In an effort to promote tolerance and understanding, the College of Humanities kicked off its first annual international film festival at the Armer Theater, located in Manzanita Hall, on Dec. 1, by featuring nine films that dealt with transgender issues and non-heterosexuality in an international context.
“I think there’s a need for us to discuss non-heterosexual productions or constructions of gender and sexuality,” said Sheena Malhotra, associate professor of women’s studies and co-organizer of the festival. “There’s a need for those spaces to be created and we thought the film festival would be a good way to create one.”
The film festival ran from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and featured nine films that hailed from places as varied as Thailand, Poland, Argentina and India, with durations as little as nine minutes to 133 minutes. Moderators from various College of Humanities departments led discussions for about 15 minutes between films, which was the central aim of the film festival, said Malhotra.
Festival organizers Malhotra and Beatriz Cortez, who is an associate professor of Central American studies, selected the films. “We tried to pick films that have different themes,” Malhotra said. “Films that talked about transgender issues, films that talked about women crossing gender lines. Films that talked about being gay or queer in any way.”
One such film was the Thai production “Beautiful Boxer,” a true story of self-acceptance and personal victory about a transgendered man who masters Thai boxing in order to earn enough money to pay for his sex change operation.
Another was the Polish film “Masha Mom,” which followed a Russian-American Jewish lesbian searching for a potential sperm donor in her unexpected quest for motherhood, amid the breakup of her relationship and other personal struggles.
Other films dealt with the societal barricades that face openly gay people. The award-winning film “Before Night Falls” brought to film the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, who spent years in a Cuban jail for his writing and homosexuality, and eventually fled to New York City, where he later committed suicide from an overdose of drugs and alcohol in 1990, not long after he was diagnosed with AIDS.
“Arie,” a 15-minute 2004 film from Germany and Italy, was about a professional dancer who ends his relationship with his girlfriend after falling in love with his choreographer; and in spite of his love not being reciprocated, there is a sense of personal acceptance as he is seen dancing a ballet solo at the end.
“The films don’t beat you over the head with the entire mood of the festival itself,” said Anthony Viator, who heard about the festival through his friends who attend CSUN. “It just showed humans in all different aspects. Many of these films aren’t anything you’d ever see going to the movies. They’re human interest stories that aren’t Hallmark cards stretched out into an hour and a half.”
Malhotra said many of the festival’s films were acquired through a distributor and have not been featured in theaters.
“Some of the short films, like ‘Recruiting’ and ‘Arie,’ might have been shown in festivals, but they haven’t been released widely,” she said.
The film festival was free and open to the public, with students, faculty and members of the community shuffling into the Armer Theater throughout the day.
CSUN alumna Allison Smith came around 11 a.m. and stayed until the last showing. She said she hoped CSUN would continue to host international film festivals in the future.
“CSUN needs to be more discerning and more open to differences and I think that’s one of the reasons why they’re having this,” she said. The International Film Festival will rotate topics on a yearly basis. Malhotra said next year’s tentative topic would deal with immigration.
Sponsors of the film festival included the Associated Students, a number of departments within the College of Humanities, and organizations such as MEChA and the Women’s Resource and Research Center.