By Mechelle Poessnecker
Queer Zagreb Festival (QZF) was established in 2003 with the goal to stimulate and promote queer culture in Zagreb, the Southeast European region, and by extension in the world. Combining art, theory and activism QZF fosters queer identities which are subversive, but not dangerous for the others. The focus is on LGBTQ art, although, due to Croatia’s postwar situation, we favor connecting that art with festival’s broader perspectives on queer identity (such as nationalism, violence, chauvinism, patriarchy, etc.).
As the start of a new beginning, Queer Zagreb presented the very first Queer Zagreb festival, 2003. The festival has 27 performances many coming from the US. Over the week long period, the festival drew attraction from all over Zagreb and Croatia as a whole. To start the festival, the group Young Gay America presented their act entitled Iskustvo u Hrvaskoj. Young Gay America (YGA) also went on to perform two more performances during the festival.
The film Beautiful Thing was shown the next day. We see a young man struggling with his homosexuality, and all the problems he deals with as he tries to confront it, himself. With no help from his mother or friends, his perception of himself, and his crush dwindle down as the play ends, but the ending is a much happy one.
Another unique film entitled, Drole de Felix, was shown. Felix, a young homosexual man living with his boyfriend in France decide one summer that his wishes to find his long lost father that he has never seen. Along his way Felix meets up with some strange and peculiar characters that make the plot very interesting.
Paragraph 175 was another insightful and very impacting film shown. The film documents the last of the surviving men and women of the Holocaust that were imprisioned and/or sent to concentration camps because of their homosexuality. We experience the cruel and horrid events that these men and women survived from. Most stories ended in sorrow and tragedy, but other were given with a sort of light-heartedness and uplifting tone.
Before Night Falls, another incredibly outspoken film was shown on the last of the third day. The film shows a homosexual man who dreams of being a writer. While being sent to prison, the man writes in secret and is able to smuggle his work outside of Cuba to become published. While finally being set free and escaping to the US, he falls short of his dream and dies in New York.
Trembling Before G-d was the talk of the festival. We see the lives of homosexual men and women of the Jewish Orthodox church, and how they are trying to deal with their sexuality and faith. Director Sandi Simcha DuBowski, wanted to compare the life style and outlook on homosexuality of Orthodox Jews and his upbringing as a conservative Jew.
The film Aimee and Jaugar, another provocative film was shown on Wednesday night. Felice, a very courageous Jewish woman living under a false name during the Holocaust works for an underground organization. Lilly, a wife and mother of four is desperate for love and affection. While the two women discover one another, the war begins to boil; trouble is in sight for the two women. As they decide to wait out the war, luck runs out for the two one afternoon in August as the Gestapo shows up on Lilly’s door step.
Daddy and Papa, another politically obscure film, took us into the lives of four gay male couples, as they live the lifestyle of any other married couple. These men try and raise a family within the US. They explore surrogacy, adoption issues and how these couples deal with the government in terms of their own parenthood.
One of the last films to be shown at the festival was Simon and I. This remarkable film shown the lives of two individuals from South Africa. Simon Nkoli, a LGBT activist whom died in 1998 from the AIDS epidemic, and Bev Ditsie, his fellow activist and protege, reveal their story of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in South Africa. After Simon’s death, Bev reveals a vast collection of interviews, newspaper clippings, and images while speaking honestly about the challenges of sexism and sexual orientation during the gay rights movement.
Over the week long festival, many films and productions were shown to the public audience. Many of which were very “in your face”, but no more than needed. Queer Zagreb had established what would become a symbol to the LGBTAQ population in all of Zagreb and Croatia, and soon, all of Europe.
2004 arose, and we were very pleased to host yet another Queer Zagreb festival. The reactions from the audience and viewers of 2003, gave us a sensation that we were doing the “right thing” and doing what the people wanted and needed. This year we added a bit of variation to the program. While we still had many films to show, we added a variety of other artistic forms to expose LGBT matters.
To kick off the festival, Yossi and Jagger was one of the first films shown on Monday night. The plot line takes place in an Israeli army. There is a strong love shared between two men, Yossi and Jagger, but the unit doesn’t understand their love. As the story progresses we see an attack progress during the snowy months of winter.
The next day the films, Party Monster, Venus Boys, and Cachorro were shown. There was also a drag show held, to be more specific a drag king show! The night ended with music by DJ Tasty Tim, DJ Rokk, and DJ Sergej, all of Europe.
