I often find with LGBT films that there are stereotypes and particular stories that we cannot seem to get away from: lesbian (ex-)prisoners, flamboyant, effeminate gay men, coming out stories (a particular favourite in lesbian films), lesbians turning to men briefly to fix their failing lesbian relationship…
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with some of these themes and stories, it’s simply that their prevalence becomes wearisome. I was therefore delighted to be presented with different stories and themes at the screening of Irish Shorts at the GAZE Film Festival in Dublin.
There were 5 short films of varying lengths. Dara deFaoite’s Mums & Dad documents the story of a lesbian couple who chose to have a known donor, a gay man, for IVF, with the intention that their child would grow up knowing who their biological father was. This short demonstrates a functioning alternative family set-up while addressing deeper issues of loss and guilt that are an integral part of this family’s story.
Barry’s Bespoke Bakery was the only fictional short shown. It shows the intricate process of the creation of a wedding cake, told using vibrant colours and a simple, but touching, storyline. One of the lighter short films in this screening, the placement of this film right after Mums & Dad was effective in lifting the mood of the audience after the somewhat heavy ending of the first film.
The next film was Caroline Campbell’s Our Love Is History, which cleverly tells the stories of the people who lived, loved and laughed during the era of the Hirschfeld Centre dancefloor. The stories were read out by the generation of young LGBT people who are only now reaping the rewards of the struggles of the underground movement in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Filming in various abstract locations around Dublin, this documentary ties together the past and present in a unique and humourous way that got laughs from the older generation, while forcing the younger generation to acknowledge their relative privilege growing up in Ireland today.
The penultimate film, Lisa Fingleton’s Waiting For You, is a unique look at a lesbian couple’s desire to become mothers, focusing on the little-documented stress of IVF treatment, the search for donors and the expense, both emotional and financial, it can have on a couple. This documentary is particularly touching as the footage was originally intended only for personal use, so it opens up a door into the hidden world of a very private couple, telling their story which any couple struggling to conceive could relate.
The most powerful documentary was, without a doubt, Anna Rodgers’ documentary A Different Novena. Filmed and screened in Ireland within a Catholic Church, in which a lesbian and a gay man are invited to speak at Novena mass at St Joseph’s Redemptorist Church in Dundalk, the film documents these two individuals as they speak to hundreds of people over the course of a day. Speaking of their exclusion from the Catholic Church in which they were both raised, the issues they touched upon are still relevant today. Despite Pope Francis’ proclamation that the Church should be more open to gay people, he stopped short of overturning the outdated notion that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.
So, rather than the usual themes, these Irish shorts address contemporary issues such as motherhood (and fatherhood), alternative family set-ups, conception in same-sex family set-ups, as well as telling stories from the past in a humourous and engaging way, with lesbians that are not ex-prisoners and gay men that have more than a one dimensional-identity.
I have often found it difficult to watch LGBT films, mostly because they do not address the underlying issues of being openly gay in a country where abortion has been (barely) legalised, same-sex adoption is still illegal, and equal marriage is yet to be decided upon. I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist first and foremost, and have often disagreed with women who proclaim themselves to be ‘pro-equality’ without being a ‘feminist’. But now I’m starting to think that feminism isn’t enough to address the discrimination that members of the LGBT community face, discrimination that is enshrined in law both in Ireland and worldwide.