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Interview with Beijing Queer Film Festival’s Yang Yang


By Ariella Tai

Beijing Queer Film Festival, a biennial celebration of gay, lesbian and queer films held biannually, recently enjoyed its tenth year running. On Artspace China, Christen Cornell conducts an interview with the festival’s executive director, Yang Yang. Yang has been with the festival since the beginning, providing an essential space for the queer and allied communities of Beijing despite the fear of government pressure. She observes, “…we always have an audience. It’s funny, other film festivals spend all their time and energy on promotion, while our biggest concern is keeping the festival quiet so as not to inform the police. But then once the festival begins, the people come. The people just come naturally.” The overall curator of the 2011 program, Chinese-American filmmaker Doris Yeung, however, held the underground nature of the Chinese LGBT scene in comparison to America 25 years ago. Cornell muses, “this was an exciting thing, as if the underground nature of China’s queer community gives it extra energy.”

This year’s festival was able to profile prestigious filmmakers such as Barbara Hammer and Mickey Chen. The international section of the program was guest-curated by the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and this year premiered a new section focusing on the work of overseas Chinese filmmakers. Many of these films do not only focus on queer issues, but on other questions of identity. This open environment and encouragement to learn and reflect seems to be what draws many young people to the screenings.

CC: I wonder if your festival provides an opportunity for all kinds of young Chinese people to express their ideas about sexuality. I met a number of young, straight people at the opening last night and they seemed very curious to learn and think about sexuality generally, without feeling the need to ‘fit in’.

YY: That’s one of the aims of the festival. If only I could have attended a festival like this when I was a teenager – something that showed me there were so many different possibilities, so many different choices and ways of being – I would have been so much happier.

I’m not gay, although I find it hard to pinpoint what I am. In the preface to the festival program I call myself a straight gay [laughs], or a ‘zhitongzhi‘, which is a Chinese word that suggests you’re straight but gay friendly. Or something like that. But I think I’m more queer. Yes. I’d just say I’m ku’er.

When I was in my teens, and even throughout my twenties, I experienced so many feelings of uncertainty and confusion. It was a difficult time. I was always doubting myself – I felt like I had too many ideas, too many questions. I used to wonder if I was different from other people, if maybe there was something wrong with me.

And then I started to watch films, and I realised that there were other people out there who had these same kinds of questions and confusion. I realised that that sense of uncertainty is actually really important in figuring out who you are, and it doesn’t necessarily come to an end. So perhaps I just wasn’t like a lot of those ‘normal’ people, but I wasn’t a ‘gay’ or a ‘la la‘ [a ‘lesbian’] either. I didn’t have a fixed identity.

So I think that if I can give these young people the chance to think about these things then that’s a good thing. You don’t necessarily have to be a particular kind of person, you don’t have to look a certain way. Watching these films gives you the chance to see other people’s lives, to ask if you are like that too, or to realise that you are not. It gives you the chance to ask yourself: Who am I, really? If you keep on thinking and living this way then you are free, and that is a very good thing.

CC: The way you’re speaking makes the ‘queer’ in the festival title sound more like a philosophy than an identity. It’s a kind of attitude, a way of approaching life.

YY: Maybe it’s not a bad thing to have someone like me running a festival like this because I’m not a lesbian, I’m not gay, and usually gay and lesbians don’t always get along. They don’t work together so well, so it works quite well to put me in the middle. [laughs] This way I don’t have represent anybody, but just let everybody else speak instead.

To learn more about queer life and history in China, watch Enter the Clowns and Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China by Cui Zi’en.


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