Small performances by various artists were the highlight the next day. Performances by Peggy Rajski, Elyse Montague, J.T. O’Neil, Peter Demas, Elisabeth Meister, Herve J. Lebrun, Shema Destur, Anuj Vaidhya, Tejal Shah and many more were presented. The films entitled The Far Side of the Moon and Goldfish Memory were evening hits.
Director Patty Jenkins’ film, Monster, was shown the next afternoon. Monster is based on the true story of Aileen Wurnos. Wurnos, raised in a abusive household where drugs were also present, becomes a prostitute at the age of thirteen. Later on in her life, after moving to Florida, she becomes a highway prostitute, pleasing truck drivers’ needs. During a 9 month period, she develops a relationship with a woman named Selby. In order to make more money, she kills her clients without having sex with them, she turns into a cold-blooded killer quickly.
Lucky Bugger, Give or Take An Inch, Two Minutes After Midnight, Komrades, Gosta & Lenart, and Masterbation: Putting the Fun Into Self-Loving were a few smaller productions shown, along with The Politics of Fur and His Brother. The Politics of Fur resembles a girl trying to make it as a performer, while on her journey she runs into lesbian rocker, B. The two girls end up sleeping together and in return B. throws Una to the curb, since B is know to use sex as getting what she wants.
As the festival went on, many more films, performances and concerts were held. To recap 2004, it was another remarkable turn out. The response from the attendee’s and performers were positive and uplifting. 2005 was soon on its, way and we had alot of ground to cover before the next festival.
Queer Zagreb was held for the third time. This year the main topic was Herteronormativity of Childhood. In addition to the regular festival programme, Queer Zagreb continued with the events throughout 2005, thus increasing the cultural offer for gender and sexual minorities in Zagreb.
To start the festival, Herve Joseph Lebrun displayed his photography exhibition entitled Heteronormativity of Childhood (Heteronormativnost djetinjstva). Lebrun has had many photography exhibitions and films shown all around the globe, Heteronormativity of Childhood is pronounced as one of his best.
Takao Kawaguchi presented D.D.D. (Dancing to the Rythem of the Heart) to end the opening night. DDD represents the heartbeat-a heartbeat that symbolizes such as drop, die, decay, and destruction. The audience is lead into a dark alley, only lit by candle light, at the end everyone is placed in a small, almost claustrophobic area, where a table, lights, and random props are constrewed across the room. This eery and nerveracking production lectures the audience of the relationship between science, body, and soul.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a novel written by Jeanette Winterson, was adapted to film in 1990. This politically racy film, shows a young girl, Jess, growing up in a Pentecostal Evangelical house. As an adolescent, she discoves her true sexuality, but because of her dreams to become a missionary, she is subject to try and reject her sexuality. Although the book specifically details her sexual relations with her lover, the film does not. Once her mother finds out about her misbehavior, according to the church, Jess and her lover are subject to exorcism.
Another film, My Life in Pink, was shown later that night. The movie shows a young boy, Ludovic, blossoming into a young woman. His family is struggling with the idea of his cross-dressing behavior and demands him to see a psychiatrist. Ludovic simply dreams of marrying his neighbor boy friend and living life as he sees it.
Wagner Schwartz, the famous Brazilian performer and artist, presented his work entitled, Wagner Ribot Pina Miranda Xavier Le Schwartz Transobjeto. The piece represents a look at completely different concepts combine. Through his interest in Brazilian dance, and his collaboration with four other artist, Schwartz brings a magnifying piece to Queer Zagreb.
Kontra otherwise known as Kontre, gave an in depth look at lesbian literature. The group is about establishing human rights across Croatia for females, in particular. They focus on helping women deal with their own sexuality, and body as one.
Father and Son, directed by Aleksandr Sokurov, is a story of a father and his son. The two hold a very close relationship, they have lived together alone for most of their lives. Some would say that the relationship they have could be considered to be brothers. They share most everything, even love, a specific love for one another. Between the struggles that both encounter once going their own ways, they long to have what they once had.
Sanja Sagasta, a Croatian poet, read her work entitled Sapfino Ogledalo. Sagasta, a student at the University of Zagreb is widely know in the Croatian culture for her numerous poetic publications on lesbian issues.
Silvio Vujicic, an artist whom focuses specifically on gender and sexual orientation, brings a new light to how we view the simplest things. In his presentation of Ispod Trantincica, Vujicic shows us how he perceives the daisy, otherwise known as the “faggot flower.” It is said that daisy means “a fragile person, sometimes what homosexual men are perceived as.” He goes through an in depth process of showing how gender is a social and political problem, because most don’t understand gender properly.
