Films Seek to Heal Wounds By Crossing Borders
Justin Berton for the San Francisco Chonicle
Sunday, June 7, 2009–Five years ago, the first Queer Women of Color Film Festival took place in the Rainbow Room at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. With a handful of screenings and a few hundred in attendance, the one-night affair could have been described as quaint.
Now, the growing festival – spread out over three days and representing filmmakers from all over the world – has taken the step from annual artistic showcase to one with larger, social-justice-based aspirations. This year, to go along with the festival’s theme of immigration, a “Community Convening” will be held on Saturday afternoon, designed to bring together what the festival’s founder, Madeleine Lim, calls the gay community’s “multiple borders.”
The idea is that representatives from organizations such as Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Chicana/Latina Foundation will attend and build stronger ties with Lim and other representatives from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; in the wake of divisive policies, such as the campaign against same-sex marriage, Lim said, it’s important that the gay community develop a cohesive coalition.
“Our hope is to impact these issues on a national level,” Lim said of the convening. “We’re trying to bring these disparate communities together to talk to each other and ask, ‘What’s next?’ and ‘How do we move forward?’ ”
Many of the festival’s filmmakers explore the theme of healing old wounds caused by crossing borders – be it on land or within relationships.
In “Mi Casa es Mi Casa,” director Marta Martinez describes the effect of gentrification within her Mission District neighborhood. In “A Letter Home,” director Shahrzad M. Davis visits Iran and writes letters to her Iranian mother. In “Look Again,” directed by Jennifer Lin, a lesbian couple try to build a relationship despite being chased by immigration agents and attempt to stay together by forging immigration documents.
Lim, who fled her native Singapore at age 23, is no stranger to the feelings of an outsider in a distant land.
Lim left the country in 1987 during a time of social unrest; government agents began arresting citizens they deemed Marxists.
“It was artists, priests, lawyers, teachers – all were dissidents,” Lim recalled. “The people being arrested kept getting closer to me. It was then that I decided I had to leave before I couldn’t leave anymore.”
Shorty after arriving in San Francisco, she began taking night classes at San Francisco City College and eventually graduated from San Francisco State University’s film program.
In 1997, Lim released “Sambal Belacan in San Francisco,” a documentary about three Asian lesbians and their difficulties establishing new lives and identities in America. That year, Lim’s film was accepted at the Singapore International Film Festival, but was removed by government censors just before it screened.
Lim was never given an official reason why the film was censored and ultimately banned in her homeland.
“Some people thought it was a badge of honor to have your film banned,” she said. “But I felt really upset. … I had a sense it wasn’t just the sexuality, but the race issues discussed.”
On the same day Lim talked about the banning of “Sambal” (which will screen at the festival), the California Supreme Court had upheld Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and San Francisco residents were protesting outside City Hall. The day’s events appeared as prime content for a filmmaker, perhaps one who would submit to future festivals, holding that blend of art and social justice.
“That’s one of the reasons I like art,” Lim said. “Art is very proactive. Like with the decision that happened this morning: We do need to rally. We do need to speak out. We do need to be in the streets. But with art, you can come at it from a proactive place. You can envision (in a film) how you want your perfect wedding to be. These are the films that come out of Hollywood every day, but just from a slightly different perspective.”
Queer Women of Color Film Festival: Fri.-next Sun. Brava Theater, 2789 24th St., San Francisco. Screenings are free, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis. Opening-night party, fundraising party and closing-night party: $5-$20 each. For screening and party schedule, go to www.qwoc maporg or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page R – 24 of the San Francisco Chronicle