In an article in the London newspaper The Independent of April 10 2005,  the Anglo-American pundit David Thomson declared with surprise, “There are festivals for gay and lesbian film all over the world - now so much so that one day soon we may anticipate such films simply taking up their normal place in festivals that are otherwise devoted to film. In other words, we do not have films for left-handed people, or blondes, or people who stammer. We are apparently able to digest such minority habits and practices in the corpus of films about ... well, I suppose life is the word. This is not a sneer at gay and lesbian festivals, or at any festivals built around minority concerns…”

Thomson proceeds to reveal proudly that he detects homosexual undertones in certain mainstream films like THE GODFATHER, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, RAGING BULL, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and CASABLANCA. Surprise, surprise.  Who does not?  The article is in fact a remarkable time-warp, something that could have been written by an unenlightened liberal of twenty years ago – the time when the Turin International Gay and Lesbian Festival first struggled into the world. 

It was begun by two idealistic young men, Giovanni Minerba and Ottavio Mai.  Ottavio died tragically a few years after the festival was launched: the main award now honours his name. The early days were a battle. Official Turin was generally supportive from the start, there were some bold sponsors, and the shows took place in the three-auditorium theatre of the Film Museum.  However the first editions took were locally unpopular and always vulnerable to attack from the religious right and demonstrations by the city’s hooligan element.  The films were hard to find and were for the most part independent and low-budget productions, though already some iconic directors, like Derek Jarman and Pedro Almodovar, were international names.

Today things are very different: all has come to pass as David Thomson belatedly predicts.  The feature films in competition – from Thailand, Japan, Britain, USA, Russia, Scandinavia, France, Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong – are mostly designed for theatrical distribution.  Two of the competition films in the Cannes Festival were directed by one-time Turin discoveries, Gus Van Sant and François Ozon.  But the real breakthrough in those two decades is that for the most part the closet doors are open.  Gay people exist, as a positive and essential factor in society – and movies.

Does that mean that gay and lesbian festivals no longer have a point and role?  Not, certainly, to judge from the Turin Festival, which is now one of the liveliest, most vital and most popular events in the festival calendar.  Things have changed: the audience is no longer minority-oriented, but attracts audiences from across the board.  Films abound – there is no need to scratch the barrel’s bottom.  And the Turin public take it in their stride, predominantly with pride in an event of international repute – though the festival organisers feel there is still a long battle to educate the public to full acceptance and understanding of alternative sexualities. Turin flaunts the old popular clichés of gay society as a comic décor.  The opening show is a-glitter with drag queens is shimmery dresses and beehive wigs.  The Mistress of Ceremonies was a stout and stately blond(e) in sequins, whose caresses the de rigueur politicians took in the best possible spirit.  (In the early days the Festival was obliged to do the presentations of politicians and sponsors with excruciating formality).

The festival has kept its slogan, “The Films the Change Your Life”.  In the early days there was always the sense of political engagement: films – generally shoestring and runaway productions – were generally arguing a case  Today the films range over much wider – limitless - areas of human behaviour, relationships and emotions.

The winner of the main award Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s SUL PRALAD (TROPICAL MALADY) from Thailand was first seen at the 2004 Cannes Festival. A wondrous, elusive, poetic affair, the simple love affair of a soldier and a country lad is metamorphosed into legend, with one of the boys roaming the forests in search of his friend, magically transformed into an animal.  The documentary award deservedly went to the Israeli team of Adi Barsh and Ruthie Shatz, for GAN (THE GARDEN), a cine-verité study of two young Arab boys struggling to survive in Tel Aviv, and frequenting “The Garden”, focus for the city’s drug traffic and male prostitution.  Other documentaries provided social records of people living in corners of society where homosexuality is still execrated. Another Israeli film,  Hil Alexander’s KEEP NOT SILENT – ORTHO-DYKES relates the battle of three women in an Orthodox religious society in which lesbianism is a cause for excommunication.  Wash Westmoreland’s The Gay Republicans explored the moral dilemma of some of George Bush’s best.  Tess Boerman and Sam Reizger’s A KNOCK OUT (Netherlands) showed how the sexual prejudice of “sporting” circles ended the career of a brilliant woman boxer.

On quite a different theme, one of the most fascinating documentaries on show was Jim Tushinski’s THAT MAN – PETER BERLIN, the chronicle of a Berlin boy who arrived in America, created himself as a work of erotic art, and became an international sex symbol for a generation. The film-makers find him in his sixties, reserved and reclusive, with less than comforting memories, but a lingering pride in his physical presence.

Turin’s short-subject programme is always very rich: gay subjects stimulate enterprising scenarios. The winning film was the Filipino Mark V.Reyes’ LAST FULL SHOW, a neo-documentary picture of a teenage cruiser in an old movie theatre frequented by the gay. The Turin public voted its award ex aequo to two films of special charm:  Claudia Lorenz’s HOI MAYA (HI MAYA) relates the chance encounter of two old ladies in a hairdressing salon, and their recall (reluctant on the eponymous Maya’s part) of their love of many years before. The gifted Botti twins, Christophe and Stéphane, best known for their energetic work as writers, directors and performers in the French theatre, offered PLUTOT D’ACCORD, an endearing little comedy about a young man whose hope of finding Mr Right by working as a clip-board street interviewer does not go according to plan.  Perhaps most remarkable was a group of nine shorts, all with gay content, made as graduation films by students of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School over the past twelve years.

Side-bar events of the festival included special retrospective tributes to the Canadian director Lea Pool and to John Waters “the king of puke”, both of whom were present, with Waters presenting his latest film, A DIRTY SHAME.  There were also special presentations in tribute to the memories of Marlon Brando, Laura Betti (champion of Pier Paolo Pasolini) and the singer Giuni Russo, whose last-ever performance was accompanying a film at the 2003 Pordenone Silent Film Festival.  The performance was fortunately recorded in video, and was performed in Turin for an audience for whom Ms Russo had always been a special icon..


Gran Premix Ottavio Mai:
SUD PRALAD (TROPICAL MALADY) (Thailand/Italy/Germany/France, 2004; dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Best Short:
LAST FULL SHOW (Philippines, 2004, dir: Mark V.Reyes)

Best Documentary:
GAN (GARDEN) (Israel; dir: Adi Barash, Ruthie Shatz

Best Video:
DORIAN BLUES  (USA, 2004. dir: Tennyson Bardwell)
ANFÄNGER! (BEGINNERS!)  (Germany, 2004. dir: Nicolas Wackenbarth)

Public Prize – Feature:
ETHAN MAO (Canada/USA, 2004. dir: Quentin Lee)

Public Prize – Short:
HOI MAYA (HI MAYA) (Switzerland, 2004. dir: Claudia Lorenz)
PLUTÔT D’ACCORD  (France, 2004 dir: Christophe & Stéphane Botti) 

The main jury consisted of Bruce LaBruce, filmmaker (Canada), Yousry Nasrallah, director (Egypt),
Olivier Nicklaus, journalist (France), Isabel Ruth, actress (Portugal), Serra Yilmaz, actress (Turkey)