Despite a healthy turnout, the opening was held with little flourish because of organizers’ concerns about violent raids by religious hard-liners — as happened at last year’s event.
Jeffrey Sirie, who attended the festival’s opening night, recalled some of the frightening scenes from last year involving the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
“I was on my way when I started receiving text messages from some of my friends, saying that the FPI was protesting in front of Goethe-Haus,” he said. “They told me not to come.”
To avoid a similar confrontation this year, organizers commissioned very little advertising and have displayed no posters or banners at the venues. They have also made it more difficult for visitors to access the film schedule on the Web site, www.q-munity.org, by requesting e-mail addresses, issuing passwords and asking users to agree to their terms and conditions before entering the site.
And sponsors did not seek any media coverage prior to the event’s opening.
For attendees like Jeffrey, the subdued atmosphere was not only a disappointment for the LGBT community, but also a dispiriting commentary on the state of human rights in the country.
“People may think [the Q! Film Festival] is a queer party, full of sex and drugs, but actually it is about human rights,” he said.
Three years ago, the festival was held at local cinemas. This year, it will be spread across various cultural venues. For festival director John Badalu, who used opening night to announce he was stepping down, the increasing discrimination and intolerance against those whose beliefs or identities fall outside of the mainstream is a matter of broad concern.
“[The increased discrimination] is not only toward the LGBT community, but also against certain religious groups, like Ahmadiyah,” he said. The aim of the festival, he added, is to promote tolerance for people’s chosen identities, whether sexual, religious, ethnic or otherwise.
Local director Teddy Soeriaatmadja kick-started the festival with his film “Lovely Man,” which tells the story of 19-year-old Cahaya (Raihaanun Soeriaatmadja, Teddy’s wife) and her search for her long-lost father, Syaipul (Donny Dhamara).
When she finally finds him, Cahaya learns that her father is a transsexual, who sees his daughter as nothing more than a memory from his past. The story develops as Cahaya and Syaipul learn to accept one another.
Teddy said the film was something of an experiment for him and he was pleased to see the positive reactions from the crowd on Friday night. “Most Indonesian films portray transsexuals as a part of a comedy or slapstick routine and turn them into a laughing stock — that’s just not me,” the director said.
Teddy’s film was one of the few Indonesian movies on the festival’s lineup, with most of the rest of the 85 films coming from 15 countries around the world, including Germany, Poland, Malaysia and the United States.
Unfortunately, festival organizers did not have the budget to translate or provide Indonesian subtitles for all the films shown, which means that most will be presented in English or with English subtitles.
“This has been an obstacle for us since the beginning, especially because we’re playing foreign films,” John said. “Naturally, that means we can only attract visitors from the middle and upper classes [who can understand English].”
John said he hoped that in the future, the festival would be able to reach a broader audience, including members of the lower classes.
Meninaputri Wismurti, or Putri, a former journalist for Gadis teen magazine, said the process for selecting the film’s for this year’s festival began in February. Some of the screenings will be accompanied by a discussion with the filmmakers and Kontras, a group that focuses on promoting human rights, she said.
“Some of the films don’t have queer themes, but they speak of child abuse and other human rights issues,” Putri said. “So we also want this festival to speak more on these issues as well.”
Putri said last year’s protests only made her more determined to see the festival take place. She and activist Ahmad Hally have since taken John’s place as the festival’s directors.
“We have faced protests since the beginning of the festival,” Putri said. “We have been shocked and traumatized, but now we are determined to be stronger and keep on doing this.”
They have received the full support of the filmmakers involved in the festival.
“It shows that both the organizers and the audiences still want this alternative film festival to take place,” said Lucky Kuswandi, director of “Madame X,” which is due to be screened later this week.
Rusli Eddy, who organizes a separate fantasy film festival and has supported the Q! Film Festival since 2002, said the event should keep going, despite the controversy.
“It is a festival that celebrates difference and tolerance. It doesn’t matter how big or small, it needs to keep going for the community,” Rusli said.
The Q! Film Festival runs until Saturday.