Queer Women of Color Film Festival turns 20

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Monday June 10, 2024
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Dawn Mikkelson and Keri-Pickett's 'Finding Her Beat'
Dawn Mikkelson and Keri-Pickett's 'Finding Her Beat'

The groundbreaking International Queer Women of Color Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary at the Presidio Theatre this weekend with a theme of "Joyful Reunion." The theme is a celebration of coming together in its third year at its new home theater after COVID-19.

"This anniversary is such a privilege," said Madeleine Lim, founder, executive, and artistic director of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, which produces the annual film festival.

In 2022, QWOCMAP emerged from COVID-19 for its first in-person program at its new location, the recently renovated 600-seat historic Presidio Theatre, near the organization's new office in the Presidio National Park. Like many other festivals in 2020, the QWOCMAP festival went digital for two years.

Despite outgrowing the Brava Theater, the festival returned to the theater until QWOCMAP moved its operations to the Presidio in 2019. Not only did the festival need more space to accommodate its festivalgoers, but the organization sought more accessibility, Lim said.

"It had been really wonderful for so many years," Lim said about the Brava Theater, but "The Presidio Theatre is our new home. It's a beautiful theater. We can't wait to share it with folks who haven't been out."

Attendance isn't anything "like the numbers we had pre-pandemic," she continued. Lim is optimistic. The festival's attendance doubled in 2023 from 2022, she said. "We're very excited to be hosting our 20th anniversary" at the theater.

QWOCMAP founding Executive and Artistic Director Madeleine Lim (photo: Millie Turner)  

Milestone year
Lim is excited about the festival's milestone anniversary and has big plans for its celebration, June 14-16. This year the festival is featuring nearly 45 films — a mix of features and shorts — exploring queer women of color's experiences and transformations.

"There are some really amazing powerful films," Lim said, noting that about a third of the films in the lineup are by queer Black filmmakers and another third of the films are by Asian filmmakers, several of which are by Pacific Islander filmmakers.

About another third of the films explore Latinx and indigenous people's experiences. She also estimated that about three films specifically look at the transgender and nonbinary experience.

"We're super excited to really feature those films that exemplify the voices of Pacific Islanders," she said about the Charting Home program, adding that it will "celebrate the range of what it is being a Black queer woman" with the lineup of shorts for Queer Black Currents.

Making its San Francisco premiere at the festival is the documentary, "Finding Her Beat." The feature film is about a group of the best women taiko drummers in the world coming together to perform in St. Paul, Minnesota. The documentary explores "their joy and the challenges of coming together and putting on that particular performance" during the pandemic, Lim said.

Taiko is the Japanese word for drum. Today, in North America, taiko is referred to as the art of Japanese drumming, also known as kumi-daiko, according to Stanford University's History of Taiko.

The festival will also feature a group of veteran queer women of color filmmakers in the panel discussion, "Unshakable Legacy: Queer Women of Color Filmmakers." Lim will moderate the discussion with filmmakers Mary Guzman, Melinda James, Tina Mabry, and Jennifer Phang as they discuss changes in the film industry from technology to visibility within the past 20 years and their visions for the next 20 years.

Ashante Ford's 'Line of Reverence'  

Lim recalled when these filmmakers and she were making films 25 years ago or more they didn't have the many support groups or resources queer women of color filmmakers have today. At the time, "It was really important that we become our own role models," Lim said.

QWOCMAP's attendees will be treated to premiere taiko drummers: Tiffany Tamaribuchi, who is a taiko master featured in the film, "Finding Her Beat," and Sascha Milina at the 20th anniversary reception, which closes out the weekend. The outdoor reception will also feature live performances by Nobody's Girl with Rob Racine, DJ Love Ley, and food provided by Vegan Hood Chefs and Café Gabriela with wine poured by Scarlet Fox.

The vision
Lim knew that she wanted to be a filmmaker since she was 15 years old. Now 60, she can't believe she made her dream come true and empowered hundreds of other queer women of color like herself to make films. At the age of 23, Lim escaped persecution by the Singapore government due to her activism and made it to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987.

"I very intentionally picked San Francisco," Lim said. She was drawn to the city for three reasons: it was a gay mecca, an arts mecca, and a "beacon" for Asians.

Landing in San Francisco, she set out to pursue her "big dream," she said in a previous interview with the B.A.R. The now award-winning filmmaker took night classes, worked at cable access as a crew member, and graduated from San Francisco State University's film program before she began her film career.

Her next inspiration came when she found that she was one of a handful of women like herself at film festivals. In 1997, Lim made her first groundbreaking film, "Sambal Belacan in San Francisco." The film was banned in Singapore, but it traveled all over the world showing at film festivals for two years. Lim said she's surprised that in the age of YouTube and Facebook, her film is still banned in Singapore.

Noel King's 'Rhombus'  

Focusing on the present, Lim said she's delighted that her current documentary about Black lesbian author and playwright Jewelle Gomez, "Jewelle: A Just Vision," has been traveling the film festival circuit since its release in 2022.

"That's been very exciting," Lim said. Nearly 30 years after her first film festival circuit experience, Lim said, "There are definitely more queer women of color filmmakers in attendance today than back in 1997."

The absence of more women like her at the festivals in the late 1990s inspired her to launch QWOCMAP in 2000. Four years later, she launched the film festival giving queer women of color a place to showcase their stories and their work to audiences.

Reflecting on the early days of QWOCMAP, where she taught filmmaking with no resources, Lim is proud that her little organization has grown to just under $1 million operating budget for the 2023/2024 fiscal year, she said. QWOCMAP will turn 25 next year and its film festival has reached its 20th anniversary this year.

For nearly a quarter century, Lim trained 585 queer women of color filmmakers from the San Francisco Bay Area to around the United States and Spanish-language workshops in Mexico through its filmmaking programs. Consulted with Mujeres Al Borde, a feminist and trans feminist artivist organization, to develop its filmmaking program in Colombia. Through the decades, QWOCMAP amassed a catalog of 484 films and launched film industry careers for almost 100 queer women of color, Lim estimated.

Yvonne Onakeme Etaghene's 'Emergency Contact'  

"It's really wonderful that there are these opportunities," said Melinda James, 38, who is a QWOCMAP 2009 graduate and a panel speaker. "QWOCMAP was very instrumental in my filmmaking career."

The organization launched the biracial, who is Black and Thai, queer woman into her career as a director of photography for commercial branded content.

Former international correspondent, Ashante "Ash" Ford, 25, a Black gender-queer pansexual person, agreed. "It's super inspiring that this is still as accessible as it is," she said.

Like James, Ford wanted to pursue a career in the film industry but had no film experience when she entered QWOCMAP's program last fall. The program gave both women the skills and confidence to pursue filmmaking.

"It was a beautiful experience," Ford said. "I'm very excited to see something I've created on the big screen."

Ford's film, "Line of Reverence," about a Ghanaian woman communing with her ancestors during her day of devotional ritual, is screening at the festival. A still from the film was selected as the festival poster this year. Ford is also excited about seeing what her cohorts created.

"I'm anticipating that people are going to be blown away by the caliber of the films," said Ford.

Lim wants people to come to the Presidio and enjoy films in the park. "We really want people to come and hang out with us," Lim said. "We don't often see masses of queer women of color taking up space in the Presidio."

The festival is happening at the Presidio Theatre, 99 Moraga Ave. Reserving tickets for QWOCMAP's free film festival is encouraged.


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