A Brief History of the Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival
Gay West Community Network Inc. (Queer West) is a Registered Not-For-Profit organization that exists To produce performing arts festivals and events for the purposes of educating and advancing the public’s understanding and appreciation of performing arts and to educate artists through participation in such festivals and related workshops.
The Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival began life as an alternative to pride week events in 2001 for those living west of the city. With the support of local businesses and volunteers it had expanded to a three day event by 2006 and a full festival week by 2010. Evolving to meet the needs of the queer community it serves, the range of festival event has never remained static. From family picnics, live music events, queer heritage talks, poetry and literary readings, and from 2008, a film festival, the Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival has strived to produce something a little bit different. We have been indebted to our past volunteers, performers and event managers, all of whom continue to contribute to queer academia and alternative queer culture in Toronto.
We at the Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival have consistently produced an arts festival in some capacity since 2001, and our annual film festival launched in 2008. Our film festival is still growing and is already the second largest LGBT film festival in the Greater Toronto Region. In 5 more years, we would like to emerge as one of the go-to festivals in Toronto for New Generation queer film artists to develop and showcase their work, as well as for others in the film industry to discover new talent.
A New Generation… of Queer Film Artists and Festivals
Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America and one of the most multicultural cities in the world. As one of the main creative hubs in Canada and host of the Toronto International Film Festival (one of the largest and most influential film festivals worldwide), Toronto is home to a great wealth of creative talent. This is strengthened by its three world-class universities and countless film college programs. As North America’s third largest screenbased production center, film makers at every stage of their career have access to a diverse and well-developed filmmaking community along with all the tools they need to develop their work. It also guarantees Toronto’s 100 film festivals (and counting!) With a never-ending stream of emerging talent.
Indeed, Toronto’s film festival circuit is booming, drawing a consistently high volume and variety of talent from around the world. The Toronto queer film scene owes a lot to the success of TIFF, Inside Out and Hot Docs, with the first, in addition to its annual festival, acting as a year-round hub for film discovery and appreciation. Each of Toronto’s festivals responds to a need within a community such as representation, activism or education. Just as the Queer West Film Collective responded to the need for alternative events outside of Toronto’s traditional gay village, our film festival has grown out of a desire to share films and media that may not have found a home at other festivals.
Social media has allowed us much greater insight into the lives of members of our community around the world. It has also inspired a new wave of film making and queer film makers to broaden the reach of their work. We hope that our film festival, which is still in the early stages of its growth, helps to represent and document the changes and challenges representative to the queer community around the world. This means celebrating universal themes such as discovery of new love and giving voice to those who continue to remain voiceless within our community. Currently, we are working towards partnering with other film festivals and cultural organizations, to be able to more widely promote our unique offering to the local and international community.
~ Michel F. Paré and Lauren Tenn, July 2015
Queer West Film Festival 2015 Trailer
Lauren Tenn, Gay West Community Network Inc.(Queer West), former President and Program Director, talking about the history of Film Festival and the location of the festival in 2015. Video produced by and copyright reserved to theBUZZ/INspired Media Inc. 2015, shared with permission from INspired Media.
The Battle for Queer Culture in Toronto
Written by Siobhan McGuirk (UK) Research and collaboration by Michel F. Paré (Toronto)
Friday July 25, 2014 – Fourteen years was a landmark for the Toronto Queer Arts Festival in August 2010. The first Pride event in Toronto took place 32 years ago. It shows how much the visibility and public acceptance of LGBTQ has grown, and how quickly, that Pride Toronto and to a lesser degree The Toronto .Queer Arts and Culture Festival, are each as popular as they are now.
Of course, there was always a gay scene in Toronto long before then, with bars and cafes situated between drag shows, fetish clubs, alternative nights and cabarets – the type of event now more likely termed queer than synonymous with ‘gay culture’. These still attract audiences year-round, but have shifted further out of the spotlight. They have become niche. The scene, it seems, has been sanitized.
It follows a common trend in which liberation rallies commemorating the Stonewall Riots have become Pride parades with organizers able to erect fences and charge entry fees. Pride movements have emerged to bite back, with radical politics and declarations of inclusivity.
For its part, Toronto Queer Arts Festival proudly proclaims that only 50% of its audience is defined as lesbian or gay. It is a celebration of diversity.
Toronto Queer Arts Festival celebrates and supports artists who create work on their own terms; in their own way… here they can make the work they’re burning to make. They can risk and they can play.
Queer movements in general have faced backlash: some see the term “Queer” as offensive rather than reclaimed. Others assert that their sexuality should not be presumed to dictate their politics.
Yet queer arts festivals such as The Toronto Queer Arts Festival, Edmonton’s Exposure Arts Festival and Montreal’s Divers/Cite among others, at the very least, make space for important questions to be raised. They also offer a platform to unpopular or extraordinary responses. They demonstrate that to be L,G,B, T and/or Q is still seen subversive, even if you don’t want it to be. No matter how “pink” mainstream political parties have become, or acceptable gay marriage or civil partnerships are, society still insists on its norms.
The arts can explore the boundaries of equality debates and reveal the tension within them, highlighting the prejudices that persist, both on and off “the scene”: sexism, transphobia, body fascism, ageism, and racism only scratch the surface. When a polyamorous, asexual, mixed race, gender queer artist announces that they will vote Conservative because they, too, believe in “family values”, the audience laughs, recognizing that the joke is on us
Many are self-defining queers who feel “the scene” does not cater to their needs or outlooks and see Toronto Queer Arts Festival as an annual highlight. Paradoxically, another chunk of friends have no idea the festival even exists.
Pride Toronto, too, splits opinion. Overly commercial and frustratingly political for many, it is the high point of the year for some. There are overlaps between the two camps, of course, but there is still a discernible divide between the “Gay” and “Queer” festival scenes, and the gulf between them is widening.
It will be interesting to see the results, and by the close of these festival, how far the gay / queer divide has been addressed and whether new ideas will emerge over what it is to be L, G, B, T, I, Q in Toronto.
Siobhan McGuirk, is a Freelance Filmmaker / Journalist with lesbilicious.co.uk and Commissioning Editor, for Red Pepper Magazine. | firstname.lastname@example.org Michael F. Paré is one of the nine founders of queerwest.org