I perform a comedy show with my partner at Ladyfest Berlin every year. One of the vague memories I have of our first performance was of a U.S. filmmaker named Elliat politely introducing herself at some of the shows and workshops, then asking permission to film parts of the festival for a documentary she was making. She was warm and welcoming, and people were happy to oblige. I forgot all about it, though, until I saw this blurb on a website last month:
Travel Queeries_ is a feature-length documentary film that examines the culture, art and activism of radical queers in contemporary Europe. Through personal interviews and documentation of performances, festivals, multi-media [sic] visual arts and spaces, Travel Queeries puts an exciting international lens on queer fringe culture.
I felt sure this must be the result of that film project we saw the start of several summers ago., and a little internet research proved me right. Elliat turned out to be Elliat Graney-Saucke of Three Dollar Bill Cinema. Pleased as I was to feel some vicarious satisfaction at the piece coming to fruition, as a queer artist and activist living in Europe, I also had high expectations for the finished product. I wondered if I’d automatically be biased toward the film, and whether I’d be a fair reviewer. Eventually, I decided I could potentially be one of its worst critics—easily able to spot glosses or discrepancies in the narrative or perspective, and see through any objectification of a vibrant subculture. So I watched it.
This film is excellent.
Interviewees seem at ease, positive, knowledgeable, and forthcoming. Unofficial spokespeople give articulate and emotive views on issues from those as broad as the definition of queerness to specific reasoned hypotheses about links between queer culture and squatting, immigration, and drag performance, for example. Their answers are interwoven so that, even though participants may be separated by time or distance, their answers resonate with and build upon each other, providing rich coverage of an often ignored scene.
Graney-Saucke’s voice is unique, and her style is very readable. Well-chosen stock footage (sometimes including footage taken by other independent queer artists and activists) and a variety of quirky and charming multimedia animations balance out the interviews and further illustrating both fact and emotion. My partner and I were delighted to see one or two familiar performers and interview subjects on screen.
Despite the familiarity, we kept exclaiming over the detailed coverage of events we had only third-hand knowledge of, such as fascist protests against pride marches in Eastern Europe. Travel Queeries is an important film in terms of both transmitting a snapshot to outsiders and as an archival resource for the community it explores. It is particularly successful in making the term queer more tangible for viewers who might not understand it, without excluding or admonishing those who don’t embrace the idea of queerness.
Though the majority of the interviews were conducted in English, Graney-Saucke chose to subtitle the entire film, and also offers a wide variety of foreign-language subtitles for screenings in different countries. I can’t applaud this enough, and found my experience of the film greatly enhanced by the open captioning. (The post-production team may like to take the opportunity to fix some typos and misspellings in the current set of English captions, which slightly detract from an otherwise slick execution.)
Great joy emanates from Travel Queeries and stays with the viewer: from the pride and confidence of the participants, through the clever soundtrack featuring independent and queer musicians, and finally from all of the art featured throughout. Though some discussion points provide more questions than answers, the whole picture is one of intelligent and thoughtful inclusion and exploration of many cultural possibilities. The production company does not yet have a distributor for the film, but is currently touring it around festivals this year in cities across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. See it.