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'Under-heard' voices emerge at Vancouver Queer Film Festival

Tales of street orphans, drag queen superheroes screen at annual event

Amber Dawn can't say enough about the documentary I Am.

"I Am is the epitome of the dissolve between the camera and the interview subjects," said Dawn, director of programming for the 23rd annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Aug. 11 to 21.

She said director Sonali Gulati clearly gained the trust of her queer South Asian subjects and their families because the resulting interviews are so intimate. Gulati started making the film when being homosexual was a criminal offence in India and finished it when related laws had been struck down. Subsequently, I Am, screening with Gulati in attendance Aug. 13, captures the sense of celebration and the attitudinal shifts about being gay that occurred in Indian families and communities.

This marks the second year the queer film festival includes a broad focus on Asian voices. "Representing under-heard voices is very important at the festival," said Dawn, who noted Vancouver's queer community is just as diverse as the greater community and includes many newcomers.

Tickets to the hard-hitting documentary The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, also part of Asian Voices, are moving swiftly, Dawn said. The film infiltrates a circle of warlords, former military commanders and wealthy businessmen who recruit street orphans and poor boys for entertainment and sexual gratification. Brought to the attention of the United Nations, The Dancing Boys (Aug. 16) etches the distinction between homosexual sex and exploitation.

In contrast, Madame X from Indonesia (Aug. 19) offers welcome laughs. Instead of being a heavy drama with a tragic ending as is typical of queer-themed Indonesian films, said Dawn, the comedy features a superhero fantasy drag queen.

Hilarity is also served in the form of Spork, a classic high school comedy about an outcast, an intersex young girl (born with an undetermined gender), who learns "booty-poppin'" moves to show up her bullies in a junior high show. Dawn said it's a feel-good family friendly movie, rated PG.

Spork falls under the umbrella of this year's new gender-queer cinema focus. Dawn said the spotlight evolved organically with heaps of high-quality dramas and comedies, as well as transgender-themed documentaries to choose from.

Sundance 2011 hit Gun Hill Road is another gender-queer selection. Writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, who will attend the Aug. 19 screening, cast Harmony Santana, a real teenager who was transitioning from male to female, in a similar role in the family drama that sees a macho father leave prison to learn his teenaged has become a transwoman.

To Faro, a sensual and gripping German film, follows a 20-something woman who maintains her mistaken appearance as a young man to further her relationship with a teenaged girl.

Vancouver will be pulled into focus with a 1960s film that focuses on poet bill bissett, Aug. 20, the Vancouver Visionaries screening of short films, Aug. 16, and The Coast is Queer program of local short films, which is already close to selling out, Aug. 20.

In addition to including more than 100 films from 18 countries, the Queer Film Festival includes parties, community discussions and a public art installation called Celebrate Queer Vancouver, which features photos of queer "chosen families" on downtown streets.

Dawn urges everyone to attend The Hot Mix Party at the club Five Sixty, where she'll be performing, Aug. 20.

"We think everyone's hot," she said of the event that will feature live performances and multiple DJs. "Our community knows how to throw a good party."

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Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi