Blake Backlash visits Glasgow’s GLITCH Film Festival which shows work by LGBTIQA+ people of colour
The first GLITCH film festival was two years ago and – reading back what I wrote about it then – I am struck by how radical and fearless it was. Now it seems essential as well. This time two years ago we didn’t have a Tory majority government and Brexit, Donald Trump and Ed Balls dancing to Gangnam Style were nightmares we had yet to experience. You probably have your own account of what’s happened in the last two years and don’t need a litany of reminders. But if the world looks darker then beacons as bright as GLITCH aren’t just inspiring – they are vital.
This year GLITCH opened with Moonlight. They had to turn people away at the door, in part because the screening – like all screenings and events in GLITCH – was free; part of a radical commitment to accessibility that also means all films shown had subtitles and all live performances were BSL interpreted. If you stop to think about the amount of labour required to do this for (by my count) almost 100 films and performances you’ll understand something of how committed the Digital Desperadoes who run GLITCH are. Being able to see the current best-picture for free on the big-screen is something pretty special – and, if you were looking for big-name draws, elsewhere in the festival you could have seen I Am Not Your Negro, Cemetery of Splendour and The Handmaiden, all without having to pay any money.
My first GLITCH film was You’ll Never Be Alone, a Chilean film directed by Álex Anwandter. There’s a moment just before a kind of turn in the film where Juan, the protagonist (or at least the protagonist we have followed up to that point) dyes his hair blonde while giggling with his best pal, Mari. ‘I love it!’ he says, checking himself out in the mirror. Cut to him walking down the street with his hoodie up, hiding his new hair-do. At first it seems like moment of humane comedy but the laugh is about to turn to ash. Mari teases him and pulls down the hood but being bold and confident is dangerous for Juan. The film made me think of how we relate to our own bodies, how they can be the sites of expression (how folk dress or how they dance) but also fragile and vulnerable, the place where people can hurt and wound. There’s a violent scene in You’ll Never Be Alone ; and I found it harrowing. Not because it’s explicit, or even especially unsettling with its implications but because the film up to that point drew me into a felt sense of how I inhabit my own body (we see shots of mannequins, skin, sex, makeup) so that I was painfully aware of how bodies can bruise and break.
Later that same day I saw Same Difference; which explores how sexual and gender identities can be created and enforced upon (and among) communities of queer women of colour in the States. The film features a lot of honest, brave and potentially painful conversations and so might inspire you to have conversations like that with your own friends, lovers and self.
GLITCH also show groups of thematically linked short films. I saw Persistence of Memory – a programme of shorts named after Natalie Tsui’s striking science-fiction film, which makes impressive use of a small budget. I especially liked Kirsten Li’s Two Snakes, which mixes animation, performance-art and archive footage to explore how stories of emigrant experience can (and can’t) be linked to myths and folk tales; and Emit, a film by Sammaria Simanjuntak that almost literally makes a 180° turn halfway through its four-minute running time and reminded me a little of La Jetée; in the way it used how film can move to evoke loss.
The Younger is the debut film by Taiwanese director Chen Hao (made when he was 21!). The director plays the central role of a young man caring for his grandmother while working in a massage parlour. This was another film that made me think of bodies. Specifically about how they fare in a consumer economy: sex work pays for medicine, so the body and its needs become part of the chain of supply and demand with sometimes frightening consequences. But the film also showed how moments of tenderness and human connection can occur in the midsts of brutality. Later that night I saw a performance by M Lamar who used a piano, video and an amazing counter-tenor voice to explore the links between the history of slavery and African American labour today. Indeed the performance seemed to be about how grief itself is a kind of labour.
I’d be a numpty to try and make thematic generalisations after only being able to catch a glimpse of GLITCH this year. But it does seem like the films and performances I saw during my time at the festival made me engage with – no confront – my relationship with the most inescapable parts of being alive: my body, my sexuality, my history, how I want to engage with the world. Most films I see, even the best ones, gesture at questions these GLITCH films faced head-on. That’s only one of the reasons we need this festival.