by Nahdah Sholihah
Arts & Culture Editor
This past November, the cinemas in Leuven screened LGBT themed films for Holebifilmfestival (literally: LGBT Film Festival). Not just in Leuven but throughout Flanders for the whole month. This event has been around since 2001 and it is one of the biggest LGBT film festivals in Belgium.
Every night, they screened LGBT films. The festival included a short film contest. There were 165 entries from 31 countries. On opening night, on the 6th of November 2018, they announced the winter of the short film contest, Swedish producer Paula Gustaffson. ‘Loftet’ is a short documentary about elderly lesbian couple who felt their end was approaching and being together was the only thing that counted. There were performances and a few documentaries. Some bars even offered free beers after the movies.
The festival selected films that prominently discussed LGBT topic. There were also plenty of recently released LGBT films with English dialogues or subtitles: from the popular Love, Simon to the academy award winners Call Me By Your Name. Some indie titles from non-western countries such as Rafiki were also selected. The festival premiered several foreign films, such as Evening Shadows, Maurice and Sidney & Friends. They also screened Belgium’s nominee for Academy Awards Best Foreign Film, Girl.
The festival was also selective in their choice of films to give the audience variety of options. They showed strong lesbian characters in Love, Simon, Call Me By Your Name, The Evening Shadows. Rafiki, Disobedience, and Thelma. The Cakemaker was about a journey of a bisexual baker. Girl, Just Charlie, and Sidney & Friends centered on the life of the transgendered people. The festival was not just all about romance, some had historical, political, thriller, and even sci-fi flavor.
There were 80 LGBT films screened last year. In comparison to major studios (Warner Bros, Disney, Fox etc.), there were 14 out of 109 films released last year that had LGBT characters, according to GLAAD, an organization that research LGBT representation in the media. Even though only small numbers of films, pass through mainstream cinema, many countries still ban LGBT related films. Brigitte Wybo, festival organizer for Prospection of Films and Screenings, said that it was a tough selection process because there were so many qualified films that should have been presented. This time, more LGBT films are sneaking their way into the big screens nowadays.
The festival has gained a lot of support since their days from a small studio in Leuven. This year, Flemish community threw their support and made it available in other major cities in Flanders. Last year, the festival welcomed 3000 audiences. The increase attendance and wide release just shows how the government and people in Flanders embrace LGBT films. Holebifilmfestival is in their 18th year and continue to make progress.
As the festival continues to grow, they expect to gain more audiences in the future.