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  • The Global Economy of Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals
  • Ragan Rhyne (bio)

In 1992 New Queer Cinema brought gay and lesbian films and their festivals to the cultural fore. A decade later, though, the promises of this cinematic revolution had stalled, prompting B. Ruby Rich to ask, "What happened to New Queer Cinema?" Rich identified the slowing of gay film production in the United States as a result of declining interest in the gay niche market itself, and instead located the next wave of queer film in the international festival circuit that had flourished since the early nineties.

Undoubtedly, New Queer Cinema lives on in all the gay film-festivals—more than a hundred, last time I counted—staged around the world: Guadalajara, Fortaleza, Manila, Saint Petersburg. . . . Festivals gather queer communities together in a statement of identity and solidarity. Problem is, there's no financial return for filmmakers and video artists—nobody's going to finance their next project off the queer festival circuit. Hollywood development folks and independent financing greenlighters became convinced in the late '90s that the niche market was played out. 1

Rich locates gay and lesbian film festivals at the intersection of community visibility, the market economy, and cultural exchange. The proliferation of gay and lesbian film festivals around the world came out of a moment in which the political motivations of gay and lesbian film communities coincided with the economic [End Page 617] motivations of one of the largest export industries in the United States. But what began as small community-based organizations has mushroomed into multimillion-dollar, multinational events that bring in tens of thousands of people each year, including a steadily growing contingent of film distributors looking to tap into gay and lesbian markets domestically and abroad. Gay and lesbian communities around the world began to recognize a political and cultural incentive to gaining the international visibility that the festival circuit could provide. Independent film distributors, who had already recognized domestic gays and lesbians as an untapped market for these films, expanded their reach beyond American borders in a play toward global capitalism.

Festivals are the primary markets for international queer film, but they do not simply acquire and screen the films they show; they actually create the economic conditions that enable their production. This is not to imply that queer internationalism is merely inauthentic or commercial and thus without any kind of political viability. Rather, what it indicates is that scholars, activists, and festival directors must begin to look at the economy of queer cultural production as an essential element of queer collectivities and the institutions they form. Conceiving of an international queer community through cultural circulation and consumption begs significant questions about how U.S. audiences understand the role of the festival in defining a gay and lesbian class identity within this global economy. As Miranda Joseph argues, "Both the rhetorical invocation of community and the social relationships that are discursively articulated as community are imbricated in capitalism." 2

In 2005, for example, Frameline launched its biggest fund-raising effort to date, with the goal of raising $1.25 million to expand its programming efforts. The campaign's slogan reads, "Changing the World, One Movie at a Time: Frameline's Campaign for the Future of Queer Film." While references to "world change" are standard fund-raising rhetorical fare, they do reference the organization's international goals. Even more interesting, however, is the publicity material surrounding the campaign's fund-raising for their distribution arm, which specifically cites as a primary goal improved access to global media markets.

Today, there is tremendous potential for LGBT film distribution. LGBT satellite and digital television channels are being launched, and new technologies are increasing access to independent media worldwide. Exciting new films are needed to meet the demands of these emerging markets. Frameline Distribution is poised to extend its reach and provide unprecedented access to LGBT film across the U.S. and throughout the world. 3 [End Page 618]

As one of the largest and wealthiest gay and lesbian film festivals, Frameline is certainly not representative of the vast majority of festivals, particularly in terms of its institutional size and structure. Nevertheless, Frameline has historically...


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