Now in its fourth year, Fringe! Queer film and arts fest returns to East London to deliver to the LGBTQ community and everyone else an eclectic combination of independent film, experimental arts, workshops and panel discussions. EastLondonLines caught up with Alex Karotsch, the festival director and Muffin Hix, a co-organiser, to find out more.
Conceived in 2011 as ‘a community response to arts cuts carnage’, Fringe! is a not-for-profit organisation run by a group of dedicated group of queer creatives.
They have taken advantage of the innovative environment of East London and the substantial queer scene here to offer a unique festival, spanning 12 venues across six days in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
ELL: How did the initial idea for Fringe! come about?
Karotsch: It all started in 2011 when the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, as it was still called then, was cut from two weeks to one, and two people who aren’t on the team anymore had the idea to put on a few events to make up for the weekend that it wasn’t on. The original idea was just to show some films in people’s living rooms, but it actually got a lot bigger than that. Liz had asked The Rio if they would be up for hosting some films, they said ‘yes’ and it went from there.
ELL: So where are you having your first event?
Karotsch: The first event is at The Rio – and we have our opening drinks and an exhibition opening at the Dalston Superstore before that.
ELL: Who would you say the festival is primarily for?
Hix: A lot of our events do have age limits because a lot of our content is explicit, in many different ways. We do end up showing a lot of the more creatively erotic work that doesn’t get a lot of other play in London.
Karotsch: I’m particularly looking forward to Sexy Saturday – this year the Saturday evening is all – not that porny – but it is quite porny…
Hix: We’ve got a double-bill of queer feminist lesbian porn, and then we’ve got this film from a documentary maker who looks at the over-50’s BDSM scene in Germany, which is one part hard-core bondage and flogging and slavery play and one part all, ‘let’s have a cup of tea and talk about how we collect china figurines and love to garden’. They’re absolutely beautiful.
Hix: We always try and put on couple of workshops that are more about expanding your horizons – we’ve got a free spanking workshop with Allison England from Coco De Mer, and the Shibari workshop as well, which has become very popular this year.
ELL: Are these workshops welcoming spaces for heterosexual and hetero-normative identifying people?
Hix: Absolutely, everyone is very welcome, either with a partner or on their own – you’ll definitely have to make friends though!
ELL: Is there anything you’re really looking forward to on this year’s bill?
Hix: I’m absolutely delighted with the opening film we’ve got this year. This is a film from a massive international director who hasn’t had a lot of play in the UK. It’s mesmerizing, absolutely obscene, fantastic, intriguing, and historically relevant to this moment in time… and it’s a preview, they’ve only had one screening so far in Cambridge.
Karotsch: This year’s festival hub is the Rose Lipman Building in Haggerston, and we’ve got this totally insane 30+ artist group show which is going to take over all the space in the building – toilets, hallways, small rooms, it’s going to be crazy…
ELL: And how do you source the kind of things you’re going to screen, or the events you’re going to put on?
Hix: Well a lot of it comes through submissions; we have an open submission process for films, for performance, for art, and we pool ideas for four of five months – we got about 400 this year which is obviously a lot. We go to film festivals and put in a lot of research into what’s coming out.
ELL: How did the decision to change the name from Fringe! The London Gay Film Fest come about and what does that signify?
Karotsch: We decided after the first few years to go with ‘Queer’ so it was a bit more inclusive.
Hix: Especially within our community who don’t all all identify as LGBT, a lot of them identify as queer and anything along that spectrum. And definitely there’s a lot more focus on the arts and performance than there used to be.
Karotsch: Obviously Film is still the main focus of the festival, but we wanted to incorporate more arts and performance, and anything that falls in between, to make use of the spaces.
ELL: How do you think the festival has grown in the last four years and can you see a shift in attitudes towards it?
Hix: It’s grown exponentially. Then it was three days, 20 events and now it’s six days and 60 events. We know that a lot more people internationally know about us, just looking at the number of submissions we get and the requests for information and collaborations.
Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Festival is on in venues across East London from November 24 – 29 2015.