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Vancouver’s queer film fest faces deficit

Funding cuts hurt Queer History Project

cap: POSITIONS CUT. 'An unexpected cut to our Gaming funds this year has left us with a $25,000 deficit,' Out on Screen's Dec 4 newsletter states. Executive director Drew Dennis says the cuts hurt the queer community's ability to tell its stories. Credit: Andrea Warner photo

The BC Liberals’ arts cuts further undermined the gay community’s ability to record its history and tell its stories this month when they drove Out on Screen to lay off two staff members.

Among the positions cut: the coordinator of the Queer History Project, Chris E Gatchalian.

In addition to the Queer History Project, the not-for-profit society runs Vancouver’s annual queer film festival.

According to its website, the Queer History Project provided “an opportunity to showcase what was funny, brave, caring, painful, motivating, subversive, routine, ignored, gorgeous and arousing” about our community.

Gay archivist Ron Dutton described the Queer History Project as “crucial” last year.

“What needs to be understood is until about the 1970s, there was very, very little documentation of the gay community and its life,” he said.

Operating primarily through its website, the project collects and shares community members’ stories, photos and multimedia memorabilia. It has also commissioned three original films and it hosts writing workshops for queer seniors to help them tell their stories.

Last year the project was nominated for a Community Achievement Award. Now it will have to continue without a dedicated coordinator.

“An unexpected cut to our Gaming funds this year has left us with a $25,000 deficit and as we head into a new year we anticipate a further reduction to government grants by as much as $50,000,” writes Out on Screen in its Dec 4 newsletter.

“In order to be fiscally prudent and responsible, we’ve made the very tough decision to lay off two of our core staff team. We sadly bid farewell to our Director of Communications, Vanessa Melle and our part-time Queer History Project Director, Chris E Gatchalian.”

Out on Screen was one of thousands of arts and community groups in the province affected by the BC Liberals’ decision to cut grants derived from gambling funds this fall.

Many groups were left with significant holes in their operating budgets. Some, like the Vancouver Lesbian and Gay Choir that had been receiving the grants for nearly a decade, may not survive.

Out on Screen’s chair James Ong is bracing for another round of funding cuts next year. He expects government grants to the queer film festival to drop by as much as $50,000.

For now, Out on Screen is doing its best to ensure its Queer History Project survives despite the loss of its coordinator, Ong says.

The project may have to rely more on volunteers, he says. The website can be modified to make it more user-driven, he notes.

Last month, the Queer History Project profiled Mabel Elmore, the first out lesbian of colour elected to the BC legislature, posted a documentary about the NuWest Steambath, and added a link to the West End Sex Work History Project.

Despite the funding cuts, Ong says Out on Screen will continue to commission Queer History Project films. In August, it screened Aerlyn Weissman and Daphne Marlatt’s The Portside, inspired by Vancouver’s legendary lesbian bar The Vanport.

“Everyone is committed to keeping the project alive,” Ong says. “We don’t want to lose it and we don’t want it to become stale.”

“Our lives would be sterile without arts and culture,” says Out on Screen’s executive director Drew Dennis. “It permeates our lives and so many things that we take for granted.”

The arts allow us to tell our stories and hear our stories, Dennis says. They allow our community to speak to itself. Funding cuts throw hurdles in that path.

Ong takes issue with the way the BC Liberal government abruptly announced the funding cuts this fall.

Having received gaming grants for years, Out on Screen commissioned works in advance with the expectation that the grants would cover the expenses, Ong explains. When the government suddenly announced the cuts, the society was left with little cash up front to pay for the works it had commissioned.

“The government must have known sooner in the fiscal year that their revenue targets weren’t coming together,” he says.

The government has said that it cut the grants in an attempt to save $1.5 billion.

The government’s lack of consultation with arts organizations has been “quite disrespectful,” Dennis told Xtra West in September. “They changed the rules in the middle of the process.”

In addition to laying off the Queer History Project coordinator, Out on Screen has also had to lay off its director of communications, cut back the hours for its developer position and ask the director of programming to help fundraise.

Ong says the work from the two deleted positions will have to be spread among the rest of the staff.

“We will be working hard to minimize any further impacts to our programs and do ask for your help,” Out on Screen’s newsletter says. “We need to raise an additional $3,000/month to continue the programs you love. Please consider making a further contribution before the year is through.”