Teddys: Still battles to be waged

Last year, Muslim demonstrators threatened to burn down the venue for Indonesia’s Queer Film Festival and kill festival director John Badalu, one of this year’s Teddy jurors.

“We will continue to reach out to countries that don’t let queer people live the way they are,” said Panorama topper Wieland Speck.

It was precisely the same impetus that established the Teddy Queer Film Award 20 years ago — to create a safe space for gaythemed film and filmmakers throughout the world.

This year, the Panorama section of the Berlinale is paying tribute to past Teddy winners, culminating in a Friday-night extravaganza where 36 new films will compete for this year’s prizes.

Among some of the past winners and films here are Rose Troche’s “Go Fish,” Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir’s “The Brandon Teena Story,” Sandi Dubowski’s “Trembling Before G-d” and Peggy Rajski’s Oscar-winning short, “Trevor.”

These Teddy winners all continued on to numerous fests, theatrical distribution and international broadcast. “All were seminal in their own way,” said Speck.

“Human rights, whether racial, religious, or sexual — it’s a most fundamental right to exist as you are,” said director Peggy Rajski.

” ‘Trevor’ was a forerunner in its theme to be as one is rather than what one wants to be,” said Speck.

” ‘Trevor’ is about the dawning in that kid — the shock of suddenly being reviled for a way of being he’s always been,” Rajski said. “These core issues of identity across cultural boundaries and being here brings that home,” she added.

“Berlin has helped institutionalize gay and lesbian cinema and given it this pride of place in the larger landscape of cinema,” said Dubowski, whose “Trembling Before G-d” screened in 2001.

“Trembling Before G-d” reflected the bringing together of extreme poles. To be religious in a religion that doesn’t acknowledge you and to remain religious despite that,” Speck explained. “It’s about choosing to live in the most difficult existential place — people don’t want to cut off their left arm to save their right.”

“Go Fish,” a pioneering work by co-executive producer of the “L-Word,” Rose Troche, won its Teddy in 1994.

“When ‘Go Fish’ opened I said to the press, ‘Lesbian cinema has arrived,’ ” recalled Speck.

“While gay and lesbian themes have become more pervasive in American TV, they are not a reflection of what’s happening in the real world,” Troche pointed out.

Filmmakers Susan Muska and Olafsdottir (“The Brandon Teena Story”) agreed.

“There’s still a long way to go. We teach a class at Parsons and began requiring students to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’ for story structure. Some refused because it wasn’t in keeping with their religion –and that’s in New York City.”

Released a few years before the murder of Matthew Shepard, “hate crimes hadn’t really been covered,” Muska said. ” ‘The Brandon Teena Story’ brought to light the awareness of homophobia in society,” Speck said.

“That’s why the Panorama section is so important. It’s helped given voice to these issues from people all over the world,” Rajski added.

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