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Reel Sex film festival launches in Ottawa

Exploring sexuality on the screen

At the end of a myriad concrete tunnels is a small classroom. A dozen students sit at their desks, idly chatting until their professor, Jennifer Evans, walks in. The chatter dwindles.

The seminar is part of a first-year class, Towards a Global History of Sexuality, and the students are meeting to talk about their latest assignment, Reel Sex.

Reel Sex is a film festival organized by the students in partnership with Ottawa’s Divergence Movie Night and Carleton University’s GLBTQ Centre. Throughout the month of March, the festival will screen four films that explore facets of sexuality.

Amanda Carson is the first student to speak. “What I think the film festival aims to do is to create a really positive space where we can address sexual topics such as homosexuality and the sex trade… in a positive light,” she says.

Shawn McGregor is one of the team members who chose Stand Together, by Toronto filmmaker Nancy Nicol. The documentary starts in the 1960s, when a national security campaign sought out and expelled gays from the public service and military.

“A lot of it takes place in Ottawa, says McGregor. “I think that the younger generation, like this generation coming up, doesn’t know a lot about national security campaigns and what actually went on.”

The order of the films was chosen deliberately to bring the audience from a general perspective of sexuality to personal experiences. The students hope that over the course of the month, the festival will become a safe place for people to talk about sex and sexuality.

“This is an open and safe space for people to be able to say certain things that bother them, certain things they found interesting. If we are able to change one person, then we’ve done something,” says Deborah Firempong.

Firempong feels that the festival levels the playing field between sexuality studies students and others watching the films. “We are all out into the same situation; we are all under the same conditions; we are all watching the same movie; and yes, it may bring us some uncomfortable [feelings] amongst people. But that is what we are trying to address — that it’s not uncomfortable, that it’s okay to talk about it,” she says.

Although the class is optimistic about breaking down barriers, these are small steps. Carson likens the festival to the progress she feels the whole class has made since September.

“We all came into this class with very little experience talking about sexuality, especially in an academic sense. So it was very quiet,” says Carson. “Then we grew; we expanded to the point we’re able to talk about anything. When we were looking through the movie listings, we were like, ‘Remember when eunuchs were weird to us?’ And now it’s just anything goes. I don’t think Jennifer could throw a curve ball at us and we would be surprised anymore. So I think by showing four movies and teaching people about four different topics with an underlying connection, I think that they too can learn about it and then be able to talk about it in the same way we can.”

The Reel Sex film festival will screen films every Thursday at Carleton University. Sexuality Studies Thursdays will feature a talk, “The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You: Homosexuality and Fascism,” by Judith (Jack) Halberstam from the University of Southern California.