As the Manager of GAZE Film Festival for the past five years, Noel Sutton shares his views on Irish LGBT film and short film
Noel Sutton has long worked in the film industry, with a career spanning years doing hair and makeup for shorts and features in Ireland. He has also been the Manager of the GAZE Film Festival in Dublin for the last five years, so he has a deep connection with Irish LGBT films and a particular love of short films and documentary. Looking at politics and filmmaking, his favourite Irish LGBT films, LGBT filmmakers to watch out for and more, Noel delves deep into Irish cinema.
…LGBT film in Ireland
We have a rich culture of cinema hear in Ireland and of making film – but not really of making LGBT content, although there are some LGBT directors and producers who make some content but it’s been mainly documentary types – we make really good documentary but narrative film is something that’s not been made a lot of here in Ireland.
But it’s definitely something that’s to the forefront, especially at the moment because of the likes of Mark O’Halloran and Element Pictures even getting involved, so it’s a very interesting time for Irish cinema.
Now it’s a proper representation of gay culture, of queer culture on screen.
… his connection with cinema
I’ve a funny love affair with film myself. I’m claustrophobic, first of all so I don’t tend to like cinema houses.
I love short film, I absolutely adore short film and that’s my niche.
I should say as well I work quite a lot behind the scenes. I do hair and makeup and costume, so on my downtime from the festival I work behind the scenes on film here in Ireland.
… short films
When I started with the festival five years ago we struggled to put together a program of Irish shorts that was of quality.
We got lots of submissions and sometimes the work – there doesn’t tend to be huge money invested in making short film. And this comes from a background of not having money to make short films, so a lot of films that are made are usually student films or used as a prelude to making a feature
So we kind of struggled once or twice with the content because my wish is to bring the best of international and Irish LGBT film to the festival.
We spent a lot of time doing outreach work for the next two years after that to schools and colleges and working with producers, directors, filmmakers, informing them about the platform that we had.
As a result of that and because of the work that we’ve done we’re now in this situation where the content that is coming is just excellent – it’s really of international standard.
… films in GAZE this year
The range of what we had, in terms of Irish works this year, there was something for everybody.
We had one of the first films that dealt with traveller culture, about children in traveller culture, about lgbt traveller culture about that relationship between the child and his father within that whole traveller movement and it’s the first time that’s ever been broached in terms of cinema.
People were just talking about that for days afterwords, and Little Doll – people are still talking about it. We’ve put that forward for the Irish Pride Festival.
We had international visitors, programmers from other festivals and they were just blown away by the quality that was there.
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… political films
I think just them making LGBT content is political in itself.
The fact that you would be brave enough to challenge some of the stereotypes and norms and I think in every one of the Irish shorts there was something that was challenging everyone.
We were talking about traveller culture, we were talking about trans rights, there was something coming of age.
Each and every one of those Irish shorts were challenging in their own right and I think again when you look into artistic content and just the way they’re shot, we’ve moved on leaps and bounds.
What’s reflective right across the board whether it’s public art demonstrations whether it’s using art as a political means to bring around change and that’s coming through in the stories that are put across on the cinema screen
… international LGBT film festivals
You have the likes of festivals in London, Berlin, and what we did this year is we had a focus on it.
We invited some of these radical film festivals to come along and show a film from their festival, a short from their festival and then open the discussion about where we are in terms of GAZE.
Because all our film festivals were born out of this concept of radicalism and about political movement or political change or trying to bring around political change in terms of LGBT rights and LGBT culture and making sure we have a proper representation of queer culture on screen.
… radical film
I suppose over the 24 years because of the growth of the festival you could say that we’re a very bourgeois middle class film festival thank you very much with funding, so in some ways maybe we have lost what exactly we were about 24 years ago.
So this is maybe a chance to challenge that and look back at where we came from and where we are now.
… LGBT stories on screen
You’ve only got to look at if you look over the last 12 months in terms of LGBT cinema, The Danish Girl, A Date For Mad Mary, Viva, there’s been so many different films that have come out, which are an accurate representation of queer culture on the big screen.
That’s what our festival and all these festivals were born out of – it was because LGBT people were seeing ourselves as the fall guy on screen. We wanted to create a platform for making sure there was a true representation of our culture.
I think that has now started to disseminate into the mainstream and it’s just amazing to see that the stories that were coming out were a true representation of somebody’s journey.
Viva another brilliant, well told story about a young guy who want’s to be a drag queen, how you get into it, the challenges he faces with his family and his father and those relationships that develop.
I’m sure if you were to speak with any drag queen in Dublin there’s a huge lot that would resonate with them.
I know that last night Mark O’Halloran was in conversation with Veda just talking about those things you know.
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… Queen of Ireland
It’s probably one of the most powerful documentaries that has come out in terms of LGBT culture.
It’s told in such a beautiful way, and historically, when we look back it tells the story of Ireland that will go down in the annals of history forever, and I hope that it’s used as an educational tool in years to come.
I’m really proud that I was a part of it, that I was in the background for quite a lot, but it tells a specific story and a journey that’s very close to my heart as well.
So yeah, I mean it’s very special but I think it’s the most important piece of documentary history that we have so far.
… favourite LGBT films
I suppose The Crying Game was one of the most influential ones when I was younger. Even through years you still see Father Ted and you go, did you see that part at the end when he gets his lad out. Like one of the first times that you’ve seen some kind of queer culture on screen.
Another favourite is a film that came out recently, well a short that was submitted to GAZE that we travelled with called An Chéid Grá, which means ‘The First Crush’. It’s about young kids and about this young kid’s first crush and it’s told in such a beautiful innocent way, that it’s just beautiful.
And I keep getting pulled back to the most recent ones even though I shouldn’t be pulled to the most recent ones. But I suppose Viva for me is so special, the fact that it’s written by an Irish gay man, directed, produced, filmed by Irish people, although it’s made in Cuba about Cubans, it’s transferrable to anywhere.
… LGBT filmmakers telling LGBT stories
Specifically when it comes to shorts, a lot of those stories were told by non-LGBT people, like the directors were not LGBT.
When we started chatting to the guys who made the traveller story for instance they were a group of straight guys who got funding and they had this idea and this project and they came to us to kind of chat about it to get our feedback on it as well.
I think A Date For Mad Mary as well has no real LGBT influence in direction but it still tells a really good story.
This came up in a conference that we were at […] there was this argument going on that you know for it to truly be about lesbian people or lesbian women that it has to be a lesbian actress, that only a lesbian actress can play that role.
They actually asked Meryl Streep about that then they said you know could she really play a lesbian character and she said: ‘I’m an actress, I can play anything.’
And that’s true. A properly trained actor or a properly trained director, who has a focus on and an eye for it can tell an LGBT story, and that’s what it’s about – it’s telling the story.
… upcoming films
I know Mark O’Halloran is developing a script at the moment. He has something in the pipelines, and I’m really looking forward to that.
We at GAZE are heading into our 25th year and we’re hoping to produce our own and we’re exploring that at the moment.
… funding for LGBT film
There’s loads of other LGBT directors and producers out there, and I think a lot of the problem for them is funding.
There’s that big argument around funding which we in the arts are always banging on about but it’s true. Specifically when it comes to trying to make LGBT content, trying to attract the funding to make it is very, very difficult.
They all have a remit for diversity and to invest in diversity, RTE, the Irish Film Board, everybody else. Once that remit is there then there is an obligation for them to make sure that there is some funding that goes into this. It’s just up to us to make sure that we remind them of that all the time.
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