From November 20 until December 1 the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) will again transform the cinema landscape of Amsterdam into a true paradise for fans of creative documentary movies.
The festival has been organized since 1988. Over the years, IDFA has become the largest documentary film festival in the world, not only showing hundreds of movies, but also offering room for lectures and workshops. This year, the number of participating cinemas has again increased, including Kriterion, OBA Oosterdok, Rialto, Pakhuis de Zwijger, and the Amstel Passageway at Central Station. It promises to be an inspiring edition for people who want to look beyond what they know and the news, looking for depth beyond their comfort zone.
For quite some time IDFA has included a fairly extensive gay segment. For example, a few years ago (in 2016) it featured “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures,” an intimate but also unvarnished biographical portrait of the American photographer, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. The most recent editions of the festival don’t seem to pay that much attention to homosexuality, but more to transgender issues.
It is not entirely clear whether this is due to the selection procedures of the festival or to a shift in the subject matter of documentary makers. A good documentary has urgency, as creative documentaries offer an inquiring, surprising view of the world. As homosexuality has become increasingly socially accepted and has found a place in the general media and on television, especially in the Western world, creative documentary makers are perhaps looking for subjects that can offer a new and refreshing view of a subject matter.
It is true that the “gay” and “trans” worlds have things in common. This is evident, for instance, from the history of the Stonewall riots, which were not fuelled by upstanding students, but by street youth and men and women who were not respecting what was considered “true and normal” male or female behavior. Good examples of this are Sylvia Ray Rivera (1951-2002) and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), two drag queens who not only participated in the riots, but founded the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in their wake in 1970.
In this respect, “Fabulous” is particularly striking in this edition of IDFA. This film, directed by Audrey Jean-Baptiste, highlights the voguing icon Lasseindra Ninja, born as Xavier in French Guiana in 1986.
Many years ago, Xavier left his native country and used his time abroad to transform into Lasseindra. As a twenty-year-old, she learned to vogue and was soon incorporated into one of New York’s most famous voguing collectives. However, it did not stop there. Sometime later, she moved to Paris where she introduced voguing with her own House of Ninja, one of the most international “voguing houses” in Paris.
In a 2014 interview with the French newspaper Libération she commented as follows on this subculture: “Among West Indians and Africans, homosexuality does not exist. Our families are often very religious. It’s frowned upon so if we do not get in the rails, we are rejected. It’s violent. We have to play a role. Finally, we are really ourselves here, in the world of ballrooms.”
In “Fabulous,” Lasseindra Ninja returns to French Guiana to give voguing workshops to both GLBTQ+ and straight youth in this country where rigid gender roles are prevalent. Her instruction, wit, vision, and provocative manifestation of a successful and happy life authentically lived on her own terms inspire and empower her students to realize self-love, pride, fabulousness and self-confidence through the expression of dance.
The same degree of wilfulness can be admired in “Lemebel,” a movie about Chilean author and visual artist Pedro Lemebel who died of laryngeal cancer in 2015. His sharp, poetic texts and provocative performances have made Lemebel, born in 1952, one of the most important contemporary artists in South America. In dictatorial Chile under Pinochet, Lemebel gave expression to things that few others dared to say. Even for the left-wing opposition in the country, his camp and eccentric appearances made him an embarrassment to some.
He was holding up a mirror about their own machismo and homophobia. He loudly and openly embodied and propagated a, for many unpleasant, gay identity and strongly criticized the desire of some homosexuals to assimilate into a heteronormative society. Lemebel called himself a “queen” and fiercely fought for gay rights, giving a voice to the Chilean gay community. In “Lemebel,” film-maker Joanna Reposi Garibaldi uses numerous slides and video clips to shape this essay-like, multilayered memento.
Reposi has enhanced her film through the use of intimate recordings and interviews. “Lemebel” offers a beautiful portrait of a tireless fighter who, unabashedly, made his voice heard until the end of his life.
Much more famous in the Netherlands than Lasseindra Ninja or Pedro Lemebel is Chelsea Manning, who is the subject of “XY Chelsea” by Tim Hawkins. In 2013, then Bradley Manning made headlines worldwide when it became known that this American soldier had made nearly 700,000 military and diplomatic documents available through WikiLeaks. Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for espionage.
While imprisoned in an all-male prison, Manning began hormone treatment to eventually undergo the transition to female, the gender with which she has identified herself all her life. “XY Chelsea” shows the struggle for Chelsea’s identity: her character, integrity and humanity. The story is told from Chelsea’s perspective, among other things through the use of an intimate prison diary.
The above highlights just a selection. Go to www.idfa.nl for more information. And furthermore, on Monday, November 25, it’s again IDFA Queer Day at EYE, IJpromenade 1, Amsterdam, with afterwards a sociable were you can meet with fellow movie enthusiasts in a free and open atmosphere. Queer Day 2019 is organized in cooperation with OUTtv.
IDFA, November 20- December 1, 2019, Amsterdam. www.idfa.nl