Shitou, one of the judges for Shanghai Queer Film Festival this year, is an artist, mainly engaged in painting, photography, documentary films, LGBTQIA+ social movements and so on. She is the co-director of China Queer Independent Film Group (CQIF). She is also the protagonist of director Li Yu’s first feature film, Fish and Elephant. This film has been praised as the first lesbian-themed film in Mainland China, which won the Elvira Notari Prize at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival.
In this exclusive interview, Shitou (hereafter referred to as S) talked about her experience concerning Fish and Elephant and then summarized how people’s perspectives on LGBTQIA+ issues in China have changed and developed within the last two decades. Her practical examples tell us that a rich life depends on self-reliance, and that institutional poverty cannot be a reason to stop progress.
You have agreed to be a judge for SHQFF. What kind of potential do you see in this film festival? How would you suggest SHQFF further develop its presence on the world stage?
First of all, I hope there will be more film festivals to support queer films. As an more open and international city, I hope Shanghai can embrace more multicultural films. This will definitely attract more domestic and international audiences. Besides, in recent years, other queer related activities have been emerging continuously in Shanghai. Let’s make Shanghai a ‘queer city’. Please be persistent and inclusive!
In your opinion, what’s the difference between queer cinema in Asia and in the rest of the world?
Among the limited number of films I have watched, Asian films are more about identities. It is hard to talk about cinema elsewhere, since the concept of ‘elsewhere’ is too broad.
Currently, China’s ‘official’ attitude towards LGBTQIA+ people is not very clear. Under these circumstances, in which direction you think queer filmmakers should steer their efforts? What are your expectations for them?
In contemporary China, there are so many rich themes and endless changes. Either recording or performing them is presenting history. At the moment, independent portraits are always new. I expect to see more queer filmmakers, more diverse themes related to sexual minorities, and breakthroughs in forms of expression and methods.
In the early days, you were part of a group of non-mainstream/minority (outside of the majority) female artists at Yuanmingyuan Artists Village. During these years, you painted, made documentaries, and spoke out at worldwide activities and forums that concerned women and sexual minorities. As a woman and an LGBTQIA+ person, what do you think of how people’s perspectives on LGBTQIA+ issues in China have changed and developed within the last two decades?
At Yuanmingyuan Artists Village, there are very few female artists. Since 1998, lesbians and gays had started to gather together and operate LGBTQ hotlines, and then the first lesbian magazine publication was founded. At that time, few people came out to the public. In 2000, Hunan Television made an episode for a TV program about homosexual awareness that had an audience of 300 million people. In 2004, Phoenix Television made a TV program called A Story of Lesbian and sold it to more than 20 Chinese public television stations, which made it available to a larger audience. With the popularity of the Internet, everyone is able to find resources online as well as partners. Meanwhile, LGBTQIA+ groups from different regions have emerged and LGBTQIA+ issues have been discussed in a small amount of school classes. Furthermore, Peking University’s Beijing Queer Film Festival has been running since 2001. Comprehensively, the general public has been effected by many different sources. Relatively, the social system shows lags.
You are an active participant and a supporter of Love Queer Cinema Week (aka Beijing Queer Film Festival). What kinds of cultural activities and movie themes do you focus on promoting and planning?
In 2009, I was completely involved in the planning of a queer film festival. The screening location was in Songzhung and I was responsible for the Q&A session of director Zero Chou’s film screening. We also arranged modern dance performances and performance art to take place near the cinema. My paintings were exhibited at Fanhall Coffee. At that time, the first queer art festival was also held in Songzhuang.
In 2001, you starred in director Li Yu’s debut film, Fish and Elephant. This film can be considered the first Mainland Chinese film to broach lesbian themes. Could you please share your experience as the film’s lead?
It is a long story, so I will just share a little bit. Cui Zi introduced me to director Li Yu and the film itself. We met at Huangtingzi bar near Beijing Film Academy and I promised to find actresses for them. After meeting with some of my lesbian friends that I had recommended, they wanted to cast me after the auditions had finished. At that time, when there were intimate scenes between two girls, I gave the director suggestions and acted for them.
Are there any Asian queer movies or short films that you like, especially works by Chinese directors? If so, could you please give us some recommendations?
I feel that I cherish every time I meet a creator who creates with a sincere heart. I need to make a list！
As an participant and an supporter of community culture for so many years, what do you think of the future of LGBTQIA+ in China?
Growth and change can’t be stopped, and is quite important to be always alert.