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'From the outside it looks like everything's great, but there's still a lot to do': The film festival that celebrates Ireland's LGBT community

The festival’s curator talks us through its highlights.
Aug 3rd 2019, 6:31 AM 22,369 29

“THINGS HAVE CHANGED a lot in Ireland and Ireland feels like this very liberal country now. That is still amazing, but there is still a lot to do and festivals like Gaze should be [highlighting activism] because it’s rooted in such activism.”

Gaze is Ireland’s long-running LGBT film festival – an annual event that celebrates LGBT filmmaking from Ireland and abroad, and programmer Roisín Geraghty is the woman who’s been responsible for picking its films for the past five years.

The festival itself has been going since 1992 – one year before Ireland decriminalised homosexuality. The year that Geraghty took her role, marriage equality had been enshrined in our constitution. So the festival has had its role in reflecting the journey towards equality in Ireland. 

This weekend, the festival is underway in Dublin, and Geraghty spoke to TheJournal.ie about her highlights of the festival and what Gaze means in the context of Ireland in 2019.

“A big one for me that is we are screening a documentary called Are You Proud, which is about the roots of the Pride movement,” says Geraghty when asked about her festival highlights. Are You Proud takes place at 1pm today at the Light House cinema in Dublin.

“It’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots this year and we think it’s very timely to be screening a film like this. The filmmaker decided to make it after the Pulse nightclub shootings in America. It looks at Pride’s roots, how it has changed, and dissects the corporatisation of Pride in recent years.”

Because this is also a big topic for Irish people, the festival is hosting a discussion after today’s screening with a number of different speakers, including people from Dublin Pride and a spokesperson from Accenture, the corporate sponsors of Gaze. “It’s not laying blame or pointing fingers – it’s an interesting discussion as we can see both sides of the argument on this,” says Geraghty. 

Short films are a way for new filmmakers to hone their craft, and are also a great way of seeing what topics are currently obsessing them. “Shorts programmes are a huge highlight for me,” says Geraghty. “Curating the shorts programme is such a joy. This year we have an assistant programmer for the first time and his voice really comes through in the shorts programme.” The programme highlights Irish shorts makers, and Geraghty says they were “blown away by the quality of films that were submitted to us”. 

“Obviously they are very different types of films, thematically they are programmed around the fact they are Irish. There are documentaries, narrative film… we’re very excited this year that three of the films – there are eight in the programme – three are from Northern Ireland. It’s very important to us that we tell stories from the entire island of Ireland. The Northern Ireland ones are very timely – one is about the fight for marriage equality.”

As part of this, there will also be a screening and panel discussion on Monday at 1.30pm at the Light House called ‘Active Ireland: united and angrier than ever’ in partnership with ACT UP Ireland. 

The films at Gaze aren’t all from Ireland – there will be 26 countries represented throughout the programme. This year includes a focus on queer Latin cinema. “I’ve been programming for five years and the last few years it’s become obvious to me the most interesting exciting films, [in their] depiction of queer life are coming out of Latin America,” says Geraghty.

‘LGBT film is mainstream’

After five years, Geraghty is due to move on from her programming role. “It’s really interesting – I started the job just a few months after marriage equality and it was so exciting to be there. A festival like Gaze is rooted as an activist and a radical festival: it started in 1992 the year before homosexuality was decriminalised. When I started it was just on the precipice of huge change in Ireland.”

She says that this change is “noticeable all over Ireland”.

“Pride is mainstream and LGBT cinema is mainstream in Ireland and internationally,” says Geraghty. “It’s changing the face of LGBT festivals a little bit. I feel some are going back to their more activist roots… The main function and objective of an LGBT festival is to showcase the work of LGBT filmmakers, to have LGBT voices on screen and as representation for the LGBT community, and obviously there is a lot more representation in the world now of the LGBT community, so things have changed.”

This can have a knock-on effect on the smaller festivals that have long played their role in highlighting LGBT work. “You will notice there are a lot more bigger LGBT films or films that depict LGBT themes – a lot of mainstream and Hollywood films that feature a-list actors,” says Geraghty. “A lot will transcend LGBT festivals and get general release which is amazing – [but] this means they’re probably less available to us.”

What Gaze has decided to do is to stick to its objective of showcasing the work of LGBT  filmmakers, but to not lose sight of those who broke ground for today’s creatives. It does this through its retrospective programmes – this year’s one is called Remembering Queer Trailblazers.

In addition, through the strand Yestergaze, this year they’re also celebrating the work of the Hirschfield Centre, Ireland’s first LGBT community centre, which had an arthouse cinema. The screening of Derek Jarman’s first film Sebastienne will be a celebration of the work Hirschfield did in bringing such films to Ireland.

For Gaze, film programming is about moving in two ways – embracing the changing Ireland and the equality that’s blossoming here, but also embracing the past and the people’s actions that brought Ireland to this point. With its panel discussions and retrospective strands, it helps people look forward and back.

“From the outside it looks like everything is great but there is still a lot to do,” says Geraghty. “We are aware things are easier, there’s more visibility of LGBT people but at the same time there’s still a lot to be done. That’s our way to shine a spotlight and show issues that are not quite in the mainstream.”

“I can’t speak to the more difficult roots of the festival, but I think the people who started the festival were incredible.”

Gaze is on until 5 July – to look at the full programme, visit the website.

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Aoife Barry

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