The GAZE International Film Festival: Showcasing Diversity

Ahead of this year’s GAZE International Film Festival, manager and CEO Noel Sutton sat down with OTwo to talk about this year’s festival, and the need for diversity in post-referendum Ireland.[br]Dublin is home to a number of film festivals, but perhaps the most unique of these is the GAZE International Film Festival. Now in its 24th year, and focusing on films about or made by LGBT people, the festival has become an enormous draw for crowds each summer when it takes place. At its core is the integrity and artistry of the films they show, however, as festival manager Noel Sutton is keen to stress.“We would travel a bit to see what’s out there,” Sutton says. “We would work with the distributors – international distributors – not just LGBT distributors, but major distributors to see what they have coming down the line. So we select from what’s available on an international basis. And then on an Irish basis, we spend a lot of time working with schools and colleges to develop and present a platform for people to present their material. Over the last few years we’ve been very lucky with the amount of Irish content, and specifically the fact that people are actually making content for our festival as well.”As usual, this year’s festival will take place over the August bank holiday. All details haven’t been announced, and Sutton is reticent about revealing the line up to OTwo yet. He confirms that there will be an Irish feature premiered. “Can’t tell you yet!” he laughs when pressed on what it will be. “What I can tell you is that it will happen the August bank holiday weekend, again… It’ll be in the Lighthouse Cinema. We will have probably around 38 screenings, features, documentaries, shorts, programs.”“Every year we try to do something new, something different, so we’re working on what that will be this year,” he continues. “And then we try to have different threads that run through the festival. And again that pretty much depends on what’s available to us to show. We open a submission process at the beginning of the year that doesn’t close until the end of May, so it’s hard at the moment to know what’s out there.”The films are central for Sutton, but he is also very aware of the festival’s importance in a number of other areas, such as increasing diversity and political awareness of LGBT lives and stories. “As an LGBT film festival it’s not just about screening some movies at the weekend. There’s the whole education side behind it, which is just as important as the festival itself. Because politically, I suppose, just by having an LGBT film festival, it’s political, we’re taking a stand. And I suppose what we’re doing is making sure that LGBT people have a cultural point, but also that we can use our stories because film is about storytelling, documentary is about storytelling. So what we want to do is take those stories and utilise them to the best to be able to bring them and show them in places where they would not normally be seen.”
"We still have LGBT people being beaten up on the streets, being abused, who are not able to come out in their workplace."
It would be easy, then, to assume that the GAZE Festival is a film for LGBT people exclusively. Sutton feels strongly that these stories shouldn’t just be viewed by those within the community, however. “I think it’s important for LGBT people to see them, but not just LGBT people,” he explains. “I think it’s important that we try to get them seen by as many people as possible. And that’s why, over the last number of years we’ve worked on making our festival very open, that it’s not just about LGBT people. You don’t have to be gay and lesbian to come to our film festival. And as a matter of fact we have a huge diverse audience that come to our film festival, we have a committed core group of people who come to our festival annually and regularly and really engage in it and get the best out of it. But more and more, it’s becoming about being able to bring your friends and family, go and see a good movie or go and see a good documentary, and have a group of people who are likeminded, and be able to sit around afterwards and talk about it.”As a smaller film festival, getting volunteers to come in and help with the festival is essential to its success. “We rely heavily on our volunteers,” he says. “We talk about our volunteers as being the backbone of the organisation, because we wouldn’t be able to do all we want to do if we didn’t have volunteers there to get involved, to greet and chat to people and to be the front of our festival. So it’s really important and we constantly canvas for new young people to come and engage with us, to get involved in the festival. And so it’s probably something that anyone who’s maybe reading this, that might be interested, they can just pop us an email.”In a post-referendum Ireland, where marriage equality is now a reality, the GAZE film festival may seem to some like an outdated concept – an unnecessary segregation that only heights stigma. Sutton feels strongly about the importance of the existence of this kind of a festival.“There’s probably more of a place for it now than there ever was before,” he says. “Our LGBT stories, they’re powerful, just by their very existence. And we at GAZE want to make sure that we have a platform for those stories, that we share those stories with as many people as possible. We’re very lucky here now in Ireland that we do have marriage equality, that we do have certain rights, and that we do have what might be seen by other people as a cushy life. But that’s not necessarily the case. We still have LGBT people being beaten up on the streets, being abused, who are not able to come out in their workplace. And so, we still have to strive to make sure that we have full equality, but not just in Ireland, right across the globe. A lot of the stories that we show from other countries, from Poland or Sierra Leone, or any of the documentaries that come in, will show you the hardship that our brothers and sisters face. So it’s always really important that we share those stories, that we have creative platforms for those stories.”Beyond the need for diversity and representation, Sutton goes back to the basic ideal of the film festival: celebration. “It’s about us celebrating our culture,” he says. “It’s about LGBT people celebrating our identity, and having a space to do that, and to be able to do that in an open and free manner, and to celebrate. So our festival has been running for 24 years, and I sincerely think it’s going to run for at least another 24.”Interview: David MonaghanWords: Patrick KelleherThose interested in volunteering at the GAZE International Film Festival can log onto www.gaze.ie for further information. The festival will take place this August Bank Holiday weekend, from 28th July to 1st August.