Curating (Queer) Film Archives and Creating Online Communities in Times of the Pandemic: The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images
by: Dagmar Brunow , October 5, 2020
by: Dagmar Brunow , October 5, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired new forms of virtual community engagement. However, when events move online how can screenings maintain a sense of community, which has been so important when showcasing LGBTQIA + archives in actual venues? A valuable best practice example comes with an online event COME TOGETHER, which was arranged by The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images (SAQMI) in April 2020. Initially planned as a local gathering, the event moved online in response to the COVID-19 crisis. So, in what way can it serve as a model for other queer archives events?
Dagmar Brunow, a film scholar at Linnaeus University in Sweden, and a member of the programming collective at the Hamburg International Queer Film Festival, speaks to Anna Linder (AL), the founder of SAQMI. The archive is the first to collect and curate queer moving images by filmmakers and video artists working in Sweden. SAQMI preserves their works and makes them accessible through curated film screenings, often in collaboration with festivals or cultural organisations from both Sweden and abroad.
Dagmar Brunow: Anna, what was the purpose of COME TOGETHER’? How did you plan for it, and how did you transfer the programme online?
Anna Linder: The aim was to assemble a group of queer people who work with moving images in the Swedish context. The idea was to approach a group of circa 25 people from the arts and film community who work around questions of archives, platforms and networks. Initially, we were supposed to spend three days together in Gothenburg, where we would live, eat and hang out. When I started SAQMI, I responded to the property rights holders’ desire for an archive, or a platform in Sweden for queer moving images. In preparation, I had talked to 19 filmmakers and artists whom I asked what a queer archive could mean for them and how they would like it to be. Overall, they were quite surprised with the idea, and their reactions were: ‘Sweden is much too small’, ‘We hardly have any queer filmmaking here’, or ‘In this case, we would like to meet up and talk about our work’. These interviews were conducted parallel to my research project at the’ HDK Valand—Academy of Art and Design’ about queer feminist experimental film, and they paved the way for a more prominent application at the foundation ‘Kulturbryggan’ with the purpose to start an archive.
One aspect of the planned project was to create a meeting place for queer film and video and to curate Swedish queer moving images to show the complexity and the rich history of queer filmmaking in Sweden. The culmination would be a bigger gathering in Gothenburg for those active in the field and those who had been interested in our work along the way. Among those were the filmmakers I had interviewed and those who belonged to our project and our reference group.
Design by Maryam Fanni © SAQMI saqmi.se
The gathering was planned during winter 2019 and spring 2020 and it got called ‘Come Together’ which is also the title of a short film by Mia Engberg, a part of the film project Dirty Diaries (2009). ‘Come Together’ was meant to evoke the desire to see each other’s lives, to really spend time with each other on location. The film deals with a collective orgasm but is set in different rooms in the homes of those involved in the filmmaking process. This title appeared rather ironic when the pandemic hit, and we would all retreat into our homes, abandoning any physical contact and connection. All of a sudden, ‘Come Together’ became a metaphor for what we were all longing for—a common physical meeting place which was out of reach because of the risk of infection.
We could, of course, have cancelled the event or postponed it. It was not an easy decision, but we opted to go online, using Zoom. None of us had worked with Zoom before, and in the beginning, we felt uncomfortable. We had just sent out invitations to the real-life ‘Come Together’ event and had to rethink and reorganise. Several weeks later, we did it, and so we could release the transformed programme.
DB: How did you conceptualise the online version?
AL: We did several tests to learn how the tool works. Friends also recommended us to schedule long breaks because online meeting tools are so tiring. Then we researched by participating in several Zoom conferences and presentations. We knew from the start that films should be screened in good quality which ruled out filming the works via Zoom. That is why we sent out links to screeners with specific codes for the participants. We wanted to have a variety in the programme slots, so we combined conversations with different kinds of film screenings.
We felt it was important to include films made by the participants so that they could see each other’s works. This connected to the original ideas, allowing everyone to present themselves and their films and artworks to each other.
Links to the films were collated in a list which was sent out a few days in advance. Those links would be accessible for about a week. Many participants were incredibly generous and shared lots of films. In the end, it became a kind of mini film festival at home, combined with a one-day conference, for 11 hours on 25 April 2020. Among the participating artists were Mia Engberg and Del LaGrace Volcano, who were supposed to be part of the local event in Gothenburg. Both freely shared their works before and during the event, as well as their ideas during their artist’s talks.
DB: What were the challenges? Did you have to deal with any property rights issues?
AL: Actually, the licensing did not cause a problem at all. We were mostly worried about the sneak preview of Always Amber, a new Swedish documentary by Hannah Reinikainen and Lia Hietala, which will have its cinematic release in autumn 2020. But both the production company ‘Story’ and the distributor’ Folkets Bio’ were very generous and allowed us to screen the film.
DB: How did you deal with the risk of Zoom bombing?
