Interview: Yi Wang, Director of Queer East Film Festival 2021
As the showcase of rarely seen queer cinema from East and Southeast Asia hits cinemas across London, we caught up with Festival Director and Programmer for Queer East, Yi Wang, to talk queer cinema, festival highlights, culture and identity, authenticity in artistry, and great independent cinemas in London!
Tell us about Queer East Film Festival – how did it start?
Queer East is an LGBTQ+ film festival that showcases rarely-seen queer cinema from East and Southeast Asia. Seeking to amplify the voices of Asian communities in the UK, the festival explores the forces that have shaped the current queer landscape in Asia and aims to encourage more inclusive narratives.
It started from a simple realisation, driven by my personal experience as a filmgoer: here in the UK, there is a noticeable lack of East and Southeast Asian queer films available in cinemas for the public.
Significant progress has been made and there have been landmark rulings across Asia in recent years, from India’s decriminalisation of homosexuality to Taiwan’s recognition of same-sex marriage. However, challenges and obstacles remain, and are faced by many people.
Asians are the one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the UK, but it seems that we still lack understanding about these communities. Hence I feel it is hugely important that we bring more queer Asian representation to the big screen.
What should audiences look forward to this year?
As the programmer for the festival, I will of course say EVERYTHING!
The core curatorial approach for Queer East’s programme is always about showcasing the diversity of queerness in East and Southeast Asia, and taking a three-dimensional look at what it means to be Asian and queer today.
Campaigning for the legal recognition of, and protection for, marriage equality and same-sex families has been one of the focal points of LGBTQ+ movements in Asia. Therefore, I picked up two films about family, Daughters (dir. Hajime Tsuda, Japan, 2020) and Dear Tenant (dir. Yu-Chieh Cheng, Taiwan, 2020), to open and close the festival this year. Both films challenge conventional understandings of family kinship, and aim to provoke a conversation about how we understand and interpret the meaning and formation of family through a queer lens.
When the world’s spotlight shone on Japan as the host country for the Summer Olympics, it drew my attention to Japan’s history of iconoclastic and inventive queer filmmaking, and its growing strength in advancing LGBTQ+ rights. Focus Japan is a ten-film programme that looks back on queer representations in Japanese films from the 1980s until today. Highlights include Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto, among other unmissable classics such as Ghost in the Shell (dir. Mamoru Oshii, 1995), Gohatto (dir. Nagisa Oshima 1995) and Hush! (dir. Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 2001).
Our Focus Taiwan strand celebrates the country being the first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage in 2019. From a rediscovered film made in 1970, The End of the Track (dir. Tun-Fei Mou) to the art film Days (2020) by internationally-acclaimed auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, along with an exciting line-up of short films, the programme aims to promote Taiwan’s vibrant queer culture.
If you are a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you should not miss Number 1 (dir. Kuo-Sin Ong, 2020), a joyful, heart-warming Singaporean drama about a middle-age family man who becomes a drag queen superstar; and the 10thanniversary special screening of Madame X (dir. Lucky Kuswandi, 2011), an Indonesian comedy about a transgender superheroine who seeks to defeat bad guys from a homophobic political party.
I’d also like to invite audiences to check out our programme organized in partnership with London’s underground art space – The Horse Hospital. It features forward-thinking, experimental artists’ moving images, and a series of retrospectives, documentaries and short films.
Which films influenced you to support Queer cinema from East and Southeast Asia?
Growing up in Taiwan, I was lucky to be able to immerse myself in a vivid queer cinema scene, not only international LGBTQ+ blockbusters but also films made by domestic filmmakers. I think many films I saw when I was a teenager had a great impact on me, for example, Boys for Beauty (dir. Mickey Chen, 1999), Blue Gate Crossing (dir. Chi- Yee, 2002), Splendid Float (dir. Zero Chou, 2004), Eternal Summer (dir. Leste Chen, 2006), and the TV series Crystal Boys (dir. Jui-Yuan Tsao, 2003). I found that these works asked universal questions about growing up, helped shape my identity and played a significant role in my journey of understanding the world.
Being an East Asian immigrant in the UK, I often feel that I don’t see my culture and heritage being strongly represented, and sometimes even worse – they are misrepresented in a stereotypical way. Therefore, I set up Queer East hoping to bring more East and Southeast Asian queer films to UK audiences; films that reflect our cultures and identities.
What advice would you give to emerging film makers telling queer stories?
Don’t try to make so-called ‘mainstream’ LGBT films that don’t belong to your experience, as many have been repeatedly doing. Remember that queer is a word that should not be defined or limited. If you find your own narrative, and tell a queer story that comes from yourself and your communities, I think it will resonate more with its viewers.
When I programme for Queer East, I am always surprised and inspired by the powerful work made by emerging filmmakers. I think it is vital that both filmmakers and programmers continue to discover those stories that have not been told, and encourage more work that dares to challenge and diversify current LGBTQ+ discourses.
What are your favourite cinemas in London that our audience should discover?
Go to your local, independent, community-centred cinemas and cultural spaces!
As an east Londoner, my favourite places are the Genesis Cinema, Rio Cinema, Castle Cinema and Close-Up, where you can always find programmes that mix popular titles, independent films and unexpected hidden gems. Oh, and did I mention that many of these indie cinemas offer special discounted prices on certain weekdays?!
I would also like to name a few other cinemas like the Lexi Cinema (North West London), ArtHouse Crouch End (North London) and Catford Mews (South East London) which worth a check out.