MIST describes itself as an online community of LGBTQ people from all over the country, committed to organizing events and mobilizing the gay community in India. This week we had the opportunity to interview them and find out what drives them to host their Out & Loud Pune Queer Film Festival every year to celebrate queer lives!
Q. What prompted the idea of creating a Pune Queer Film Festival?
When MIST moved to Pune, we noticed that the city needed events which are inclusive of all minorities. We began doing events to address this need and received a positive response. People were soon not only supporting MIST but also expecting greater things from us. We also noticed the enthusiasm people had in traveling to different cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai to attend queer events and film festivals. So we came up with an idea, why not organize events in Pune? Why don’t we do a queer film festival in Pune itself where we do so many other queer events? We started working on the plan and we did it successfully last year. Although there was already a queer film festival in Pune, we felt there was a need for a more inclusive and a people-oriented film festival which not only played movies from India but around the world, to create more awareness among the young as well as old queer persons, allies as well as people who were curious.
Q. How do you pick the films to be screened?
When we had the first few meetings regarding the film festival, our first priority was to come up with a theme on which the movies will be shortlisted and screened. We received a couple of themes from the organizing team from among them we selected the theme ‘Journey of the LGBT’ after going through an internal vote. We opened up our movie submission on Filmfreeway.com on January 1, 2018, announcing the theme and immediately started getting a large number of entries. As of today, we have received 1600+ entries. We came up with this theme because many of the younger generations remain unaware of the struggles that the queer community has faced and we desperately wanted to show it to them.
We have a team of members that shortlists the movies based on the theme we have selected, and the movie’s screenplay. This team consists of Shyam Konnur, the Festival Director; Arantxa, who works as an Instructional Designer; Ram, who runs the Pune Queer Film Society; Sparsh, who works as Business Analyst at HSBC and, Anita who works in a payroll firm and has supported MIST for a very long time and few other people who wish to remain anonymous. This team meets up, watches the movies and scores them on various parameters. The most difficult job is to eliminate movies which are great in content but have too many nude scenes.
We have our website www.outandloud.lgbtq.co.in set up with all the rules and regulations for submitting the movie. A few from among these will be selected and awarded as winners. They will also be selected for our Queer and Allies Art Festival, where we take these movies to screen them in different places like Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore.
Q. From the list of movies screened last year, we have noticed a delightful, and a well-balanced mix of Indian and Foreign movies. Was the balance intentional or accidental?
The balance in the mix of Indian and International movies was quite intentional. We maintained this balance by keeping few factors in mind such as; the crowd that will be watching the movie, the conservative city “Pune” and, to encourage the filmmakers from India to direct more queer-related movies that can create a huge impact in spreading awareness in India compared to an international movie. We had to reject few of the movies because they had excessive nudity in it, although we thought they were great movies. We always believe that we should be inclusive of all minorities and we selected a movie named “Bhram: The Delusion” which spoke about Dalit issues in LGBTQ community; another movie we selected was from Chennai, called “Ladies and Gentle Women” which depicts the hardship lesbians go through in India and the mind-set of people regarding Lesbianism. We knew we would a large number of our audience would be made up of the younger generation so we selected a couple of humour oriented movies too, such as “Spunkle” and “Kareem Khubchandani’s Videos”. We also gave equal importance to innovative movies and screenplays, like “PYOTR495”, where a young cute gay boy turns into a wolf to get through physical harassment and torture afflicted by homophobes; we also selected a movie named “Lily” which spoke about suicide and bullying members of the LGBTQ community face.
Q. Tell us something about the response you received last time. What do you hope to achieve through this queer film festival?
We had around 500+ people come to the festival in the span of three days. We were really happy as we were only expecting an audience of about 200 to 250 people. Because of the unexpected participation, we had to set up an extra screen at the last moment! The positive response we received from the film festival was really encouraging and supportive. A review from Akshay Raundhal said, “You guys did an amazing job hosting the film festival. Being your first time, you amazed everyone. All the organizers and volunteers were very helpful. The after party was good too! Good luck. Hope to come again next year.” This was one of the reviews that made us think that we had done a pretty good job and that people are looking forward to a much better version of Out & Loud in the coming years. And we are here now, trying to make the festival better and bigger in all possible ways.
Interestingly we also had few remarkable comments made via some emailing group saying, “How can a non-Punekar organize a Queer Film Festival in Pune and how can we allow them to go ahead in the coming years?” and the reply to that email was from one of our supports who aptly put it as, “They are doing a good job. Why can’t someone who is not from Pune organize a film festival in Pune? It is better to have something than nothing.”
We had few queries last year asking what a film festival is, what kinds of movies will be shown in the festival, will I be asked to speak or act in any movie, etc. This made us realize that people are still unaware of many things and we should do something about it. We are looking forward to creating a space for the queer community to create awareness about us to the queer community and the general public.
Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of organizing this festival, and the most worthwhile?
The most challenging part of organizing the festival is raising funds and getting a venue to conduct the festival. We went around to many auditoriums last year and they were not ready to host an LGBTQ film festival, some places required references to book the venue and some places were too expensive which we could not afford. Apart from the film festival, we do a lot of other things, like running a support group, and a one-day traveling art festival called Queer and Allied Art Fest; and we do fundraiser parties to organize the festival which again requires monetary support. Last year, the budget of the film festival was around 2 lakhs for all the three days, and we raised around ?60,000 through parties and around ? 30,000 through other supporters and donors.
The best part of organizing this festival last year was the number of friends we made, the allies we met, who supported us not only during the festival but after that as well. The venue where we did our festival last year was the Dreamcatchers Art School, who helped us immensely, right from police permission for the event till the closing ceremony of the festival. We had some allies who registered themselves as volunteers and made sure things went smoothly in the departments they were volunteering. Few of our team’s colleagues also came to the festival along with their parents to support us. We also had the opportunity to spread awareness regarding our other initiatives that we were doing under the banner of MIST.
Funds are something we are struggling even this year. Our expectation last year was around 200 – 250 audiences for all the three days, but we had around 500+ audiences throughout the festival and many of them are coming from different parts of Maharashtra. In order to make the festival bigger and better, this year we have budgeted it for 4 lakhs and we are doing a couple of fundraisers like we did last year. We are also crowd funding for the festival through our crowd funding partner Milaap. You can check our crowd funding page here.