As the 2021 Vancouver Queer Film Festival team watched entry after entry, one theme held strong in all of the submissions. “Whether it was longing for justice for our communities, longing for a person that you love, longing for familial acceptance or longing for systemic change—the films explored all of these different ways that we want and we dream,” says artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah.

VQFF artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah.VQFF artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah.

And so, Ratnarajah and her team solidified the 2021 festival theme: Longing. “I think that the pandemic really taught us more about that feeling: to be in this in-between state of being, of waiting, of existing but not quite being where you want to be,” she says. (On top of being the festival’s artistic director for the past 5 years, Ratnarajah is delightfully quotable—here’s another). “We need more artists in different places. In healthcare, in government, in education—in environmental justice and racial justice. We need artists because artists are dreamers.” (Told ya).

But given the backdrop of the last year—COVID-19, political turmoil, police brutality, climate change and every other horrific phenomena we’ve managed to freakishly normalize—it’s surprising how much of the 2021 festival is a celebration of resilience and joy. 

A still from Masisi Wouj, a Haitian film in the Obsidian spotlight.A still from Masisi Wouj, a Haitian film in the Obsidian spotlight.

For starters, there’s Obsidian: Black Queer Filmmakers, a spotlight on Black and African directors and filmmakers curated by Festival Programmer Nya Lewis. “The program emphasizes representation behind the camera as well as in front of the camera,” explains Ratnarajah. The six short films range in theme from romance to spirituality to protest, but all highlight exciting talent from the diaspora.

well roundedLydia Okello, Shana Myara and Joanne Tsung in Well Rounded.

There’s Well Rounded, a new local documentary from VQFF’s former artistic director, Shana Myara. The film tackles fatness and fatphobia and includes interviews from Vancouver artists and activists. “They also have perspectives from health advocates and healthcare professionals, as well as academics who have studied the ways in which health and fitness have been equated with each other,” adds Ratnarajah. “The film offers a really deep and nuanced perspective on why fatphobia is so messed up, and how it bars people from getting proper access to health care.” It’s a serious film, but it’s also very funny—the best combo. “I am really excited for local folks to shine,” says Ratnarajah.

A still from Between Us, one of the films celebrating transmasculinity.A still from Between Us, one of the films celebrating transmasculinity.

Transmasculininity is celebrated in Homecomings, VQFF’s first roundup of transmasculine films.  “Transmasculinity is severely underrepresented on screen,” explains the artistic director, “so it was really exciting to see so many more submissions this year from transmasculine artists.” In an effort to break the No Happy Endings plotlines we often see in films with queer characters, this lineup is all about creativity, growth and joy.

noor and laylaA still from Noor and Layla, a romcom in the QTBIPOC Joy program.

And speaking of joy—last but not least is QTBIPOC Joy, a program specifically dedicated to uplifting films made by queer folks of colour. “We’re screening films that show us connecting and being beautiful and being loved and succeeding and fighting the power, because it’s been a really hard… forever,” laughs Ratnarajah. It’s a great program for audiences, but also for the programmers themselves. “We have been watching a lot of sadness both in our work and in the world. It’s been a heavy year, and it feels nice to be able to deliberately program some joy for our specific community,” she says.

As you’re enjoying the VQFF Films, which are all available online, Ratnarajah encourages viewers to consider the effect art has had on their lives over the last year. “I really hope that everyone who was reading or listening to music or podcasts or watching TV remembers how much comfort and joy they got out of that,” she says. “Art can totally save your mind—and your heart, and your soul.”

The Vancouver Queer Film Festival

August 12 to 22
Tickets from $5
outonscreen.com