Ukraine to Host its First Ever Queer Film Festival: ‘We Are Here, We Are Queer, and We Are Defending This Country’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Ukraine is to host its first ever queer film festival, it was announced at Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam.

Sunny Bunny – named after Kyiv-based Molodist Film Fest’s non-competition section, established in 2001 – is eyeing a summer slot.

“Maybe it’s a bit stereotypical to do it in June, as it’s Pride Month, but it will give us more time to prepare,” programmer Bohdan Zhuk revealed to Variety on Tuesday. Pointing out that the standalone event might still continue to be a part of Molodist in some form.

“The war is unpredictable, so you just have to adapt and be flexible. When we did Molodist in December, there were blackouts, so we needed generators. We also needed to plan where people would hide in case of raids, plan out shelters in cinemas or nearby metro stations,” he added.

“The plan is to do it separately, but also to keep that connection.”

Inspired by Berlinale’s Teddy Award, Sunny Bunny will try to properly represent queer communities in all their diversity, assured Zhuk. It will also try to reflect ongoing wartime struggles.

“It’s essential to talk about queer people in the army. They are out there, fighting. Lately, especially since the start of the invasion, many military volunteers and others [involved in the fight] have been publicly coming out. As queer, gay, bisexual, trans,” he said, also mentioning Ukraine’s association LGBT Military, established in 2018 by Viktor Pylypenko, an openly gay veteran of the Donbas volunteer battalion.

“I think this has been the main factor which has contributed to a major change in our society. There is a greater acceptance now.”

“During the Maidan revolution, there were many queer activists discussing whether we should be visible, whether we should bring rainbow flags to the protests. I was a part of this discussion as well, but most people decided against it. I think it was a major mistake,” noted Zhuk.

“Later, there were voices – mostly on the far-right – claiming that we weren’t a part of this struggle. Which is why now, we are finally saying: ‘We are here, we are queer and we are defending this country as much as anyone else.’”

While at IFFR, Zhuk also took part in IFFR Pro Dialogue panel “Reframing Desire, Reclaiming the Story – Queer Cinema’s Playful & Radical Imagination.” Alongside “Playland” helmer Georden West, João Pedro Rodrigues, director of “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” producer Gema Arquero, in town with “La amiga de mi amiga,” “El jardín de los faunos” director Pol Merchan, Heng Fai Hong, director of “Kissing the Ground You Walked On,” Films Boutique’s Julien Razafindranaly and Yi Wang, programmer for Queer East Film Festival.

During the event, he underlined the importance of reclaiming the past. Something that Sunny Bunny will also pay special attention to.

“As a country that has been colonized, Ukraine had its culture repressed. And the first culture that’s usually repressed is the queer culture. You don’t know a lot about queer culture in Ukraine, right? Not because it didn’t exist, but because it was erased,” he said to the audience.

“Everyone knows Sergei Parajanov, who lived and worked in Ukraine. He made ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,’ voted the best Ukrainian film of all time. Even though it wasn’t explicitly queer, he was queer himself and you can see it in his later films. Or take Kira Muratova, whose work is queer on a deep-rooted level.”

While big festivals, such as IFFR, offer a slew of queer titles these days – from “Blue Jean” to “Bodyshop,” “Captain Faggotron Saves the Universe,” South Africa’s “Stiekyt” and more – as pointed out by Yi Wang, “it’s important to create even more spaces for queer communities.”

“I feel so much joy when I watch films that don’t follow this conventional narrative of what a queer character should be,” he stated, with West championing the work of young creators, trying to look for new cinematic languages: “How do we start to touch on these individuals, identities, existences that aren’t even named yet? And maybe will remain happily unnamed? For me, that’s the exciting part.”

“We want to see a lot of diversity and just… a lot of everything. The more the better,” summed up Zhuk.

“It’s an ongoing conversation among queer film festivals, because we are tired of all these coming-out films, of stories revolving around the acceptance of the queer character by somebody else. We want other things: we want fun. We don’t want tragedy. We are done with that.”

Ukraine to Host its First Ever Queer Film Festival: ‘We Are Here, We Are Queer, and We Are Defending This Country’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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