Fringe Film Fest: Annual celebration of queer film and art sweeps in to east London

PUBLISHED: 15:09 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:21 11 November 2019

The Blue Flower of Novalis comes to Hatch as part of the Fringe Queer Film & Arts Fest. Picture Supplied.

The Blue Flower of Novalis comes to Hatch as part of the Fringe Queer Film & Arts Fest. Picture Supplied.


You’ve (almost definitely) never seen The Little Mermaid quite like this before. As the 30th anniversary of Disney’s iconic film about Ariel and Ursula nears, the Rio Cinema is screening a drag-sing-a-long version of the movie as part of the Fringe Queer Film & Arts Fest.

Sidra Smith - director of A Luv Tale - is a guest of this year's festival. Picture: Carrie Nelson.Sidra Smith - director of A Luv Tale - is a guest of this year's festival. Picture: Carrie Nelson.

Scheduled for next Friday (Nov 15), this late-night celebratory screening is hosted by drag queen Holestar and a "shoal" of special guests. It's one of the most eye-catching fixtures of this year's Fringe; a volunteer-led movement focused on delivering a "diverse, provocative and political programme" of queer filmmaking.

Martha Kate Margetson is one of the festival's programmers. "Fringe was set up in 2011 in response to the arts cuts of the time," she says. "The intention was for Fringe to bring films that are big queer movies from global filmmakers [and] films that had been in bigger festivals to east London for free or cheap.

"The idea was to give a platform to the arts scene of local and global LGBTIQA+ communities. It's run by a fully volunteer team; we're now in to our ninth year and we've grown exponentially since 2011, when we started out in basements and people's houses."

The festival covers queer movies "from the DIY to the high budget" and includes the work of 141 filmmakers and artists in total. Sixty per cent of these are female, trans or non-binary.

Vaginal Davis will present a selection of short films from her archive. Picture: Supplied.Vaginal Davis will present a selection of short films from her archive. Picture: Supplied.

This year's Fringe opens on Tuesday (Nov 12) with the UK premiere of Wig - which charts the history of the iconic NYC drag festival Wigstock from its humble origins - and runs across the next five days, bringing a medley of films and events to venues including Barbican's Cinema 2, Dalston Superstore and Hatch.

Fringe 2019 will also see the transformation of De Beauvoir's Rose Lipman Building in to a "queer community palace," in the words of Margetson. The festival's pop-up hub will be open from Friday to Sunday (Nov 15-17).

"We want to house all these free events, and we want to be able to create a space for the community that is safe, freeing and liberating," adds Margetson. "A lot of it is free: you could stay for the whole weekend, not spend a penny and still see lots of things.

"Filmmakers are going to join us in the hub, [and there will be] some performances over here, a bizarre intervention over there, and some painting over there. DJs will then come in, and we'll all be in this space together."

A still from The Cancer Journals Revisited. Picture: Supplied.A still from The Cancer Journals Revisited. Picture: Supplied.

Among a packed schedule, Margetson picks out a premiere of The Archivettes - Megan Rossman's documentary about the Lesbian Herstory Archives - and a screening of Cancer Journals Revisited, which is about "the intersection of queerness, race and gender when it comes to receiving cancer care."

The festival's programmer is also quick to put forward A Luv Tale, "quite an overlooked black lesbian film" by Sidra Smith. Set to screen at Bethnal Green's Genesis Cinema on Friday (Nov 15), Margetson says the film is "such an exciting draw for us. It's so clever and fun, with a lot of drama. It's also quite glossy and aspirational - a bit of a treat film."

Aside from the eclectic range of queer cinema, Fringe Fest will also feature a panel discussion on queer Sci-Fi, a spanking workshop and a zine fair. There's also to be a sexual and mental well-being programme (where most events are free) assembled by the festival's partners, The Love Tank.

Part of the draw of the Fringe, Margetson says, is that it gathers a collection of brilliant films that celebrate queer culture in one small area of east London.

"What we find is that a lot of the best queer films exist only in a festival circuit, which can only be one year. They might go on to Netflix or they might not; they could potentially disappear."

"[Fringe is] something on a larger scale, with over 100 films and a lot of the filmmakers and artists present. We're really proud of the programme, there are some really weird things in it. It's for everyone to enjoy, learn something and be open in the LGBTIQA+ spectrum."

Fringe Queer Film & Arts Fest is at a number of east London venues between November 12 and 17. More details and tickets here.

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