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'Outpourings of emotion' and 'a force of good': The Gaze Film Festival celebrates 25 years

Dublin’s LGBT film festival Gaze was set up in 1992 – a year before homosexuality was decriminalised.

Image: Gaze 25

THIS YEAR IS the Gaze Film Festival’s 25th year of sharing movies, documentaries, and short films about the gay community.

And that, upon first reading might seem like a very simple thing, but Ireland in the late ’80s and the early ’90s was a very different setting to set up a festival showcasing romances, comedies and dramas about gay men and women.

In the years before the Dublin LGBT festival was set up, the community had been hit with the AIDS epidemic, which marked a period of society-fuelled fear and profound loss; media segments grilled gay men and women on their human rights; and Ireland’s gay community were living as part of an underground.

Filmmaker Bill Hughes, who’s attended almost every Gaze festival, describes it as a “nudge nudge wink wink” existence.

“It was deeply unpleasant,” Hughes tells TheJournal.ie.

There was a gay bar in Dublin that had the best music and the best sound in the city, but they couldn’t serve alcohol because they weren’t given a license… the gays couldn’t be trusted with alcohol, was the feeling, so all we got was tea, coffee and a bun!

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, but the year before that is when Gaze, or the Dublin Lesbian and gay Film Festival, was set up. its founders were conscious of the legislation was on the way, and wanted to make their cultural mark in Ireland.

But of course, there was opposition to it. Cinemas at the time wouldn’t screen the content as many of them were under management of the Catholic Church.

But once the Church lost power and decriminalisation happened, the dark cloud lifted. It wasn’t just metaphoric, you actually felt it being lifted off your shoulders.

There were other, more practical difficulties as well – at the start, finding films and documentaries was difficult.

“Trying to contact distributors when calling abroad cost a fortune, trying to track people down, you really had to be Miss Marple to find content,” Hughes says.

But once it got status, then you got to the stage where content was being offered, and you’d have people saying ‘you should try to get it shown in Dublin’.

That seems like miles away from last year’s festival, where films like A Date for Mad Mary, Handsome Devil, and Viva which were screened as part of the festival prompted a response not only in Ireland, but abroad too.

Source: Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing/YouTube

Over the weekend almost 12,000 people are expected to attend the festival’s events; 4,500 of them are for film screenings.

The power of the cinema is that it can bring people together to experience the subjects like love, heartbreak, success and loss with other people.

After an AIDS drama aired at the festival one year, Hughes described how many of the audience members, who would have lived through the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, reacted.

It was such an outpouring of emotion, it was like therapy really. And that’s such an incredible thing and an example of how Gaze is a force of good.

“The History of Gay Lives in Ireland, which was first broadcast in 1998, was shows on the big screen again in 2013, and when it finished it got a standing ovation that gave me the buzz of my life,” Hughes says.

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Here’s some of the highlights of this year’s Gaze Film Festival, a special ‘Silver Anniversary’ edition:

  • The 34th – The Story of Marriage Equality in Ireland, marks the beginning of the festival with a recap of the figures that drove the Yes Equality marriage campaign. It’s world premiere aired on Thursday
  • The Fabulous Allan Carr. A producer, manager, and marketing genius, he built his bombastic reputation amid a series of successes including the mega hit musical film Grease (4 August 6.30pm).
  • After Louie. Alan Cumming stars as Sam, an artist who lived through the AIDS epidemic and is bewildered by a younger generation of gay men’s use of social media, sexting, and seeming political indifference (5 August at 6.30pm).
  • Tom of Finland. A beautiful true story of how famous cult figure Touko starts making art with muscular, proud gay men, which is at odds with his day life in post-war Finland (5 August 8.30pm).
  • Gods Own Country. Set on a Yorkshire far, this film follows Johnny Saxby’s frustration with rural life and falling for a Romanian migrant worker who takes up temporary work (7 August 8pm).

There’s a colourful, interesting, fabulous list of other films on here.

For years, Gaze has been documenting the part the gay community play in Irish society, a place for people to meet, and an emotional journey for many of its members.

After 25 years of being a part of Gaze’s audience, and over 20 years of being a soundboard for the festival’s organisers, Bill has watched film-goers themselves change too.

“They’re getting younger,” he laughs.

“They’re not afraid of their opinion, it’s not a reverential experience for them, they’re there to be entertained, intrigued, provoked, and stimulated.

“It’s wonderful to see the wide-eyed curiosity they have about the greater world of LGBT issues, that tells me the future is good hands.”

Read: This Irish film about a Cuban drag artist is wowing people across the world

Read: ‘We’re racist to each other. We body shame each other’: Irish Youtuber on the LGBT community

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