10 years of BQFF: How Bengaluru’s queer film festival has grown

TNM spoke to three of BQFF’s co-directors to understand how the festival was created, its growing popularity and the ever-evolving slate of films.
10 years of BQFF: How Bengaluru’s queer film festival has grown
10 years of BQFF: How Bengaluru’s queer film festival has grown

A few mattresses, a handful of friends and a day of movies that celebrated queer culture. That simple gathering back in 2009 was the start of what would become the Bangalore Queer Film Festival. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the festival has grown into a four-day affair from August 1 to August 4.

TNM spoke to three of BQFF’s co-directors to understand how the festival was created, its growing popularity, and the ever-evolving slate of films.

A rise from early days

Back in 2003, Pedestrian Pictures, Swabhava's Vinay Chandran and a host of others started a film festival called ‘Bangalored’ at Attakkalari studios in Wilson Garden. That was a pre-cursor to the Bangalore Queer Film Festival, which started in 2009. 

Joshua Muyiwa, a co-director who has been involved with the festival from its first year, said they never planned for BQFF to grow the way it did. As more and more films were submitted, the festival grew organically to two, three and now four days to showcase filmmakers and their movies portraying the queer community. 

“What started out as a very small event and became a very anticipated event,” said Rovan Varghese, a co-director who started working with BQFF around eight or nine years ago. 

And in honour of the festival’s home in Bengaluru, organisers ensure they have at least one filmmaker from the city whose work is highlighted at the festival. This year’s Bengaluru-based creators include Christy Raj whose short film Our Stories Our Journeys will be screened on Friday, August 2 and Mujeer Pasha and Veena Kulkarni whose film Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh will be shown on Sunday, August 4. 

The films

When BQFF first began it was just one day and mostly focussed on international films since they were just easier to access. “Initially, the movies we got were very West-leaning,” Joshua said.

The festival has continued to evolve (though the signature mattresses stayed) and the number of film submissions grew. This year, after hundreds of films were sent in, the selection has been narrowed down to 73 feature films, shorts and documentaries from 27 countries from diverse group of filmmakers that includes queer and transgender persons who are getting behind the camera to offer a textured reading of their own lives.

What’s more, it’s not just films from the West anymore. “Over the past five years, what we’ve seen ourselves is a lot more fiction films coming from India,” said Joshua. 

And it’s not just the festival that’s evolved, but the films too. “BQFF has always tried to push the envelope,” Rovan said. Organisers tend to look for experimental films and make an effort to seek out new filmmakers. During this year’s festival, a series called ‘Engaging with Sexualities,’ presented by Public Service Broadcasting Trust, will feature short documentaries from early-career or first-time filmmakers. 

Joshua notes that the films themselves have grown up along with the festival. The filmmakers this year tell their stories without being “pedantic or preachy or telling you how to live your queer life,” Joshua said. Rather, there’s nuance in these narratives that are more reflective of people’s lives.

“We can be bad people, we can be good people, we can break up, we can be in love,” Joshua said, “It’s much more visceral to my experience.”

The BQFF community

Over the last 10 years, BQFF has offered a welcome space for people from all walks of life as it has turned into one of the largest queer film festivals in south India — from regulars who eagerly await the festival’s arrival every year (this year, it was pushed from its usual February slot to July) to new attendees who hear about BQFF and its growing popularity. 

“There are definitely lots of people who come back every year,” said Nadika N, who has been part of the organising team since 2016, “The festival is not just for queer people. It’s for film lovers.” 

Rovan added, “The reason it has successfully been a decade is because of the love that the community brings."

For the BQFF schedule, click here

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