Many more, films, exhibits, and productions were shown at the 2005 Queer Zagreb festival. Almost to many to imagine, but one thing is for sure, the bigger the festivals get, the more influence Queer Zagreb has on the public. 2006 was only 365 days away, 365 days to short, but with three years of experience under our belts, the next years to come would only get easier.
As 2006 arose Queer Zagreb blew the audience away with its breath taking and eye catching performances. That year Queer Zagreb started its fourth year of festival events, inviting artist from Japan, USA, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and Croatia. The basis of the festival revolved around dance, theatre, pornography, and fashion-while subjecting models of transgression of privacy from privilege as their main obligation.
Eight selections were chosen as a part of the 2006 Queer Zagreb festival, four of which highlighted the event. Of the four, Raimund Hoghe, a German choreographer opened the festival with a revamped version of Swan Lake. The audience was entangled among the provoking choreography of the dancer’s bodily deformations-forcing the audience to strugle between beauty and the unknown.
Along side Swan Lake, Japanese artist, Tadasu Takamine strikes the crowd with confusion and infatuation. Takamine demonstrates the process of physical satisfaction through the work of his friend Mr. Kimura. Mr. Kimura was affected by the medical scandal in the 1950′s, where 138 infants died and more than 10,000 suffered severe physical damages from arsenic poisoning. While Mr. Kimura sufferers from the inability to move his limbs or face, we see the expression brought to the screen by physical satisfaction as Takamine brings him to climax by masturbation.
The American choreographer, Mark Tompkins shown us one of his best pieces-Song and Dance. Song and Dance, represents the body and the daily passages one takes. He views the body as a mask that should be hidden from the world, and yet on the other hand shown naked and revealed as its true self. The script exposes an artist who suffers from a hidden illness, and how his voyage of day to day life is dealt with.
In Manuela and Her Boys’ concept of Lesben uber 40, everyone becomes a lesbian over the age of 40. Manuela Kay, from Berlin, editor-in-chief of L-Mag magazine sets the scene of Lesben uber 40 in one of Berlin’s most engaging returant-bars, ‘Rastsatte Gnadenbrot’.
Later that evening, BuBu de la Madeleine , queen of Japanese art, displayed her acceptance in White Flags-Made in Occupied Japan-Pull Out More Flags. We saw “the birth of a nation” in a new way that BuBu brought to us in a video of complete reality.
Earthfall, one of the most physically demanding choreography groups, presented At Swim Two Boys. The play, based on Jamie O’Neill’s award winning novel demonstrates the closeness and tenderness two boys shared during the 20th century of Irish nationalism. The realm of the play is based in a pool, where the entire play is given from.
How to Make Lesbian Porn? engaged the audience in an overview of the history to lesbian erotic, private, and at-home entertainment. Manuela Kay once again struck the audience with a very provoking production of about 30 videos. She described the general questions and do’s and dont’s of lesbian porn.
At last the festival ended with the eighth and final production entitled, Exposed to Virus and Fashion. HIV, a very modern era plague set the stage for the play and shown how victims of the disease are labeled by society because of their sickness. Silvio Vujičić illustrated the definition of HIV in a way of fashion and how this illness can be viewed as fashionable.
As we kicked off the 5th anniversary of the Queer Zagreb festival, the idea of culture in Zagreb and Croatia as a whole was our main objective. Throughout those five years, huge strides had been taken and benefited the company to grow and prosper. Festivals and institutions from Tokyo, New York, Sao Paulo, London, and Berlin were created which used Croatian and regional queer experiences and impulses. The festival was held May 7-12.
Opening night the audience was introduced to Oedipus in Corinth by the ever-so-popular Slovenian poet, Ivo Svetina. The obscure triangle between mother, father, and son grasped ahold of the text and tone to create a forceful theater experience with pride and potency of queer expressions.
During the second night of the opening, Condition No. 2 was the highlight of the night. The production stimulated the context of behavior, fixation (of male body capable of conception, carrying and giving birth), physical transformation-to an afixed environment.
The performance, Mosaic, gave light to the topic of feminism. It spotlighted the different aspects of feminity and embraced what it’s like as a woman and as a performer.
Jerome Bel invited us to learn of two artists-both of different cultures and both artists, whom knew nothing of each other. In this intriguing piece entitledPichet Kiumchun and Myself, Bel lights the stage with diversity among clulture, and how the actors work to learn more of each other and their artistic practices, despite theire cultural gap.
