By Elizabeth Ely
In Film Festivals, Who Gets to Tell Their Story?
Joan Shenton and Andi Reiss’ film Positive Hell has again been removed from a film festival–this time the Portobello Film Festival in London. It chronicles five people’s experience following an HIV “diagnosis,” and their choice to exit the HIV/AIDS Pharmceutical State in the presence of a diagnostic omen.
At 28 minutes, it packs a rare punch–having twice been banned from film festivals that previously selected it.
First, the London International Film Festival in April caved under pressure from letters sent by parties said to be LGBT student groups. And now the Portobello Film Festival, also in London, has as of September 7 pulled the film from its screening lineup on Saturday night, similarly citing two phone calls, the source of which it won’t disclose.
At the time of the LIFF’s action, we learned that censorship wasn’t exactly the word for it. These days, they call it “no-platforming.”
[Editor’s Note: According to an article in the UK Journalism magazine The Tab, a top UK Barrister has found that “no-platforming” may be illegal. From an article on www.thetab.com:
“Christopher McCall QC was commissioned to write a 37-page legal opinion by the National Union of Students. It found that no-platform policies are only legal when applied to members of a proscribed group such as terrorists. Otherwise, the policies breach Section 43 of the 1986 Education Act.” ]
When a festival decides one day to accept and screen a film, then suddenly decides not to, based on “feedback” from an unnamed “public” that has never shown its face and never rioted dangerously in the streets or shot up any cinema multiplexes over this film or any other of its kind, you have to kind of wonder, don’t you?
The evidence in the latest case shows that Patrick Strudwick, LGBT editor of BuzzFeed News, found out about the “no-platforming” even before the filmmakers did. He triumphantly reported on Wednesday that the decision came “following a request by BuzzFeed News to comment on their decision to show the film.” Producer and narrator Joan Shenton reported that she only spoke with festival spokesperson Jonathan Barnett the next morning.
Apparently, a film festival can back down before threats and still claim it stands for something. Joan reports that Barnett claimed to run “an anti-establishment and counter-cultural festival” while folding under threat and not disclosing where threats came from. There was a hint of funding being at stake. And he’d appreciate her being “slightly indulgent” and not causing a fuss in the media.
The thing is, censorship is about who doesn’t get to tell their story. The five subjects of Positive Hell, who were then alive in Spain 26 years after being informed they had months to live, told Shenton and director Andi Reiss what happened. One of them died after the filming, and Strudwick decided that was the only story worth telling. Four are still alive, and AIDS stories are almost always about death.
Is the film balanced and unbiased? Not exactly. Shenton editorialized a little by framing the issues, and Reiss sequenced the film footage in the editing room—but only to contextualize with what the storytellers said.
Fortunately, you can listen to the stories and judge for yourself. The movie has been posted at www.positivehell.com all this time. You can decide if it’s worth protesting in front of The KPH at the Kensington Park Hotel, 139 Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, London, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
There are these LBGT groups around, and they want you to know, as always, that they’re pissed off. Not actual LGBT people, mind you, because after the LIFF no-platforming incident, the film screened at London Soho to no protests whatsoever.
These are not the people you and I know, whom we sometimes like and sometimes find as annoying as anyone else, who just happen to be gay or what-have-you.
These are, instead, the ones we never meet as people, only as a bloc of opinions-on-legs we’re not allowed to dislike, and they sometimes show up for parades with their shirts off and their hair dyed in unnatural colors. They have spokespersons, to keep the actual people they claim to represent from speaking for themselves—often implying their constituency is childlike and likely to get “confused” if presented with too much information.
This LGBT—excuse me, “LGBTQ”—class professes itself satisfied with the soundbites about “HIV” and “AIDS” that have been blasted at them for 35 years. That’s cool. They shouldn’t go see a movie that puts different facts in front of them. They might let others see it and tell them how bad it is.
What’s downright hilarious is that the LGBTQ-thing is naughty and rebellious. Which is what making documentaries that some people find shocking is all about, too. You mean to tell me, they’re coloring their hair pink and marching in a parade to support pharmaceutical companies?
If the four people in Spain don’t get to tell their stories, then who does? Certainly, LGBTs and Qs will be the first to be shut up in this sensitive climate of ideas. It’s a strange time we live in, when we all get to tell our stories so endlessly on social media that they drown each other out, yet the big, date-night movie screen is still reserved for the grownups-in-charge and their propaganda.
They get to tell their stories, as the only thing.
You can see the film free of charge here:
And here is Dr Garrido’s website