Shu Lea Cheang on Intimacy, Erotics, and Queer SciFi

We talked to filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang about intimacy, queer scifi cinema, and making queer film over a 30 years’ shifting cultural landscape. 

Can you tell us a bit about you how you got into filmmaking?

I have always wanted to make ‘cinema’ since my high school days when I would skip classes to indulge myself in the darkroom of cinema houses. I ended up at Cinema Studies at New York University in the late 70s when the New York school of independent cinema was booming in East Village/Lower East side where I was located.

There are many expansive sexually explicit scenes in your films – how do you think of the role of the erotic in your work?

Sex is political, Sex is liberating. The explicit and often frontal sex scenes in some of my films mean to directly challenge the audience to get in touch (literally) with their own sexual desire, content or discontent.

You have been exploring queer issues through film for over 30 years. How have you found navigating a dramatically changing landscape of gender, sexuality, and politics generally?

To claim myself queer is an empowering act, to ally with other queers is a solidarity act.
The (trans) gender politics have gone from passing to non-binary, the TERFs are at war, the transfeminists rule.
Gay becomes marketable. Gay Pride dances the night away.
Queer is trending. Queering the queer, the marginalized revolt.

Lots of your work references sci-fi visions of technology, as well as intimate and close bodily contact. How does it feel to have your work screening in an online film festival in a time of social distancing?

My genre of applying sci-fi visions of technology should be considered retro future. I am en route to define my own genre of queer scifi cinema.

Living through the 80s in New York city means hiding out in porn cinemas at Time Square and shouting out loud on the streets with media activism. These were times of protest and street actions, of clubbing, sex, drugs and the AIDS epidemic.  We lost many friends. ACT UP was leading direct action and civil disobedience to demand the release of curing drugs.

My recent feature FLUIDØ is my attempt to reconcile with the pain of lost intimacy.  The current epidemic steals any form of intimacy from us. I often claim that my films aim for collective orgasm in the cinema setting. The online streaming is not a format preferred. Yet, we have to get the films shown, get the community connected through bytes and pixel with bandwidth.

You can watch Shu Lea Cheang’s feature films FLUIDØ and IKU as part of SQIFF on our Vimeo on demand between 5th-18th October, as well as a live watch party of Lesbian Shorts on 14th October. Click here for more information. 

Photo Credit: J.Jackie Baier

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