Arts·Queeries

Feeling inspired in your quarantine? This queer film fest is raising money to pay you to create work

The Toronto Queer Film Festival has started a fund to commission LGBTQ artists to make films from home.

The Toronto Queer Film Festival has started a fund to commission LGBTQ artists to make films from home

Filmmakers at last year's Toronto Queer Film Festival. (Yann Gracia)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

Among the few sources of light in the past few weeks of COVID-19-related darkness has been witnessing so many communities rise up and (virtually) band together to come up with initiatives to help us all get through this. One such initiative comes via the Toronto Queer Film Festival, which typically takes place annually in November. But its organizers decided to step up and quickly establish Queer Emergencies, a fundraising campaign and online screening series that aims to support queer and trans artists and their communities during the pandemic. 

"Many of us want to work from home, especially artists who can continue our practices, if modified to some extent, under current conditions," Dr. Kami Chisholm, artistic and development director for TQFF. "But instead of expanding programming, most arts organizations are cutting back or postponing. We want to support artists who want to keep making work — work that is even more vital in this moment and that also speaks to the unique challenges that precarious and marginalized queer and trans communities are facing today. So we created this fund to pay artists industry standard rates to make and exhibit new short films in an online environment."

Donations to the Queer Emergencies fund go almost entirely to pay artists to make films during their isolations (there's a small amount allocated to cover the technical costs of exhibiting the works). For their first call for proposals, TQFF received 17 applications but only had the funds to support seven artists. But by donating, you can help change the number of films that get funded. The first program of funded short films will premiere April 30th on the TQFF website with a live-streamed "opening" for the virtual exhibition. The films will remain up on the website for a month following the opening and will be free to view for all.

TQFF is planning on releasing the first program of shorts from their Queer Emergencies initiative on April 30. (TQFF)

The Toronto Queer Film Festival — which, having been founded in 2016, is still somewhat new to the scene — has always had a mission to "build queer and trans community networks and resiliency through art and activism, especially centering our most precarious and marginalized populations." 

"So we aren't adjusting our mission in response to the pandemic," Chisholm says. "Rather, we are looking for new and creative ways to expand our reach and thus our ability to offer material supports, inspiration, and empowerment for artists and audiences alike."

As a newer organization run by "mostly poor and precarious queer and trans artists and arts professionals," Chisholm says the festival's organizers are "keenly aware" of the large gaps in government responses to the pandemic thus far.

"We've notice a prevailing capitalist logic to the disbursement of resources that are prioritizing 'making people whole' who are incurring losses of incomes and/or assets due to the economic contraction caused by widespread social distancing measures," they say. "From the CERB to arts councils funds for artists, all require documentation of 'losses' in order to receive benefits. Such a structuring of funds and benefits privileges and prioritizes those who already had the most wealth and income prior to the crisis, leaving most people who were already struggling or out of work with few to no resources."

Kami Chisholm at last year's Toronto Queer Film Festival. (Yann Gracia)

To do their part to help, Chisholm and their colleagues created the fund, which not only offers them financial resources but an opportunity to create work during their periods of social isolation. 

"I'm a filmmaker myself," Chisholm says, "and I always find work to be most interesting and challenging when I start with the questions: what are my limitations and how can I work with them in creative ways that enhance my practice? For example, I'm a disabled artist, so I have a lot of physical and other limitations to my practice in general. I am largely not able to work out of the house even under normal circumstances, so I adjust and get creative about production and post-production and have created a sort of studio in my apartment."

They make use of lots of "found" or archival footage, and only use the technology that they have on hand.

"As artists, we can view such limitations as hindrances or as inspiration to find new ways of doing things we might never experiment with if we had all the money, crew, and physical abilities in the world. There is no restrictions on topics, themes, or styles; we're really just looking for people who have a unique perspective and a creative approach to telling their story."

The programs at last year's Toronto Queer Film Festival. How in-real-life festivals are presented going forward remains a big question. (Yann Gracia)

So how does Chisholm see the crisis altering TQFF and other festivals going forward?

"The whole point of festivals in my opinion — well, this is why I started TQFF anyway — is to provide a community gathering space for artists and audiences alike. When I was coming up as a young queer, my local queer film festival was everything to me: it was the highlight of my year, not only to see new work that I couldn't see anywhere else due to mainstream discrimination against queer artists — especially artists who work outside of conventional big budget narrative filmmaking — but also to gather with friends and artists from around the world. As queer people, we don't have a lot of spaces to gather in and connect outside of bars, and I've always viewed festivals as absolutely vital to our communities in this way. But what does it mean if we can no longer gather in person, when that has always really been the primary point of festivals?"

Like many of us, Chisholm is struggling with this question.

"But we are also trying to think creatively and will keep experimenting with programming like Queer Emergencies to try to find new ways of coming together. A lot of festivals are now 'moving online,' but the question still remains of how to do this in meaningful ways that actually work for people. We are very open to ideas if anyone wants to reach out!"

Learn more about the Toronto Queer Film Festival and its initiatives here.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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