China and Inner Asia
What is queer? Shanghai Queer Film Festival founder Shi Tingting carefully contextualizes the term’s meaning within China as opposed to within the West. Her nuance speaks to a festival devoted to creating programming for Chinese audiences—to use international film so that local audiences encounter queer identities existing "with no limits." Festivals offer a “secure space”, she says, to explore issues not officially sanctioned by state. Our paper harnesses personal interviews with Shi, close readings of the selection, and comparative translation work to glean the complexities of queer activism in China and to theorize the festival's divergent presentation between English and Chinese as a unique example of the queering of film programming to express a fluid identity on an institutional level.
Shi's ambitions to educate exemplifies Laura Marks' conception of the "ethical presenter" who espouses arguments through film selection. Study of bilingual press materials reveals a festival presenting its arguments in markedly different terms. In Chinese, for instance, love not sexuality is emphasized. The SHQFF thus proposes distinctly intersectional arguments that expose and play with issures existing between its audiences’ conflicting cultural expectations.
A tense Q&A at last year’s edition about a seemingly homonormative film suggests how the boundary-crossing SHQFF fights against their audiences’ competing definitions about what queer is. Our exploration of SHQFF’s philosophy, selection, and fraught reception ultimately offers new insights into the contradictory ways that queerness is celebrated and defined in China challenging film, gender and identity scholars to understand Chinese queer culture on its own terms.