Sad Sam, production by Marija Ferlin is best described by this poem: This is the fortune of manhood. Images and image. Burning the calm fever of love. I press the button. He feels. Fainting upon the obstacle of touching. Nothing I care remains. He took the silence. I took the devotion of a staring fantasy. I’ve made a comedy of becoming a man next to an animal.
We were blessed to have welcomed Ivo Dimchev to present his unforgetable work entitled Lili Handel. Ivo, an artist whom combines the impossible elements of music, dance, performance, video, and photography all in one, transformed his self-expression to a highly rare and truely unique level.
Dimchev yet again set the stage for another mind-blowing performance entitledConcerto. Other performances included H.C. Zabludovsky, Koncert, On the Edge of an Incident, Staklenac, An Evening of Poetry and Wine, and many others. 2007 was an unforgettable festival, full of excitement, sharp curves, and clarity to what Queer Zagreb is all about.
Crime, sexuality, and gender were the topics of the 2008 festival. Zvonimir Dobrović quotes, “an important moment of this year’s artistic program is raising awareness to social blindness to crime, tolerating and not speaking about it–something Sergio Agamben called “state of exception”-a time balloon of sorts in which any violent act is possible.” Over 25 performances were shown over a ten day period ranging in three areas-theater/dance, visual arts, and film. Theater productions that were shown included Civil, Clandestino, O Lungo Drom, Dancing Inside Out, Maid in South Africa, Taste, Jerk, and many others-just to name a few.
Queer Zagreb was honored to host a multitude of talent this year. To start the festival, the ever famous Quentin Crisp was recognized for his astounding work as a human being. Pacitti Company from London took Crisp’s issues into their own hands and performed their own work entitled, Civil. The work revolved around Crisps’ way of life, and the constant disproval of the society during the thirties. Crisp never lost sight in courage and style, inspiring the Pacitti Company to return the favor back to Crisp for all his work and dedication to the LGBT society today.
Another inspiring act of 2008 was the work of Gisele Vienne and his production of Jerk. In this eerie performance, we discover a man who’s banned to prison for life, behalf his numerous killings of teenage boys. The play is based on a novel by Dennis Cooper and is interpreted as the ugly times in which one travels through under these dark conditions. Vienne has put an explicit puppet show together to reveal the story in which Cooper writes about. In the prison setting that we share with the murderer, fanaticism, humor, lunacy and evil become inseparable.
One of the festivals notable films, entitled Paragraph 175, talks about the men and women imprisoned under Paragraph 175 during the Holocaust. Over the millions killed, five of them share their story to create this very powerful film. Although the story line is very bitter, many of the stories are filled with irony and humor-irony and humor with which gave the survivors the will to endure these horrid times. Paragraph 175 raises provocative questions about memory, history, and identity.
Another intriguing film of the festival was Suddenly Last Winter by Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi. In this film we experience life in Italy. The two men have been a couple for over eight years and suddenly when the government grants non-married and gay couples the same rights as married couples the country is very abrasive against this policy. Both men find an aggressive and angry society breathing down their necks, and together they start a journey to try and understand the country they once knew.
This year the festival presented works of three visual artists: Andrea Geyer, Tina Gharavi and Kataryna Kozyra. All three of which focus on structural violence bring the starting point and legitimization to all those visible and recognizable forms of violence which are qualified as crime, as violence generated by representational practice which reproduce generally accepted patriarch and/or heterosexist social norms—as well as body politics defined by those norms and implemented by regulating gender and sexuality.
As the years pass, Queer Zagreb challenges the audience to pass through a winding cultural, and societal experience. 2009 was an experience that most never forgot. Queer Zagreb pushed for an alternating experience that most could never dream of. Among the talent presented, artistic voices ranging from Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Bulgaria were the highlights of 2009.
Many remember Raimund Hoghe’s phenomenal presentation of Swan Lakethree years ago, and once again Hoghe blew the audience away with his masterpiece entitled Bolero Variations.
France came out with four presentations, two of which were directed by Alain Buffard. Buffard presented Good Boy in a solo masterpiece about intimate and private space of vulnerability and beauty. In his second work, Buffard reaches a very opposite perspective by drawing the audience into a physical and emotional tragedy. Francois Chaignaud and Cecilia Bangolea presented the last two sections directed by the French artists. Presenting physical limiting and demanding movements, both performances redirected the traditional way of theater.
Coming back for more, Ivo Dimcev couldn’t resist the atmosphere of Queer Zagreb. In his new piece, entitled Paris, Christian Bakalov, talked about the relationship, inside and out, that Ivo shares with the city of Paris, and how his strange emotions are sparked within him.
