What is a "lesbian" film?

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the Mardi Gras Film Festival last week. It was a great night and it looks like there are some really exciting films on offer.

I love going to the festival and seeing “lesbian” films. I love sitting in a cinema that is predominantly made up of women, most of whom identify as lesbians. When you’re in a minority those moments are few and far between and, I believe, one of the reasons members of the LGBTI community attend the film festival. One of the other reasons, of course, is to see queer films and for audience members to see their experiences, and characters they can identify with, portrayed on screen. Again, the lack of diversity in mainstream media means those opportunities are rare.

Which raises the question, what makes a queer film, or to be more specific for the purposes of this blog, what makes a lesbian film? Is it a film that’s made by women who identify as lesbians and, if so, how many of the filmmakers need to be lesbian? One, two, three? If it’s just one, does she have to be the writer, director or producer? Can non-lesbians make lesbian films? Is there a distinction between lesbian film makers and lesbian filmmakers? Do the actual actors themselves need to lesbians? Does the film have to have characters who identify as lesbian? And, if so, if a character identifies as lesbian but doesn’t act as a lesbian is traditionally believed to act eg. the number of films where “lesbian” characters sleep with men, is she still a lesbian character and is this still a lesbian film? You can see how complicated this can get.

I think the danger of going down this path is that we get so caught up in labeling and compartmentalizing that we miss out on seeing the bigger picture (or pictures in this case). Rather than focus on who made the film, how many lesbian characters there are in any given scene, whether or not the actors identify as straight or lesbian, why not just judge each film on its merits? When the lights dim and the opening titles appear on the screen, it’s the content that matters, not who made it.

Lesbians deserve to see good films that explore some aspect of being part of the LGBTI community, regardless of who made them. The films don’t have to be about being a lesbian, or to have been made by lesbians, or acted by lesbians, they just need to be good films, and films we may not otherwise have access to. The days of having to sit through poorly acted, badly shot B-grade movies that focus on the angst associated with being a lesbian, are over. We’ve gone beyond that and we deserve better.

And the only way to get better films about the LGBTI community is to encourage people to make them. We should be encouraging and supporting lesbian filmmakers and we should be encouraging and supporting lesbian film makers. There’s clearly not enough content as there is. Surely by doing this, we all benefit in the end.

By Julie Kalceff