Seirce Mhac Conghail attends the launch night of the annual Dublin-based queer cinema festival to look at the latest lineup of LGBT filmmaking.

Matt Smith as the titular  Mapplethorpe , which screens as part of GAZE 2019.

Matt Smith as the titular Mapplethorpe, which screens as part of GAZE 2019.

GAZE is Ireland’s annual LGBT film festival, and the second-largest of the community’s events after Dublin Pride. It began in 1992, a year before homosexuality was decriminalized here, and with the festival now only a few years shy of its 30th birthday, LGBT rights and issues have certainly advanced in this country, at least in a few select areas. 

This shift was abundantly evident upon arrival at the festival programme launch, hosted in the Accenture hub in Grand Canal Dock. A fitting site, as like the LGBT community, up until the 90s the docklands were also left vastly derelict, toxic, and neglected. Matters have since changed. Gliding through the glass doors of the building, there wafted an immediate breath of corporate sheen, with freshly finished, shining walls, a foyer with welcoming rainbow graphics, endlessly willing staff, and a free bar. At the sight of this, I was keenly glad to be wearing proper pants. All proceedings were bathed in evening summer light, with guests drinking wine and mint limeade, patting the stylish programmes neatly arranged on each table, and looking for all the world like the elites of the business sphere. Only a few details would give the theme of the festival away: a pride flag hung on a window, a dapper man in assless chaps, and an excellently-curated pop playlist to soundtrack the general chatter. 

There was a tangible lightness to the evening, a relaxed air of fun and contentment from its organizers. As much as the setting hinted of the Irish, ever-fabled sense of notions, speakers were found to be lacking in such things. With modest ceremony, guests sat to hear from the festival producer and programmers, who outlined the process of the festival planning, its history, the importance of film, and of representation. 

The festival will run from 2-6th August, and is heralded by programmer Róisín Geraghty to be “intersectional, intergenerational, and as always, international.” Its opening reception in the Lighthouse Cinema will accompany a screening of Deep in Vogue, a film saluting Manchester’s dazzling ballroom scene. The programme also obliges to young film-goers with a youth screening of Irish gem Handsome Devil, followed by director Q&A. 

A toast to the trailblazers of past LGBT cinema will additionally feature in the listings. The work of radical filmmaker Barbara Hammer, who passed away this year, will be exhibited to honour her inventive contributions to queer film. A showing of Sebastiane will also mark the 40th anniversary of the Hirschfield Biograph Cinema, the first to show LGBT films in Ireland. 

A special emphasis is placed on the showcasing of Latin films in this year’s lineup. This focus celebrates the continuously vibrant and innovative contributions of Latin America to LGBT cinema, with five outstanding feature films in the programme and a collection of shorts. These select works span a vast range of styles and forms as well as countries, including Argentina, Columbia, Brazil and Venezuela.

There is a credible fear of losing the true meaning of pride to a detached, capitalist promotion of fun, and floating about the glossy launch of the GAZE festival, it was impossible not to feel a twinge of discomfort.

After the speeches, there awaited a barbecue out on the balcony, which concluded the evening’s proceedings. What followed was a lot of corn on the cob, vegan sausages, nattering, networking, then tales from elder gays; if you were lucky as I was to get a seat by them. 

This year, Pride has been particularly dominated by debate, centering on the departure from its rebellious roots. In part, this has included protests over extensive corporatisation. There is a credible fear of losing the true meaning of pride to a detached, capitalist promotion of fun, and floating about the glossy launch of the GAZE festival, it was impossible not to feel a twinge of discomfort. Does the gentrification of the Dublin docklands parallel the supposed media gentrification of the LGBT community? Queer-focused events, big and small, are largely emotional. Celebration, activism, comfort and community; these are often their defining purpose.

The GAZE launch was very far removed from that world. This was a placid event, polite, aboundingly pleasant, and too saturated with freebies to rouse any passion. Whether passion was the goal or not, it would have benefitted from a closer involvement with the actual content of the festival. A more fleshed-out quality would have been welcomed, either by including participation from some of the filmmakers or involving a performative element. There was at times want of meaning to support the lightness.

I waited until the Pride festival itself five days later before writing this review, to compare these atmospheres of corporate suffocation and queer celebration. An alternative pride was held in opposition to the parade, in protest of the participation of uniformed gardaí, and of political parties and companies who have paid little more than lip service to the community. Yet, after leaving alternative pride, it was difficult to avoid being caught in the procession of the main parade, and we got shuffled in behind the Aer Lingus float. There we stayed, because simply put, they played the best music. Corporatisation is hard to avoid in Dublin. 

Back at the GAZE launch, there was an emphasis on pure enjoyment, and perhaps that was its only requirement. The discomfort at comfort, or the sudden-seeming luxury for some aspects of open queer life, should not be ignored, but perhaps should not be endlessly fought.  Pride itself should remain a protest, a victory, and a commemoration; but perhaps for GAZE, a festival that has done so much to promote LGBT voices within film and without, ultimately what matters is this: it was simply a lovely evening.

The GAZE International LGBT Film Festival will run from the 2nd - 6th of August, and will screen at a number of theatres across Dublin city.