Once again reflecting back to the image of the body, British artist Dominic Johnson packs a punch in his short but effective production of Transmission. The spectacle and ritual element of his performance left the audience in shock, and was a production to never be forgotten.
Lastly we brought Andre Masseno to the stage to catch attention through that variation of body art. Masseno transformed himself to a whole new level through his slight movements and posture changes. Both of his pieces,Billboard Body Machine and I am not Here or The Dying Swan, both set very high standards and blew the audience away.
Finally we mustn’t forget the unbelievable work of the famous theater company, Teatro Oficina and their legendary director, Jose Celso. Through the work that all these wonderful artists and directors brought to the stage, Queer Zagreb impacted the audience to see and think in a different light.
2010 was a roller coaster ride of a year. With a phenomenal lineup of artists and performances, 2010 was going to be the best festival yet. Months before the festival, some unexpected bad news arose. The City of Zagreb, which hosts 1/3 of our budget backed out from their funding to Queer Zagreb. Completely devastated, we searched for funding in hopes to follow through with our perfect line up of performers. Greatly enough good news flew over our heads, as many foundations from US based organizations offered a helping hand.
The festival revolved around many different aspects of American theater. Among the performances, Michele Ceballos and Guillermo Gomez Pena-members of the group La Pocha gave an intriguing performance of Corpo Illicito, which they collaborated with many local artists and performers. Inviting a very queer art form, the production sets a vast uniqueness and genuine style to the stage.
Through his performance, Crotch and A Brief History, Keith Hennessy engaged the audience in a somewhat intimate manner. Jeremy Wade, another US performer gave an insight to his performance entitled I Offer Myself to Thee. Wade and his band were also joined by the musically talented group, Holcombe Waller and The Healers of Seattle. Waller and The Healers opened the festival with their show, Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest—a very emotionally charged and visually powerful performance.
German performer, Antonia Baehr used laughter as her main method of visualization. Her performance Rire/Lachen lifted the audience to a way of thinking in a humorous light.
Raimund Hoghe, also a German native, comes to us for the third year. Choreographies by Hoghe himself were written for the amazing dancer, Emmanuel Eggermont for the production of, L’Apres-midi. Hoghe leans on the idea of the understanding of music, movement details, and sometimes deceiving rituality and precision of his dances.
Lutz Forster, another festival dancer from the company Pina Bausch’ introduced us with Jerome Bel’s work entitled, Pichet Klunchun & Myself. The work is made in dedication to different aspects of contemporary and traditional dance through strong personalities as representatives of those aesthetics.
As the final production appeared, Francois Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea threw the audience for a loop as their new creation, Castor & Pollux ended the festival. Chaignaud also teamed up alongside Marie Caroline Homonal in a piece entitled Duchesses’—an incredibly simple piece, yet very effective.
As everything must, the Queer Zagreb 2010 festival came to an end, but a exciting 2011 festival was already in the works.
As the very eventful 2011 festival underwent, we were very pleased to welcome over 40 artists from the United States, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Croatia. The 2011 festival was prepared in a variety of programs ranging from strong visuals, energetic performances and intense physicality to subtle musical backgrounds, gentle dance and witty dramaturgical remarks and directorial interventions.
To kick off the festival, Luca Giacome Schulte made a relaxing setting for the audience in his performance entitled, Joseph. Next to demonstrate his artistically talent was John Scott of Ireland with his breathtaking, witty performance of Actions—a duet in which the endearing performers and the spontaneity of the performance can only appeal to the audience.
As the festival continued the lighthearted creations turned to a more brutal, racial and provocative rhythm. Ricci Forte staged a very violent and dark world of Dennis Cooper in the performance entitled Macadamia Nut Brittle.
Violence and pain swept the audience as performances by Sineglossa and Plumes dans la Tete took the stage. Their performances questioned normality and naturalness, being, in essence, profoundly queer.
A very intriguing Elena Cordoba from Spain presented her own trilogy, The Poetics of Anatomy.
Another powerful European artist David Wampach performed his very ‘queer’ production of Auto.
PUSSYFAGGOT! was the hit of the festival evenings. PUSSYFAGGOT! Queer Protocol Party was an outrageous experience hosting Penny Arcade, Alexander, Protokol Kolektiv and many others.
The finale ended with a bang as Red Room, a fantastic circus cabaret, performed sets and acts and announced as an ‘evening which is not to be endured with a dry throat.’