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A Queer Film Festival in Tunisia — Where Being Gay Is Illegal

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There were two criteria for inclusion in the festival: Films had to have been created by someone who identifies as B.I.P.O.C. (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), or had actors or directors who are citizens of, in Ms. Hammemi’s words, “south country” nations — meaning those from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East or Asia. “The idea is to create a platform of exchange, and of course to see ourselves, to project stories that are relatable,” Ms. Hammemi said. “Not only the social struggle, but also the political and the economical, and the intersection of it.”

Among the films screened were a short film about a young boy in foster care who is rejected by new foster parents over his nonnormative behavior (“The Orphan,” a Brazilian short by Carolina Markowicz); a silent gay love story from India (“Sisak,” directed by Faraz Arif Ansari, who holds acting workshops for the Indian trans community so that he can cast a trans actor in a feature film); a Tunisian documentary short following three trans women as they prepare to go out on the town, an escape from their everyday, socially constricted lives (“Travestie,” by the Tunisian director Safoin Abdelali); and, to close the festival, a documentary about a Syrian refugee living in Turkey who attempts to get a visa through the Mr. Gay World pageant (“Mr. Gay Syria,” by the Turkish director Ayse Toprak).

The festival strives to balance celebrating queer and trans identity with educational efforts around safety; panels were held on subjects like “Self-Doxxing Training” and “Digital Hygiene and Risk.” Other panels were more joyous, like “Decolonize the Dancefloor,” a visual history lesson of dance styles that originated in the gay community.

For participants, life at the festival stood in stark contrast to the one just outside, full of caution and fear. Achraf, a performance artist from Tunisia, pointed out that a police vehicle had been parked outside one of the venues all day. (As with many participants, he declined to give his full name because of safety concerns.)

Though organizers are hopeful for progress in their country, the challenges facing the L.G.B.T.Q. community here and elsewhere remained clear.


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