The Newsletter 92 Summer 2022

Fleeting Intimacy: A Reflection on the Social Functions of Film Festivals

Darunee Terdtoontaveedej

One of the founding principles of CinemAsia is to give a platform to express and celebrate the Asian LGBTQ+ experience. The festival does this through a diverse selection of films and complementary programmes, highlighting the different aspects of the queer Asian experience. CinemAsia was founded in 2003 as an Asian LGBTQ+ film festival in Amsterdam, and over the years it has grown into a full-fledged pan-Asian film festival.

Through a spontaneous decision and the need to reconnect with my own roots as a queer person who has grown up in the West, I have served as the LGBTQ+ programmer within the festival since 2018. In this role, I have experimented with organising several community-led events, and I have learned a lot along the way. Each event opened up new challenges that came with our ever-changing society, especially in its current state – that is, with the pandemic still in place, the atrocities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the looming recession. This fleeting state of our world gives rise to different needs for our communities, but also raises questions regarding how a film festival such as CinemAsia can better serve our community and stay relevant while remaining true to ourselves.

This year, the festival is back under new leadership and with a new vision, after two years of absence due to the pandemic and funding cuts. The film selection included five LGBTQ+ films (out of 33 total feature films), exploring different aspects of our sexuality. Some of these films also challenged the often problematic representations in Asian cinema, where much of the industry is still dominated by cisgender, heterosexual men.

The LGBTQ+ film selection included: (1) the politically charged Secrets of 1979 (Taiwan) by Zero Chou, with an in-depth introduction by Taiwanese film expert I-hsuan Hsieh; (2) Dear Tenant (Taiwan) by Yu-chieh Cheng, which opened up discussion about prejudices in Taiwanese society that persist despite marriage equality; (3) the bittersweet Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Japan) by Academy Award winner Ryusuke Hamaguchi; (4) the 20-year anniversary 4K remastered version of the gay classic Lan Yu (Hong Kong/China) by Stanley Kwan, followed by a reflection on the state of queer lives in China in the past 20 years; and (5) the transgender film Midnight Swan (Japan) by Netflix series director Eiji Uchida, including a programme organised together with TranScreen (a transgender film festival) and Studio/K (our venue partner) to discuss the stir caused by the film within the queer community, to critique the problematics of transgender representation in media, and to highlight the need for inclusive and collaborative production in film industries across the globe.

Aside from showcasing Asian films, CinemAsia aims to foster and support the Asian queer community. This is evident in the LGBTQ+ Community Programme, which focused on opening up safe spaces for connection and healing. This was especially important in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused two years of blatant discrimination, isolation, and, for some, being far from home due to border closures. For these reasons, three activities were organised: (1) the Queer Mental Health and Self-Care Workshop, co-hosted by Chinese diasporic LGBTQ+ organisation OUT&ABROAD; (2) Reading My Panties Workshop with artistic researcher Lu Lin, co-hosted by the organization Dona Daria; and Queer Asian Tea and Tai-Chi: Community Gathering. The two workshops created a safe environment to discuss taboo subjects, especially within the Asian cultural context. Meanwhile, the gathering was aimed at creating a free space for those who might be searching for an offline community, simply to gather and connect. It also sought to identify the community’s needs and opened with a public group tai-chi exercise.

Over the years of building spaces within CinemAsia, I have come to realise the importance of collaboration and partnerships, especially during times in which financial resources are limited. After all, we are all striving to reach the same goal – a world in which we can all coexist freely and equally – and there is still a long way to go. Within the intimacy of the setting of the community events, there was empathy and camaraderie. There was a drive to continue to strengthen the Asian LGBTQ+ community and to lead the future generations. There was a desire to come together and provide support for each other, also in solidarity with those who may not be able to do so.

We are only at the beginning of a greater change.


Darunee Terdtoontaveedej is a curator and cultural programmer based in The Hague. Trained as an architect at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, and later as a designer at Design Academy Eindhoven, Terdtoontaveedej specialises in cross-disciplinary collaboration. E-mail: