Last year, the federal government provided about $136,000, Dennis says. The province kicked in another $28,000 and the city offered nothing.

Now Dennis is hoping that’s about to change.

Stevenson is optimistic that his colleagues will approve staff’s recommendation and give Out On Screen its $5,000 grant. “I can’t anticipate having much problem with my own caucus,” he says, referring to the now-ruling COPE party.

“There’s a lot of vibrancy within our [gay] culture,” Stevenson continues, “and I think it is important that local government support that as much as possible.”

The provincial government has been funding Out On Screen-albeit at lower-than-federal levels-through two different branches for years: the arts council and the gaming department.

The BC Arts Council has already confirmed its $8,000 grant for this year’s festival, Dennis says.

But the gaming department is a little more complicated. Last summer, it unexpectedly cut its funding for Out On Screen by $20,000. Halfway through the festival, organizers got a cheque for just $10,000, down from the usual $30,000. When they appealed (and Xtra West called to enquire), the department relented and signed over another $10,000.

“We misinterpreted” Out On Screen’s financial statement, gaming manager Derek Sturko explained to Xtra West at the time. But Out On Screen’s 11-day festival doesn’t meet the department’s newly tightened criteria for funding on-going programs of benefit to the community, he warned. Sturko said he planned to meet with Dennis this year to discuss the criteria further.

Dennis hasn’t spoken to Sturko since. And despite repeated calls, Xtra West could not reach Sturko before press time.

Out On Screen is planning to apply for gaming department funding this May.

Meanwhile, Dennis is encouraging Vancouver’s queer and other cultural groups to apply for city funding, as well. Out On Screen got its foot in the door, Dennis says, maybe other groups can too.