This year’s Mezipatra Queer Film Festival gets underway on Thursday night with a ceremony at Prague’s Lucerna cinema. The event, now in its 13th year, is bringing more than 100 films with gay, lesbian and transgender themes to the Czech capital, before moving on, in smaller form, to a number of other cities in the regions. Just ahead of its opening, I asked the head of Mezipatra, Aleš Rumpel, what the main theme was this time out.
“Also madness is important, because we need to remember that homosexuality – just like heterosexuality – was invented by psychiatrists back in the 19th century. So it has a long history of being within medical discourse.”
What films should people not miss during the festival?
“This is such a hard question because we show over 100. For anybody who’s interested in documentaries, I would recommend How to Survive a Plague, which is an epic documentary thriller about the AIDS epidemic back in the ‘80s.
“And there’s Call Me Kuchu, which is an incredible story from Uganda, where American missionaries influenced local politicians into adopting laws that would make homosexuality punishable by death.
“For anybody who’s interested in contemporary feature fiction there’s also plenty to choose from. My personal pick would probably be the Belgium film Behind the Walls, which is a very promising debut from a young filmmaker.”
“Yes, he is. We’re very excited about that. David France is an accomplished and very recognised journalist who has written for New York magazine and Vanity Fair. He has written three books, the last one was sort of a controversial bestseller about child abuse in the Catholic Church. David will be here in person to talk about his film and work.”
I was also reading that this year you’re bringing guests who aren’t necessarily filmmakers.
“That’s true every year. One of the special guests we have this year is Jasbir Puar, who’s a gender theorist and theoretician. She’ll be speaking about the gender and queer aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“One of the other interesting guests is Cerise Howard, who’s coming from Australia. She’s a critic for Senses of Cinema and Bright Lights. She’s also a very accomplished bass player. She’ll be serving on the international jury.”
After Prague, Mezipatra is going to Brno, the Czech Republic’s second city, and other regional cities. Does the festival have a different role, or get a different reaction, in smaller population centres?
“But also the festival has different energies in individual cities. In Brno and Olomouc the festival takes place in university cities, so the audience is very young, which I think is terribly important.
“We also work with universities to bring Mezipatra into classrooms. Both Charles University [in Prague] and Masarky University [in Brno] have special courses designed to run in conjunction with the festival. So students come to see films and write about what they see.”
How you seen any thawing, so to speak, on the part of the authorities in some Czech cities to the festival? Have they become more used to you? Do they welcome you more?
“Well, we stopped worrying about that, because we do the festival for the audience, not for politicians. We’re very proud to have the patronage of the mayor of Prague and the rector of Masaryk University, and I think it’s really important for our events to be supported by public funding. But we don’t do it for party politics.”
“Tremendously. The festival started as a small event in Brno, and only in its third year did we start showing some of the films in Prague. And now we have around 10,000 people attending the festival annually.
“It’s become one of the most recognised cultural events of the fall and one of the most interesting film festivals. Even if we look at other festivals that have particular themes, Mezipatra tends to have a very strong programme that can be compared to other, sort of general festivals.”
Could you compare Mezipatra to other festivals in other former Eastern Bloc countries? Or are there any?
“The oldest gay and lesbian film festival takes place in Ljubljana in Slovenia – it’s one year older than the one in London, which is Europe’s largest. They’re all different, they all work in different contexts, but what we all try to do is to show great films.”
Photo: Mezipatra Festival
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