Welcome to the second edition of the Toronto Queer Film Festival!

This program represents our best efforts, with the very limited resources available to us, to craft a political and artistic vision of what a queer film festival should be in 2017. To build this festival, we’ve drawn from the work of queer and trans artists, activists, and curators who have come before us, as most established LGBT film festivals, like contemporary big-budget pride events, actually began in modest, community-based, activist settings. We’ve also learned from contemporary activists, artists, curators, and scholars who are building programs and movements of resistance to the state and its agents – regardless of gender and sexuality – around issues such as migration and border imperialism, racial oppression and white supremacy, corporations, settler colonialism, and pinkwashing.

We organize this festival under the sign of “queer” out of respect for the word’s activist origins as a mode of reclamation of power. For the purposes of organizing this festival, queer does not refer to any specific form of gender and/or sexual identity politics. Instead, we understand queer to be a site of organization against oppression – including restrictive and/or normative definitions of sex, gender, and sexual orientations – as well as an aesthetics and politics of resistance, playfulness, experimentation, sex, and activism.

Most of the films you will see at the 2017 TQFF festival have never played in Canada. This is no accident, and stems from an intentional practice of rethinking models for organizing a festival based on what we’ve observed has worked well (or not, especially for audiences and filmmakers who are not white, wealthy, and/or cisgender) over several decades of participating in LGBT festivals.

Some examples of how we’ve organized our curatorial process include:

  • a call for submissions that makes clear our festival mandate to prioritize social justice and/or experimental work, especially films that center disability, trans, decolonial, and anti-racist themes and methodologies;
  • no entry fees for filmmakers, lowering the barriers to entry for submitting to TQFF as much as we can;
  • a mandate that all films selected exhibit a political and/or formal practice of unsettling and experimentation, regardless of genre;
  • a goal of building a festival that educates, challenges, engages, and supports our all of our communities through screenings, workshops, and social spaces;
  •  building a festival program drawn almost entirely through the labor of watching the 730 films submitted this year through our open call, rather than privileging films that have already been selected by gatekeepers such as distributors, galleries, or so-called “prestigious” LGBT film festivals that do not share our mandate.

In addition to continuing to think deeply and intentionally about the structure, practices, and organization of TQFF in some of the ways detailed above, we also continue to reflect on the overall obligations and commitments that we believe all festivals, but especially queer festivals, should take into consideration when planning their events.

First and foremost, we choose to support films that challenge homonormativity and homonationalism, which includes considering effects of settler colonialism, racism, white supremacy, ableism, cisgender normativity, and class.

Second, and relatedly, we will not engage in pinkwashing as an organization, nor will we screen films funded by states or other institutions for the purpose of pinkwashing. As part of this policy, we unconditionally support the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (for more information see www.pacbi.org). We stand in solidarity with Palestinians and other Indigenous people around the world who continue to fight against genocide, occupation, and settler colonialism.

However, our commitment to supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) – a policy, unfortunately, that far too many LGBT Canadian and US cultural events fail to make even as they are routinely and deliberately targeted by pinkwashing campaigns – is not limited to concerns about the highly organized and well-funded practices of the Israeli state. We eschew pinkwashing and homonationalism in all its manifestations, especially as they arise here in Canada, and seek out work that challenges all forms of settler colonialism, nationalism, and border imperialism.

Third, we believe that festivals should be accessible to all audiences. As such, we seek to remove, or the very least minimize, barriers to entry by offering free and sliding-scale tickets, wheelchair accessible venues, closed-captioned films, and ASL interpretation. We recognize, however, that we have much more work to do on this front, and, as we grow, we will prioritize funding additional programs to address remaining barriers to entry.

Fourth, as we look at the contemporary landscape of LGBT festival and cultural programming, we have observed that organizations and events that rely on corporate sponsorships have been irreparably compromised and corrupted. Corporate sponsorships have an invariably mainstreaming impact on cultural programming and is one of the core mechanisms through which LGBT events have shifted from their community-based, activist origins to becoming sites for the addressing and packaging of audiences as markets to businesses. This impacts every aspect of festivals, from the ways that spaces are activated to the content of programming itself, regardless of whether or not corporations directly intervene in the content of curation.

Corporate sponsorships are also another mode of pinkwashing, whereby festivals take money from multinationals and, in exchange, brandish the corporations’ logos throughout their events. This in turn gives the corporations an aura of progressive respectability, even as these very same corporations continue their destructive, settler colonial projects (i.e. pipelines) elsewhere. Thus, for example, we frequently see LGBT organizations mouthing words of support for Indigenous communities here and abroad, while simultaneously taking large sums of money from, say, the very banks that fund resource extraction projects that are destroying (or will likely soon destroy) the land and water of Indigenous communities. This is not a practice of solidarity and support with First Nations; this is LGBT organizations’ structural complicity with the pinkwashing efforts of corporations. For these reasons, TQFF does not and will not solicit or accept corporate donations. We will continue to rely solely on community and (hopefully) grant support, and, if it becomes impossible to adequately fund the festival in the future, we will either scale down the event or cease operations.

Last but not least, we believe that festivals must pay filmmakers for their work, in addition to providing other supports and resources, so that they may continue to produce new films. This is especially important in today’s cultural climate when queer and trans filmmakers who make non-commercial work that challenges matrices of homonormativity and homonationalism have such difficulties obtaining funding, as well as finding screen space, for their films.

The films we have selected for this year’s festival are genre as well as gender bending, and thus defy easy categorization. For these reasons, we have organized programs via a variety of methodologies, preferring to group by association, praxis, themes, and other strategies. We believe the selection of films in this program are representative of the kinds of innovative and radical queer work being made today, and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we do.

Kami Chisholm
Aimée Mitchell