Samar Ziadat on SQIFF programme strand Queer Ecologies

SQIFF programmer Samar Ziadat discusses her Festival strand Queer Ecologies, programming SQIFF as it goes online, and how exploring our relationship with ‘the natural’ can help us unpick harmful gender and sexuality norms. 

How have you found programming for SQIFF this year, as the format of the festival has shifted from a 5 day in-person event to a two-week online extravaganza?

I think it’s an overwhelming time for everyone trying to deliver projects in the arts right now, especially when they’re centred on community wellbeing – but as always, I’ve felt hugely proud of and inspired by the whole team as a we navigate new challenges. Luckily, our timeline for programming the Festival is always well in advance of delivery – we begin programming every Festival at least a year ahead – so it’s been quite smooth going considering all the roadblocks everyone in the sector is facing right now.

Throughout the past six months or so we’ve imagined and planned for so many different iterations of this Festival, and considered a lot of different options. All of these possibilities were vetted primarily for access, keeping everyone safe, and ensuring that no matter how the Festival is delivered people feel the joy that SQIFF brings to our community every year – a joy that is inherent in seeing yourself represented, and being around those who understand and are in solidarity with you.

Helen, our Producer and Programme Coordinator, is very modest so she’s going to be very embarrassed by me saying – but she’s really been the best leader this team could have – she always is regardless of circumstance – but her ability to hold space for all of us at this time has just been phenomenal and should be recognised.

What guided you to programme a strand about ecologies and queerness for this year’s SQIFF?

I’ve been programming at SQIFF for a couple years, and this has to be the programme that I’m most excited about putting out there. It’s a strand that explores all things environmental, but with an explicitly queer lens – and in return, this exploration of the natural/unnatural also tells us a lot about ourselves as queer people living in the same context as our ecology.

Personally, as a queer woman of colour with Palestinian heritage, my own exile from my home has led to an identity that has a deep rootedness in my ancestral land. Because of this, my own understandings of my queerness and the colonial intergenerational trauma that I experience daily, is inherently tied to queer, decolonial, and feminist understanding of my own environment and the one that was stolen from me. My own research into queer ecology (which is an academic field in itself) is heavily informed by queer academics, ecologists, and activists, who have always been on the frontlines of environmental activism – particularly those who are trans and of colour. This programme is therefore indebted to the academic and activist work, and lived experiences, of trans people of colour – and that is why they are so well represented in this programme.

I really really hope that this strand of programming gets people thinking about how interconnected our communities’ oppressions are with the multiple trajectories of power that are central to environmental issues. What I’m hoping to impart on viewers is that environmental justice and queer liberation aren’t two separate movements at all. For example, queerness has been argued to be ‘unnatural’ by many groups in history and in the present – it’s seen as an indication of environmental disruption. Mainstream narratives around our environment are also supported by the same prevailing understandings that oppress queer people. For example, in environment campaigns, we’re often told to think of what world we’ll be “leaving behind for our children”– tying nature’s value to traditional understandings of the nuclear family. Both our environment and ourselves are subjected to heteronormative fixations on inheritance, generation, reproduction, possessive individualism, and the artificial dualisms of nature/culture, natural/unnatural, and human/non-human. Queer ecological politics are about understanding the world in more generous and textured ways of being – whether that being is us or the wider beings whose company we live with. Debunking these limited and dualistic understandings of our natural world offers more choices of being as possibilities – which can help us breakdown and disprove gender essentialist theories and understandings for ourselves too.

The films in this strand range from explorations of the greater vulnerability queer people face to climate crisis to celebrations of a queer sensual relationship to nature. Was this range of tones important to you?

This strand covers everything from an ecosexual exploration of H20; an animated ceremonial harvesting ritual carried out by a 10,000-year-old Sasquatch; a video essay linking Canada’s extraction industry and its child apprehension industry; and a pack of Swedish animals sanitising an abandoned space. I’m particularly excited about our screening of Fire and Flood, which is a documentary directed and produced by trans people of colour. This film centres on global conversations that trans people of colour are having around the undeniable connection between climate change and the treatment of queer and trans people. I think this breadth of narratives was really important to reflect in the programme, because it’s simply all here! It’s simply not being screened, because these dialogues are so heavily generated by BIPOC, many of who are also trans – and these are the voices that so clearly need to be actively listened to right now.

Queer Ecologies is part of SQIFF 2020. All films will be available to watch on Vimeo on Demand from 5 to 18 October. 

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