Political Notebook: Frameline protesters produce own film festival
by Matthew S. Bajko
For years they have stood out front of theaters lambasting what was taking place inside.
This year, they're flipping the script.
A coalition of groups upset that Frameline, San Francisco's international LGBT film festival, accepts funding from the Israeli government has decided to produce its own counterprogramming.
Called Outside the Frame: Queers for Palestine Film Festival, the alternative film screening will take place at the Brava Theater during Frameline's opening weekend Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21.
It is intended to be a venue for those filmmakers who have signed on to a worldwide boycott of Israel that asks cultural and academic institutions to sever ties with the Jewish state due to its "genocidal policies" toward Palestinians. They contend the Israeli government's financial support of organizations like Frameline is a form of "pinkwashing," using the country's pro-gay stances to detract attention away from its policies toward the Palestinian territories.
The dispute with Frameline has been ongoing since 2007, when the protesters first demanded that the LGBT film festival decline funding from the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, who is based in San Francisco. Executives with Frameline have defended the consular sponsorship since it helps pay for Israeli filmmakers to attend screenings of their films at the festival and engage with the audience through Q&A sessions.
In 2008 and 2009, when the Israeli Consulate did not sign on as a sponsor, the protesters leafleted during Frameline to inform audience members about the issue of "pinkwashing." In 2010 the Israeli consulate renewed its support of Frameline, leading to public demonstrations during the festival each year since.
More recently the protesters have expanded their demands for Frameline to also sever ties with several local organizations they accuse of helping Israel promote its "pinkwashing" campaign, such as A Wider Bridge and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, both of which were listed as associate sponsors of the 2014 festival.
"If they stop taking money directly from the consulate or taking money from groups that are thinly veiled conduits of Israeli support is now what we are looking for," said Kate Jessica Raphael , a longtime organizer with the group QUIT, which stands for Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism.
Raphael stressed that they do not object to seeing Israeli films be screened at Frameline or having the filmmakers participate. Their focus is solely on the financial support Frameline receives from Israeli sources.
"I want to reiterate that we are not trying to interfere with artists' freedom or tell them what kinds of films to show," said Raphael. "I guess one of the things they constantly say is they are trying to promote dialogue. We are all for dialogue; we are not trying to cut off cultural connections."
Frameline can choose to partner with other organizations that would be willing to pay for a specific filmmaker's travel expenses, noted Raphael.
"They would not have trouble finding somebody to bring that person," she said.
Asked if it was partnering this year with the Israeli Consulate, Frameline Executive Director Frances Wallace told the Bay Area Reporter this week that the festival is currently in the process of reviewing its funding policies.
"International support and partnerships are important to an organization such as Frameline, that prides itself as a world leader in this field," wrote Wallace in an emailed reply. "International support allows Frameline to showcase the globe's best LGBTQ films and present a diverse array of images and story-telling, often provoking meaningful discussion about queer lives outside of the United States."
In terms of the Outside the Frame festival itself, Wallace wrote, "Frameline has always respected the diverse array of queer arts/film events that are at the very core of San Francisco and the Bay Area."
A Wider Bridge founder and Executive Director Arthur Slepian told the B.A.R. in an emailed response that the promoters of Outside the Frame "seem to have a remarkably one-sided and distorted picture of Israel in particular and of the struggles of LGBT people in general" and called the "pinkwashing" accusations "absurd."
"Would [they] prefer to celebrate societies in which people gather to see gay people thrown off of tall buildings to their death, as we witnessed this week in Iraq?" asked Slepian.
He added that A Wider Bridge is "proud" to be a Frameline sponsor and applauded its producers "for recognizing Israel's right to be included in the festival and in the community of nations. Israel's LGBTQ filmmakers have produced some of the best queer cinema in the world, and their work deserves to be celebrated and seen by as wide an audience as possible."
The idea for producing the Outside the Frame festival was sparked last spring, when the protesters at first had hoped that Frameline would commit to their demands. When it became apparent that would not happen, the genesis of scheduling their own film screening was born.
They opted to wait until 2015 to hold it in order to give them time to properly plan a festival people would want to attend in a comfortable theater setting. Along with QUIT three other groups have signed on as lead sponsors: the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; Mythiliyeen, a queer Arab group based in the Bay Area; and SWANABAQ, which stands for Southwest Asian and North African Bay Area Queers.
The organizers estimate they need to raise $10,000 to cover their costs and are seeking public donations via the festival's website at http://outsidetheframefest.org.
They also are applying for grants and have already received funding from the Sisters for Perpetual Indulgence and the People's Life Fund, said Raphael.
"We are really keeping it very grassroots-y," Raphael said. "The vast expense is the space, which is pretty affordable."
They put out a call for film submissions – not only ones focused on the Middle East but also on such topics as queer liberation and anti-capitalism – with a deadline of February 14.
A number of filmmakers who are boycotting Frameline have already signaled their support for the Outside the Frame festival and plan to submit their films.
Bassam Kassab, 46, executive director of Zarco Films, an independent film production company based in San Jose that has participated in Frameline in the past, is submitting three of his company's films to Outside the Frame.
Kassab, who emigrated from Lebanon and identifies as pansexual, produces Spanish-language movies with queer content. His latest film, Sin Visa, features a Mexican undocumented immigrant with homophobic views who is befriended by a gay couple in the U.S.
He is also hoping the festival will screen two short films: Bi.das , which he wrote and features a love triangle between two men and a woman, and Lluvia Fria, about anti-gay bullying written by Alex Perdomo.
"I support this festival because I believe in the idea that being pro-gay doesn't forgive someone for permitting other atrocities against other groups," said Kassab, who is also a lecturer on water resources at San Jose State University. "This festival is for people who believe in the intersectionality between different issues like social justice and human rights, including LGBT rights."
Seattle resident Dean Spade, 37, is submitting his documentary, Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back, which looks at the protests of the 2012 Rainbow Generations Tour organized by LGBT Israeli groups, including A Wider Bridge.
"I think it is great," Spade, who is queer and transgender, said of Outside the Frame. "For a long time I have followed their work protesting the Frameline festival. I think this is a great opportunity to also feature films that are not going to be submitted to that festival because people are boycotting that festival."
Eric Stanley, a queer filmmaker in San Francisco, is submitting Criminal Queers, a campy prison movie that explores incarceration issues that he co-directed with Chris Vargas.
"It has been ready for a while but we have been waiting to figure out the right venue. Year after year Frameline takes money from the Israeli Consulate, so we won't show it there," said Stanley.
As of now, the organizers do not plan to turn Outside the Frame into an annual event.
"We talked about not wanting to create an institution. This is a protest; it is movement building," explained Raphael, adding they do not want to compete with established queer arts organizations. "We are excited about being able to bring cutting edge content to our community and grateful for the support of the people who have supported us."
They also "are hopeful it won't be necessary in the future," added Raphael, "because Frameline will see the light."
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