3rd I Films launches its new initiative, 3rd I’s Queer Eye, a festival that celebrates the South Asian queer community. The program will include screenings of short films exploring South Asian gay and lesbian issues and experiences, followed by the feature presentation, Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story, by acclaimed director, Rudi Dolezal. Dolezal’s documentary will be shown in its soon-to-be-released director’s cut version, premiering for the first time at the festival.

Anuj Vaidya, associate festival director, says the event is a prime opportunity to raise awareness of issues facing the South Asian queer community.

943b33103e1d4d78e8d90e02c8e9c620-2An increasing number of queer films and festivals have started to surface in India after the High Court of Delhi repealed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code on July 2, 2009. The legislation was introduced by Lord Macauley as part of the Indian Penal Code in 1860 and criminalized sexual activity as “against the order of nature.” In subsequent judgments, the section was interpreted to prohibit sex without the possibility of conception, catching acts of both consensual sex as well as acts of sexual assault.

Although there had been no convictions under Section 377 for the last 20 years, human rights groups argued that the law allowed the obstruction of HIV-AIDS prevention efforts, as well as harassment of sex workers, gay men, and others at risk of HIV.

As a result of the landmark decision in July 2009, Section 377  decriminalizes same-sex acts among consenting adults, and independent filmmakers are embracing this development as symbolic of a newfound freedom in artistic expression. Bollywood is also following suit, screening the first male-on-male kiss in the context of a “normal relationship” between men, in Sanjay Sharma’s directorial debut, Don’t Know Why (Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun) due out this year.

Despite the legal triumph inherent in the repeal of Section 377, South Asian communities remain conservative in their attitudes toward sexuality and cultural stigmas, and gay stereotypes are prevalent. The selection of films featured in 3rd I’s Queer Eye has been chosen to challenge prejudices and stereotypes and to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Vaidya says it will take time to change attitudes in the South Asian community gay people are seen “as deviants or attention-seekers.”

The short films featured in 3rd I’s Queer Eye festival are united in their exploration of the public versus private arenas occupied by the gay community. Vaidya says, “An interesting question that faces a lot of South Asian gays and lesbians is how to navigate their private and public lives in a way that is true to themselves.”

The shorts program features films that examine public attitudes toward queerness in India and, in contrast, present personal  reflections on sexuality to highlight the issues that bind queers in both domains. In one film,  Are We Talking Straight?, people on the streets of Calcutta express their views of homosexuality. In other shorts, such as the Sachin Kundalkar’s The Bath, the individual experience is examined and we are immersed in the poignant story of a Mumbai male sex worker.

The feature film of the festival, Dolezal’s documentary of the rock star Freddie Mercury, will likely appeal to a broad audience and heighten the festival’s visibility. In the film, Mercury, the vocalist for the 1970s-80s megaband Queen, transcends prejudices with music, serving as a platform to unite people of every sexual orientation in their love for Queen and Mercury. His deeply personal life and Indian roots influenced and underpinned his artistic expression. His story is presented through the eyes of family and friends and will fascinate and inform a wide audience of music lovers and people facing similar conflicts in their lives.

Since its first festival in 2003, 3rd I Films has raised awareness of issues reflecting the lives and concerns of the Bay Area’s South Asian community. The organization has screened a variety of internationally acclaimed and locally produced films, and has engaged audiences in dialogue and promoted debate through a host of forums. In its recent initiative,  3rd I Films, will again encourage interaction and cultural exchange, inviting the viewer to cast aside stereotypes and embrace the diversity of South Asians through independent film.

Sunday, June 6, 5 p.m. VIZ Cinema, 1746 Post St., San Francisco. $10 for short film or feature presentations, or $16 for both. www.thirdi.org.

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