Hana Kulhankova - on the Mezipatra Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and fascination with identity


In this edition of One on One Jan's guest is Hana Kulhankova, a specialist in American avant garde and experimental cinema, and a fifth year major at Brno's Masaryk University. Hana is also is the head organiser of the important Mezipatra Gay and Lesbian Film Festival that kicked off in Brno last week and is now on its second leg in Prague.

The festival has increased ever in popularity since its inception four years ago, bringing feature films and documentaries from around the world, dealing with gay and lesbian issues, as well as questions over gender. It is expected to see 8, 000 visitors this year. Talking to Hana one of the first things I asked was how she had gotten involved in the festival to begin with.

"I was doing a lecture on homosexuality in film - it was at the time I was still studying at the film studies dept. and we could choose an issue that we wanted to talk about, so I chose homosexuality. Then, people from STUD Brno, organising the festival, asked me if I wanted to get involved."

Why is the representation of homosexuality in film a focus of your interest, though, in the first place?

Beautiful Thing
"Uh huh. For me it's not just homosexuality - I was always interested in gender issues. And it just came out that I really started focusing on homosexuality, because homosexuality is gender is well, I mean, you can get so many categories. For me the most interesting is "identity" and for me this is one part of identity - sexual identity - and I found I could focus on this very easily."

The festival has really caught on and this year it's split, two-tiered, one week in Brno and this week the festival is continuing in Prague. What is the advantage though of holding a festival which looks specifically at gay and lesbian issues?

"The advantage is that you are doing something new, that nobody did before you, so you can really create the whole space. You really have to go through the whole process from the beginning. Crucial for us, for example, is that it's not just a film festival but that we address the whole of society we are trying to affect. And it's not just society: it's politicians, and it's the film business too. It's really really interesting to see how these kinds of groups are intermingling. It's also about heterosexuals: just imagine that you live in a family and you suddenly find out that your cousin or your daughter or your son is gay and then you have to deal with it. So, I think that this kind of festival can help heterosexuals to see that gay minorities are not different. Not different on a basic human level, they just have different sensibilities and a different experience in life. For us it's very interesting to see how these kinds of audiences co-operate because we show the films in kind of artsy cinemas that people visit because they want to see unique films. This is what we are doing. We are really showing films that were never shown here before or are very important for us and have definite artistic value."

What are some of the features included in this year's screenings?

Oi! Warning
"Definitely the favourite film that the audience liked was a German film called 'Oi! Warning'. It shows the relationship between a skinhead and a punk, which is something that you really can not imagine, these two groups ever co-operating together. And now you have this sort of gay issue over it."

Both of the protagonists are gay...

"The director of the film said that it, it really is not that important. It's just that they are attracted to each other. Sure, there's a sexual attraction but it also 'just happened' that they got together."

Are there any films that touch upon issues that the public wouldn't have had the chance to see before? Some specific examples.

Pink Ferret
"Um hm. Yeah, I think that one of the issues that we are dealing with this year is female masculinity. We are showing a Swiss film called 'Venus Boyz' which is about masculine women. And... I think that society is really not 'prepared' for women that are growing beards and are really like men, having male-like parts in society. This is one film. The same kind of issue is being dealt with in a Hungarian film which is very interesting to see. In Hungary there was produced a film called 'Pink Ferret'; it was made by a bunch of lesbians from Budapest. They have this kind of film committee and the film is dealing with stereotypical 'male' film genres. So we have kind of a thriller, a detective story, and all the typical male parts are played by lesbians. Most of them are 'butch'. They're really like 'male' lesbians."

So, on the one hand we have this shift in sexual identity itself within the culture, on the other it's breaking down stereotypes in terms of the storytelling...

"I mean you can have women with penises {laughs}. Any kind of combination, any kind of combinations it's here! It's just that it's really not shown. If you take, for example, this Czech documentary we are showing that was made for Czech TV, it's from a programme called 'Diagnoza', which is a programme about health and operations. And they really show an operation of a transsexual man who becomes a woman. This is something I had never seen before. This kind of physical change, which is the basic level. Then you have mental change and everything, so, that's interesting as well."

What does it all say about our sexuality at the end of the day? You yourself have specialised in the representation in American avant garde film, where some of these issues might have cropped up years and years ago... One of the classic examples might be Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising, where you have that gay hyper-masculinity, which was a representation of homosexuality that was probably quite suppressed at that time...

"For me the representation of real people by the media is really interesting because sometimes it seems that people in minorities are really engulfed by representations that are made for them - it's usually by non-members of those minorities. So, your example was typical in that was it that first gays were really dressed like that or that or was it created by the media? And this is the same right now."

Late Bloomers
So, by extension, by holding your own festival you're taking the power into your own hands...

"Yeh, definitely. We are showing films that were made by the minorities."

Is there also a risk of backlash from conservatives who don't understand the need for this kind of festival?

"Yes, definitely."

How do you respond?

"Um, how can you respond? You can respond by for example inviting them to the festival, just to show that it's a normal festival, really a kind of meeting place. A meeting place for gay people, for heterosexuals, people from different social backgrounds, for everyone. People from big cities and small villages. It's really a cultural event."

Tell me a little bit about the programme for people who are just 'coming out'...

"It's not part of the festival, it's just one of the projects run by STUD Brno, focused on teen gays. This is a group of people that meet once in a while and just discuss the issues. In terms of the festival, on the other hand, is that it a place where many people, gay themselves, often meet other gays and lesbians for the first time. They realise they are attracted by them. It happened last year that at the end of the festival one young man came to me and he said that it was his first time where he met other gay people. He was from a small village where there was no chance to even talk about this. And, before he came to see the first film he really had to kind of get drunk because he didn't know what to expect, though, you know, he was a smart man. And I just realised how important this festival is. It can really help individuals realise their own identity."

For those wishing to visit the Mezipatra website the address is www.gayfilmfest.cz