This weekend marks the beginning of Philly’s first Gender Reel Festival, the only multimedia arts festival in the city devoted entirely to the experiences of gender-variant, gender nonconforming, and transidentified artists from across the world. These diverse communities, though they may express themselves in different ways, are all committed to challenging basic assumptions about how masculinity and femininity are expressed. PW sat down with Joe Ippolito, the brainchild and key organizer of the festival, who offered insight into why the festival came to be, what to expect and why these experiences matter for Philadelphia.
Describe how you came up with the idea for Gender Reel.
For several years, I’ve been observing film festivals across the country as a trans-identified man. In all festivals, there seems to be a lack of representation in more mainstream film festivals of gender-variant, gender nonconforming and transgender identities. I don’t know the reasoning, but I knew I wanted to create a forum for these communities.
But was there was a specific moment that served as an inspiration for creating Gender Reel?
Yes. It stemmed out of response to 2009’s QFest [the city’s main LGBT film festival], which showed the film Ticked Off Trannies With Knives . A lot of transgender individuals and the LGBT media organization GLAAD denounced the film, particularly over scenes where transwomen were killed. Even though I got a chance to meet the director, I understand a lot of people don’t have the same opportunities that I do. From this film, I’ve looked at schedules across and saw each a lack of representation of these communities or potentially offensive representations.
What exactly does it means to be gender-variant or gender nonconforming?
At the most basic level, the festival represents any art that pushes against traditional gender binaries. There so many ways that this can happen.
It’s true that the festival includes other art forms besides films?
It was initially going to be a film festival but as I put the idea out to friends they suggested I broaden it to multimedia festival, including photos, art installations and other mediums to be more inclusive. I was initially hesitant of the response but our two-day festival has more than 30 films, 17 artists and photographers and four video installations, including one that is off-site at the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Are the artists only from the Philadelphia area?
No. We’ve gotten a response from all over the world. A group of photographers out of Australia submitted an installation. And we’re gotten films from Japan, Latin America and France in addition to cities across the United States.
Why the reason for such a global response for a new festival?
We credit social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Artists within gender variant, gender nonconforming and trans-identified communities have conveyed a shared difficulty in finding a venue to display their art. First and foremost, this is what we hope Gender Reel can provide.
In what way does this demonstrate how impactful the festival could be?
I want to use an example that has been meaningful to me—the Philly Trans-Health conference. By offering a space for local trans-identified individuals to speak of health issues, we’ve strengthened health services and the overall political impact of the community. We hope Gender Reel will have a similar impact, if on a smaller scale, for artists in these communities
How do you hope to appeal to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and allied communities?
One of the key goals of Gender Reel is to provide an educational space for all. In anticipation of the festival, we’ve tabled at Equality Forum and Black Gay Pride and we’re a program of the Fringe Festival, so we hope to spread the word to more mainstream audiences, including the fact that we will do Q&A sessions and panels after film screenings to let those with questions engage in a dialogue. To reach out to straight or allied audiences, we rely on articles by magazines that are not explicitly lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Have there been any bumps in the way of making the festival possible?
We’ve mostly been plagued by monetary issues. While we’ve received generous sponsorships from five different organizations and UArts has given us a great deal on our space, we’re always looking for new avenues of funding. After the festival is over, we intend to meet to decide if we want to become a nonprofit as well as looking into grants that might be available.
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