After a first leg in the Moravian capital Brno, the Mezipatra Queer Film Festival opens in Prague on Thursday with a programme that combines movies exploring gender and sexual identity with a series of other cultural and social events. Mezipatra, the biggest event of its kind in the Czech Republic, has been going since the year 2000; on the eve of the Prague opening, I asked director Aleš Rumpel how the festival had changed over the years.
“A lot. The first edition in 2000 was a small event in Brno. We had a few films, and about 700 people showed up. Over time we’ve had audiences of 75,000, and the festival moved from Brno, so it doesn’t only take place in Brno but in the two cities, Brno and Prague.
“We’re showing 72 films this year, and we have interesting international guests attending the event. So it’s grown enormously.”
Who are your interesting guests this year?
“It’s difficult to pick only a few, but for instance Jake Yuzna. He’s an independent American filmmaker. He made an incredible film, Open, which is in our main competition. It’s a very original queer film about people who change their bodies to become art objects. It has very interesting narratives, such as the main couple find out they’re pregnant, although they’re two guys – one of them is undergoing a sex change. So it’s really original, and I’m looking forward to the Q & A with Jake.
“I’m particularly excited that we have Harry Benshoff, who’s coming from Texas to give a talk about queer horrors, or queers in horror, or queer narratives in classic B movies of American cinema. Harry will also be on the main jury.”
Is there any particular theme to this year’s Mezipatra?
“There is always one, and this year is ‘high art’. We’re slightly ironic about it. We’re showing films about artists, about creativity, and what it means to have responsibility for your audience, or your actors or medium.
“We’re also showing low art, such as vulgar comedies, or a film about the body and sex performance, and things like that that are not normally thought of as art.”
Has your festival managed to build up an international profile over the last decade?
“I think so. Our programmers were invited to serve on the Berlinale Teddy Jury, which selects the best queer film at the international film festival in Berlin. We always have a good exchange with other queer festivals or festivals that have a queer focus. So I’d say that we’re probably one of the ten biggest European queer film festivals.”
You’ve been in Brno, now you’re in Prague. I know there is also a mini version of the festival that is going to cities like Ostrava and Plzeň. Is there any way in which Mezipatra has a different significance in smaller cities, where perhaps minority sexual orientations wouldn’t be as visible?
“Absolutely, I think the answer is embedded in the question. I must say the individual mini festivals differ by the city and by the organisers. So the festival in Olomouc is very much student based. The festival in Ostrava is quite a big event – or was last year when it was held for the first time – in the city, because it doesn’t have too many film festivals, and it certainly isn’t used to having queer events.
“I’m really curious about Plzeň this year, because this is the first time that we are showing quite a substantial part of the programme in Plzeň. Then in České Budějovice the event is sort of a gay lifestyle event. So it changes really in each town.”