AL: We chose two different modes of inviting people. Initially, in the analogue version, all presentations and screening were supposed to happen in the cinema at ‘HDK-Valand–Academy of Art and Design’, with 48 seats for general audiences, whereas the audience numbers for the conversations between artists and filmmakers were limited to 25 people. For the online version, we only invited 25 people because we thought a bigger audience might make things more difficult, but we opened up the sneak preview of ‘Always Amber’ to a bigger audience. It worked really well. During the day we were 15-25 people who dropped in and out, and in the evening 55 people were watching on their sofas, plus a handful who joined us on location, in the premises of SAQMI in Gothenburg.
DB: How did it go?
AL: Technically everything ran really smoothly and we were happy that we’d tested everything thoroughly in advance. Two of us from SAQMI organised everything: Malin Holgersson and me. It worked really well, and we even decided to print T-Shirts with the Come Together logo designed by Maryam Fanni. We still wanted it to feel like a special event which didn’t just melt into the air. The saddest thing was that we had to abandon the ‘live’ acts. Initially, we had planned a big party during the evening with DJs, VJs and a pop-up queer bar. We would have had dinners, lunches and hotel accommodation. The community feel is difficult to replace, but over-all we are thrilled about the positive response we received, particularly from the friends of SAQMI who had been missing us and our programmes in the previous weeks.
DB: I like the idea of the T-shirt which brings some materiality to an ephemeral event. What feedback did you get from the filmmakers?
AL: They were very pleased and happy afterwards. Those who did artist’s talks seemed especially glad to be able to meet and share experiences with each other. They got inspired, and they have got in touch with each other afterwards for feedback. Many of those who participated in the discussions were also very pleased. The conversation about queer archives also made people want more, and we are currently creating a document on digital file formats for archiving purposes, which the participating filmmakers wanted to have and which we promised to share post the event.
DB: Did you reach audiences who otherwise would not have joined in Gothenburg?
AL: Yes, some of them, but most of them had already agreed to come to Gothenburg. In the evening it was different, because for the screening we reached out to audiences all over Sweden. All of a sudden you could sit in the North or the South and watch the same film. Still, we were quite strict about the invitation, and targeted only those who were part of SAQMI’s contact lists.
DB: Do you think there are greater risks or challenges for queer and LGBTQIA + archives going online with regards to the vulnerability of those involved? How to avoid the risk of being targeted by hate speech or other expressions homo- and transphobia? Of course, one option is, as you did, to personally invite people and have each guest register online before joining in.
AL: When SAQMI arranges events, we are really strict about who is invited and who can participate. So far it has never happened that guests have arrived at our events who have made us feel unsafe, or who don’t respect the space. We are very clear about the location being a space for ourselves, a room in which we can have the conversations we need to have, and which do not need to be censored or steered by dominant norms. Of course, we also try to have this conversation with those who invite SAQMI to arrange, show or debate in ‘their’ spaces, but that is so much more difficult. All of a sudden, we have to ‘rewrite’ catalogue texts, we cannot publish introductory texts to the programmes as intended, or we have to worry that visitors might be provoked or disturbed by the works shown or discussed. A shared online space (e.g. a Zoom room) could enable us to reach out to audiences and artists in the rest of the country. This might be important in leading to physical meetings at some point. There are always invisible barriers which need to be overcome. Online meetings involving different places and spaces could attract a new category of audience member or participant. The virtual space may be a less intimidating way to get involved than attending in person. It’s not for everyone, of course, but for some.
DB: So, to conclude, which elements from ‘Come Together’ did you find inspirational and could think of using them in the future?
AL: Going online allowed us to reach audiences all over Sweden, and even in other countries. We also had a very supportive atmosphere during the Zoom meeting. Everybody was really lovely [and] generous, listening in. They showed such respect for each other and it felt really safe. Someone was sewing, somebody was cooking, someone was ill and was lying in bed, and some had their partner with them. It was lovely to be part of this, and to feel the trust and the community. This is something SAQMI is working hard on in every context.
DB: Thanks, Anna, for sharing your experiences about the archive’s response to COVID-19. I’m sure they will be useful for other curators and festival organisers, because you have reflected on so many important issues: on the vulnerability of those involved, the politics of access, property rights, the loss of (analogue) spaces and the lack of materiality. For me, ‘Come Together’ has been a valuable contribution to performing a sense of community in the current crisis.
© SAQMI saqmi.se
For the first time ever in Sweden, The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images is compiling the history of queer moving images, and storing it all in one place. A history that has been marginalised through oppression and self-censorship. Through methods such as documentation, interviews, archiving, screenings, presentations, workshops and discussions, the first platform of queer moving images in Sweden will be created.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images is a platform and an archive for queer moving images in Sweden, throughout history until the present day.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images is an indisputable venue for talks, discussions, meetings and screenings.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images is the link between those who create queer moving images and those that search for them.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images creates a portal for queer moving images in Sweden, with the aid of queer archivists, historians, librarians, technicians and designers.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images makes a hidden queer history of moving images available and visible, spreading it far and wide.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images works towards bolstering more people to dare to create the moving images they wish to see, and to find support for their vision.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images wishes to inspire young queer people to work with moving images.
The Swedish Archive for Queer Moving Images ensures that queer moving images are written into history.
© SAQMI saqmi.se
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