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5 Films To See: Queer East

Boundary-pushing LGBTQ+ arts and film festival Queer East returns to London from 18-30 April with an array of compelling cinema. Venues from this year’s event include Barbican, BFI Southbank, The Garden Cinema and the Bertha Doc House, with cinema, live arts and moving image work on view from East and Southeast Asia and its diaspora communities. These authentic narratives shine a light on intimate bonds, first-time experiences and acts of transformation. Here, we select five fantastic films to catch from this year’s expansive programme.

Strangers In Paradise

A Kind Of Queer Utopia is a collection of four short documentaries celebrating the power of queer performances in different forms. Amongst them, you can find Chinese director Huang Yihong’s Strangers In Paradise – not to be confused with Jim Jarmusch’s iconic indie. Amidst a world of twenty-somethings, the short documentary follows Huizit and Jimmy, existing in a society where gender norms are rigidly defined. It’s a fascinating look at modern-day China, set in the sub-culture of club nights.

Swimming In The Dark

Like its title says, First Times is an anthology of coming-of-age tales that deal with those firsts in life – from kisses to coming-outs. The five shorts include Taiwanese director Chen Pin-Ru’s Swimming In The Dark, an elegantly filmed and performed piece that focuses on the tender friendship between two teammates on the school’s swimming team. With a national competition fast approaching, the drama deals with the tension that arises as Ann decides to confront her feelings towards Wen-chi. 

Tank Fairy

In Between Seasons is a collection of five shorts that, much like the seasons in the natural world, deals with transformation. Metamorphosis is a key theme, as you will see with Erich Rettstadt’s Taiwanese short Tank Fairy. Riding on a pink motorbike, strapped up with magical gas tanks, this heel-wearing fairy godmother lands in the life of Jojo, a lonely 10-year-old who dreams of being a drag queen. One sprinkle of glitter from the Tank Fairy helps to unleash his queer power.

Will You Look At Me

The six shorts of All About My Mother deal with the mother figure in LGBTQ+ families. Of this sextet, Huang Shuli’s Will You Look At Me is a powerful homecoming tale. A young Chinese filmmaker visits his hometown to undertake on a long overdue conversation about acceptance. The film is already a multi award-winner, claiming the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and the Short Film Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Don’t Worry

Queer Korea: A Mixtape is a series of five queer Korean shorts that will take audiences all over the filmmaking map, from horror to action and comedy. In the pithily titled Don’t Worry, Hanyeol, an openly gay man, has a secret crush on soon-to-be married best friend Suho. One night, he decides to do something about it. Will their relationship ever be the same? The film is the brainchild of Korean director Tae-yong Kim, whose first feature Set Me Free won two major prizes at the Busan International Film Festival.

Queer East | 18 – 30 April

Words: James Mottram

1. Rebels of the Neon God, dir. Ming-liang Tsai
2. Strangers In Paradise, dir. Huang Yihong
3. Swimming In The Dark, dir. Chen Pin-Ru
4. Tank Fairy, dir. Erich Rettstadt
5. Will You Look At Me, dir. Huang Shuli
6. Don’t Worry, dir. Tae-yong Kim