Tenemos que hablar: Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest



Tenemos que hablar: Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest

By Cameron King


Due to the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest 2017 took a major backseat. This year, however, the film festival’s organizers made sure that the week long event was a priority. The desire to create a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community to speak about their experiences gave life to the annual festival. This year, the festival began on May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. In hopes to fulfill their mission to educate Puerto Rico on issues that plague the queer community, organizers use the films as a pretext to starting conversations about the themes presented in the work of talented filmmakers from around the world. In addition to realistic interpretations of identity, members of the queer community are given a platform participate in activism both on and off screen. Not only is the filmfest a way to incite unity for Boricuirs around the island, it is also a place to seek representation for those who are often silenced or forgotten. In this particular dialogue, film is used as both a window and a mirror: a window into the reality of someone else and a mirror that reflects the experience of people from across the globe. This year’s slogan was Tenemos que hablar: a phrase that could be interpreted many ways almost always implies indescribable intensity.

The Boricuir shorts of 2016 were the talk of the island, and overwhelming excitement created the need for additional time slots to view the films. This year, there were 4 time slots per day with a rotating schedule of 22 shorts and 15 other films. The lineup focused mostly on Latin American talent, for it features submissions from Mexico, Argentina, Panama and Brazil.

Jaime Santiago Gajigas, who is in charge of Filmfest Programming, describes the film Las Herederas (Paraguay 2018) as a film about an older lesbian couple that starts to face financial problems and how well the film portrays intersectional elements of ageism and class. Abrázame como Antes (Costa Rica 2016) has a docu-drama esthetic that centers around the lives of transgender characters, which is very uncommon in Costa Rican cinema. Cajigas mentions that it was very important that this film was selected because it stars transgender actors that can authentically speak life into the story from their very own experiences. He mentions that it is important to consider what message the films communicate and that all the stories chosen are diverse so that there may be equal representation for the many other subgroups within the community. Some narratives challenge the stereotypes associated with masculinity, gender roles, budding sexuality, and young feelings of otherness. The film Reina de Corazones (Argentina 2016) follows a group of sex worker transgender women who join a coalition where they write, dance, lip-sync and act. The documentary follows the dangers of their line of work, the discrimination they face in society, and how they and their families cope with their identity.

The Boricuir shorts production quality ranges from amateur to professional, experiments with color, and implements agitated camera movement and other effects uncommon in Hollywood. Audience members describe the content as socially and culturally relevant because viewers saw scenery that they could recognize. Filmmakers included shots from certain streets in Santurce, Arrope, the UPI, Viejo San Juan, a certain familiarity that made viewers experience something that hit much closer to home. The short Por mi madre—a story about a mom who tries to convert her gay daughter— even featured Rio Piedras university student, Julia Tavares López. The actress mentions, “I felt honored to be a part of the LGBTQIA community in this way. Once you experience how hard these experiences are, or once you meet someone who had been beaten up for coming out. You have no choice but to be an ally. That’s what I learned: the responsibility of being an ally.”

Although all these films exude talent and hard work, there was one in particular that left an anonymous viewer uncomfortable, to say the least. In the second group of Boricuir short films, the film Muy Joven Para Amar which stars and was written and directed by Peter Hornedo, follows the story of a same-sex pedophilic relationship. The fictitious Hollywood-feel film, is directed by and stars. The narrative centers around a 30-year-old man, Eddie, who meets a minor, Ricky, on a dating app, at the time unbeknownst to him, with whom he eventually goes on to have a romantic/sexual relationship. However, as the story develops the audience sees that both characters purposely and continuously avoid the “age” conversation. Eddie is imprisoned due to the illegal relationship that he has with his 15-year-old lover. After receiving a sentence reduced to three years, Eddie is conveniently released from prison around the time of his lover’s eighteenth birthday. It appears that the rest of the audience is undisturbed by the subject matter during the final scenes of the movie in which Eddie and Ricky exchange vows at their LA-style wedding. The film in nature appears to romanticize, normalize and celebrate pedophilic relationships. Although it is not safe to assume that the ideologies reflected in the film are those of the Puerto Rico Queer Filmfest as an organization, the film did not include a trigger warning or disclaimer for this type of sensitive content. The viewer claims that this should not be representative of the queer community.

All in all, we are starting important conversations, but we must also assess the quality of these conversations. Are we denouncing stereotypes and providing adequate representation? Most importantly, are we perpetuating harmful ideologies? The most important takeaway from these films, regardless of who they represent, is the transparency of the dialogue.