Being Inside Inside Out

The 21st edition of Inside Out, the Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival, kicks off this evening and I am thrilled to be a part of it again.  While I’ve been a patron-level member for many years, this year I have a more active role in shaping the festival.  In 2009, I sat on the Canadian Features jury that recognized John Greyson‘s epic Fig Trees.  This year, I accepted an offer to sit on Inside Out’s programming committee as the special advisor for East Asian and Southeast Asian work.  I watched dozens of features and shorts from all across Asia and around the world, including some from Reel Asian’s past filmmakers.  As the festival & operations manager, I’m not involved in the programming for Reel Asian, so this was a great opportunity to stretch my professional wings a little.

Working alongside Inside Out’s director of programming, Jason St. Laurent, and their executive director, Scott Ferguson, gave me a great perspective on the creative and artistic side of festival administration.  Plus, I gained an even greater appreciation for the work that my colleague Heather Keung does as artistic director for Reel Asian!

My fellow committee members represented a diverse cross section of talent and expertise from across the Toronto festival and arts/culture spectrum, so meetings were spirited and lively.  I learned so much from them and made many new connections. I’ll be up on stage during Inside Out as well, doing intros and Q&As with filmmakers.

One of the best things about this experience is the opportunity to integrate my Asian and queer identities within my professional life.  It’s a sad reality that there is still significant homophobia among segments of the Asian and even the Asian Canadian communities, but fortunately for me the festival community (and certainly the Reel Asian family) has always been pretty supportive.  Over the years, Reel Asian has featured work from queer Asian artists including Richard FungJason Karman, Mishann Lau, HP Mendoza, Su-An NgHo Tam, and Paul Wong – to name just a few.

Meanwhile, the queer community can still harbour elements of racism and prejudice both subtle and not-so-subtle.  I got to see how this manifests in a festival context in reviewing some truly cringe-worthy submissions (no names mentioned here, of course) to this year’s Inside Out.  From simpering Thai ladyboys to bucktoothed Chinese villains, offensive and stereotypical portrayals of Asian characters still show up – and not just by non-Asian directors.  What was eye-opening for me was to observe how Asian directors of one nationality could be just as guilty of that same kind of ignorant bigotry when depicting characters of a different Asian nationality.  The silver lining, if there is one, is that the most egregious examples were invariably found in works that were already pretty badly written/produced to begin with.  I can only hope that as their film-making gets better, so too will their cultural sensitivity.

Reel Asian’s co-presentation at Inside Out this year is Together (Zai Yi Qi), a documentary feature from the People’s Republic of China by director Zhao Liang.  It’s a powerful look behind the scenes of Chinese director Gu Changwei‘s upcoming feature film about AIDS in China, Life is a Miracle.  It screens at 5:15pm on Sunday, May 22, at TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 2.