Gay- and lesbian-themed movies at the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival were just too fabulous for their own good. The flicks were so creative, piercing and abundant that TIJFF organizers decided to give them a festival all their own. In an e-mail interview, TIJFF co-chairs and life partners Bob Nichol and Bob Polinsky discuss the genesis of the event.
Question: How did the Fabulous Faygeleh LGBT Film Festival come about?
Answer: Traditionally the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival has included at least one LGBT film in the main festival program in January. However, while our film jury was vetting films for the 2009 festival, we found that there were several excellent LGBT films with universal LGBT themes and that were either from Israeli filmmakers or addressed LGBT interests from the Jewish perspective. We wanted to have more time available to show more of these excellent films. Since there was not room in the January festival schedule for more films, we decided to launch a new program dedicated entirely to LGBT films that spoke to universal LGBT themes and that had some Jewish content or connection.
What do you hope to accomplish through the festival?
Entertainment, together with information about universal LGBT themes. We want our audiences to have a great time at the movies, but also to leave the auditorium with increased understanding of the universal themes of tolerance and the struggles of LGBT persons, regardless of the country in which they live their daily lives.
How did the folks from the local International Jewish Film Festival and the JCC react to your idea?
When we introduced the idea of a new festival event to our committee, they were nothing short of enthusiastic about the idea. Consistent with its policy of support for the LGBT community, the management of the Tucson Jewish Community Center did not hesitate to provide the venue for the festival. We were on our way.
How did you select the films? What were you looking for?
Our film jury is constantly searching for new films and previews potential films every week. In the course of vetting dozens of films for the annual festival program, we find many high quality LGBT films that meet our criteria for high production value and universal LGBT themes. We work very hard to find films that provide quality entertainment while encouraging cultural diversity, intellectual growth and dialogue within our audience. We look for films that challenge long-held assumptions and stereotypes.
It seems that more gay- and lesbian-themed movies are coming from Israel. Why do you think that is?
Israel has a very vibrant new film industry, with young, innovative and creative filmmakers. They are finding their voice in world cinema and it is only natural that LGBT themes would find a powerful voice in the universal language of film.
Besides the screenings, what other activities are planned for the festival?
Our Sunday afternoon program is devoted to education and participation by our community partners, Southern Arizona Aids Foundation (SAAF), TIHAN (Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network), Wingspan (Tucson’s LGBT Community Center) and the Jewish LGBT Inclusion Project (Jewish Community Relations Council). The first film on Sunday, “Mom, I Didn’t Kill Your Daughter,” is a powerful and touching film that follows the personal odyssey of a F2M transgender person in Israel. The film will be followed with a panel discussion on transgender concerns and an audience Q&A. The second film, “Darling: The Story of Pieter Dirk Uys,” tells the story of the controversial South African activist, Pieter Dirk Uys, and documents his efforts to bring accurate AIDS prevention education to South Africa’s schoolchildren. That film will be followed with a panel discussion on AIDS education and prevention with participation by SAAF and TIHAN. AIDS infections are once again on the rise in Arizona and we believe that this film has an important message for everyone. A single ticket purchase on Sunday afternoon will be good for both of the afternoon shows.
How did you come with the name for the festival?
It practically created itself. The word “faygeleh” is old Yiddish and means “little bird.” Over the years the word has been used as a euphemism when referring to a homosexual person. Now, the word is losing its negative connotation and when used in the name of the festival, the alliteration of the words was too much fun to pass up.
How hopeful are you that the festival will become an annual event here?
We are already vetting films for the 2nd annual Fabulous Faygeleh Film Festival in May of 2010. The Tucson International Film Festival volunteer team and the management at the Tucson Jewish Community Center are very pleased and gratified by the enthusiastic reaction to the new festival from the greater Tucson and Pima County community. We are confident that the Fabulous Faygeleh Film Festival is destined to be a permanent part of the Tucson arts scene. Also, we hope that people will keep in mind that you don’t have to be Jewish to come to the festival and enjoy the films. These movies are for everyone.
IF YOU GO
What: Fabulous Faygeleh LGBT Film Festival
When: Various times Thursday-Sunday
Where: Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road
Info: 299-3000, www.tucsonjewishfilmfestival.org
• 7 p.m. Thursday: “Jerusalem is Proud to Present,” a compelling documentary from director Nitzan Gilady reveals the events of the summer 2006, when Jerusalem was host to the World Pride events. The events spurred turmoil in the politically charged city, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders banded together in opposition to the gay festivities.
• 7 p.m. Saturday: “Antarctica” – Is love dead, or are we all just looking in the wrong places? That’s the question posed in writer/director Yair Hochner’s film, the first Israeli queer romantic comedy. In this sexy romp, Omer is about to turn 30. He works in a library, where he is happy to spend his time reading books and avoiding life.
• 1 p.m. Sunday: “Mom, I Didn’t Kill Your Daughter,” from director Orna Ben Dor. An Israeli F2M transgender couple struggle to find their identity in a world that doesn’t understand them.
• 3 p.m. Sunday: “Darling: The Pieter Dirk Uys Story” – When he was 15, Julian Shaw witnessed a one-man show by the controversial and brilliant South African political satirist Pieter Dirk Uys. A half-Jewish, half-Afrikaaner, anti-apartheid activist and entertainer, Uys was renowned for his drag alter ego, and passionate critique of South Africa’s failure to educate children about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Both of the afternoon movies are included with the purchase of one ticket.
• 7 p.m. Sunday: “The Secrets,” a dramatic religious mystery from director Avi Nesher where women search for their own voice in an ultraorthodox, patriarchal world. The film is set in Safed, the site where the mystical texts of the Kabala were first received, and focuses on a vibrant community of scholars.
Question-and-answer sessions about issues of AIDS education and prevention, and the struggle for gender identity follow each screening May 17. The Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF), Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN) and Wingspan are community partners for this Sunday afternoon program.