Culture: Film

Interview: Alex Karotsch of Fringe! Film Fest

Alex Karotsch. Photo by Christa Holka

Fringe! Film Fest, East London’s annual queer film and arts festival returns this week for a third outing with its biggest, most strapping programme of film, art, performance and parties yet. Alex Hopkins caught up with Alex Karotsch, the festival’s producer.

How did Fringe! begin?

We started in 2011 when the BFI’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (LLGFF) was cut from two weeks to one. Myself and Liz Collier and Anna Leach had the idea of putting something together on the weekend that the LLGFF wasn’t on. We put alerts out there for help and it just got bigger from there onwards. The first year the entire festival was organised in just two months.

How does Fringe! differ from the BFI LLGFF?

We were trying to do something different and felt there was no point in doing something exactly the same as the LLGFF. The way we developed in our first year meant that we were collaborating with lots of people and this remains very important to us. Many of these people are based in East London. We have a good relationship with the LLGFF and ensure that our program doesn’t overlap with theirs. We want to stand on our own.

How do you decide which films to include?

It’s a collaborative process and we show a mixture of old and new films. As we only had a short period to put the program together that first year we ended up showing mostly older films. We feel it’s important to show these as well as the new releases. This year we have developed a new strand called ‘Limited Visibility’ which focuses on older gay people and those living with HIV. We’re looking back at some films from the last 20 years and have a really good documentary called Silence = Death, made in 1990, by a German director called Rosa von Prauheim. It’s about how artists in New York dealt with the epidemic.

We’re also working with The Sunday Society, which is a cool queer film and arts residency. With each outing we take a film or theme and through art, performance and chat explore the rich vein of ideas, aesthetics and feelings they present. This year will feature a screening of Derek Jarman’s Garden. We like to give a nod to our heritage and show films that have rarely been shown in recent years and which may have been forgotten about to some extent. We believe that it’s important to bring these to a new audience.

How many films are you going to be showing?

There are 30 plus films, spread across four days. It’s our biggest program yet. We’re looking at all the elements of our community – gay, lesbian, bisexual and also trans films.

It’s important that you’ve specifically mentioned trans films as this group of people are, arguably, not as fully represented as they should be. This year the LLGFF were asking if the festival name should be changed to be more inclusive to the trans community. How does Fringe! tackle these sorts of issues?

We’re showing one film, about intersex people, which was also shown at the LLGFF – it was hugely popular. The name of the festival has been changing a bit almost every year now. Last year we called it ‘Fringe! the Gay Festival’ and this year decided just to call it ‘the Queer Festival’ to be more inclusive. It’s difficult to find a name that is going to fit everyone and make everyone happy, but we are open to anyone who wants to come and see a film and join in with the festivities.

What are some fo this year’s highlights?

I’m really looking forward to our opening film, Fives Dances. The main character is gay and the piece is broken up by five big dance scenes set in New York. It’s directed by Alan Brown as part of a special collaboration with renowned choreographer Jonah Bokaer.

We’ve also got some great art exhibitions, including one of the work of Bob Miser, well known for being a pioneer in physique photography from the late 1940s onwards.

On Saturday night we have the premiere of the film 101, which is about two drag performers. The performers and the director will be in attendance.

And then there’s the showing of Mean Girls, which has a cult LGBT following. Holestar will be hosting this and there will be a pageant with lots of people dressing up. The festival isn’t just about seeing films, but about interaction too.

Moving forward what do you think queer film should be about? What are the things you look for?

Good stories. One thing we’re trying not to be is too issues based. We will be covering issues, particularly in our new strand, but we don’t want to do this in a heavy handed way. It’s about finding new, original and clever ways to talk about the gay experience.

Where can people catch this year’s films?

They’re showing all over East London at places ranging from Dalston Superstore to the Hackney Picture House and Rio Cinema. We’re really excited to have a new venue, The School of Fringe! which is an old school in Victoria Park. We’ll be using it as an educational event space with a programme of talk, workshops, discussions, art and documentary. It was a real find and has loads of different rooms, as well as two screening rooms. There will be a pop up cafe and salon on Saturday and there’s even a chapel, which we’ll be using to do a sex workshop in.


Words: Alex Hopkins

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