Out in Africa

Andy Stead

South Africa’s Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, established in 1994 to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals (LGBTIs) in South African social and cultural life and now in its 18th year, may have to shut up shop next year if funding is not found.

“Sponsors are critical,” says OIA production assistant Arthur Mataruse. “This is probably our last year unless we can lobby for South African support – municipal, provincial and national.”

OIA was launched in 1994 to celebrate the inclusion of a clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the new South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“We knew there would be a clause about sexual orientation, and so we chose to celebrate that,” says Mataruse.

The first instalment of is year’s festival has just wrapped up in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with the next set for 27 July to 5 August and 19 to 28 October. Opening nights are the 17th in Johannesburg and the 18th in Cape Town. The festival is hosted in Nu Metro cinemas.

“OIA has a national reach and it is easier to work with a national chain to be efficient - centralised box office, and so on. Besides, Nu Metro are a pleasure to work with,” says Mataruse.

Apart from increasing the visibility of LGBTIs after decades of apartheid repression, the festival was established in 1994 to counter negative images of them in traditional and religious communities, and to serve as a platform for discussion and debate about the position of LGBTIs in a new democracy.

It showcases films from around the world, aiming to stimulate and promote a home-grown film industry. As a socially conscious movement with a political purpose, OIA tries to generate images and representations of its own community that promote a sense of belonging and pride – films that explore particular identity, lifestyles and concerns. OIA has organised five filmmaking workshops producing South African content, with 22 short films screened at over 52 international film festivals.

OIA garners tremendous coverage in the mainstream media, which allows it to counteract embedded homophobia by providing positive images of LGBTI people. It helps create communities and strengthens related organisations and ancillary events, such as filmmaking workshops; the festival also helps develop personal growth, leadership skills and career opportunities.

“We have probably had about 100 entries and counting - the only category is 'queer' and the entries have been somewhat good bad and indifferent,” says Mataruse. “Some have money and make an awful film, or one that has no relevance to our audience, and others have not a bean but so much talent and make a glorious film with low production values. The crunch is that so few queer films are made, and even fewer with reasonable black representation.” There is no fee to enter a film into the festival.

Sponsors this year include Atlantic Philanthropies, the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), The Times, the Goethe Institute and the British Council.

“This is our last year of very generous funding from Atlantic Philanthropies, an American philanthropic foundation,” says Mataruse. “They have, unfortunately, closed their LGBTI programme, and are winding down the whole foundation with the target of closing completely in 2016. The NFVF is very efficient and supportive and while they do not pay for the festival their contribution is critical for our operations. Goethe Institut and British Council sponsorship depends on product - German or British.

“Both are supportive of our political agenda. The rest are small queer-owned businesses that give their support in kind.”

“Last year we introduced the three smaller annual festivals. We realised that our niche market is busy. Aside from disposable income there's a lot of pressure on people's leisure time. So we provide bite-sized chunks and people actually come to more films over the year. It also allows us to keep up with new releases. The queers are not going to wait a year for us to show a film, and hopefully we beat the illegal download syndrome by having the films first.

“Thus far this format has been successful. It also means that we maintain a public profile in the newspapers and people's minds.”