INTERVIEW: Film Festival Director Hopes Taiwan Can Lead LGBT Discussion in Asia

INTERVIEW: Film Festival Director Hopes Taiwan Can Lead LGBT Discussion in Asia
Photo Credit: The News Lens International/Olivia Yang

What you need to know

From directing an annual film festival to holding Taiwan's first LGBT awards ceremony, Jay Lin wants to connect Taiwan with the international community.

Taiwan is regarded by many as one of the most progressive countries in Asia when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The country’s 14th annual Taiwan Pride parade will be held later this month. The parade attracted nearly 80,000 people last year, making it the largest gay pride event in East Asia. Also in October, The Taiwan International Queer Film Festival (TIQFF) is holding its third event.

However, Jay Lin (林志杰), chair and director of the festival, believes there is “a lot more to be done” in advocating for LGBT rights and building awareness in the country.

“For the last 14 years at Taipei Pride there has never been something that is semi-formal or a formal event,” Lin told The News Lens International. “It’s all just taking place in the streets, and the next day is what you see in the papers is the 'waterboys' shooting their 'water cannons' or drag queens. For a lot of people, like in Miaoli or Chiayi, who don’t see anything else, they might go, ‘Oh my god. What are they doing?’"

"I think it’s great. It’s self-expression. They’re not hurting anyone. They’re just having fun. But maybe they can also see people they respect, or are aware of, who are also partaking in this so there’s a more balanced view on being LGBT,” he said.

The first year TIQFF was held , Lin says the event familiarized people with what it means to be gay and the concept that “gays are the same as everybody else.” The second festival helped bring the message to a more local level, such as in aboriginal villages, instead of just focusing on bigger cities, like Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Having identified the audience scattered around the nation, this year’s TIQFF is about connecting people with others in the LGBT community, not only locally, but also globally.

This year, Lin was also invited to be a juror at the 30th Teddy Awards at the Berlin International Film Festival (the Berlinale), an international film award for films with LGBT topics.

“This made me realize what an effect a film festival can have towards pushing movies and projects that normally get sidelined, so we’re connecting with Berlin [this year],” Lin said.

But for the director, holding a film festival was not enough. He was “looking for a more effective way to combine our corporate social responsibility, but not tip the boat.” It was even more important to Lin to make the festival an event that the masses can experience.

This led to the creation of Queermosa, an awards ceremony that brings together people from journalism, print, TV, film and business to raise awareness of LGBT issues.

Lin says Queermosa is also about honoring the "heroes," whether straight or gay, who put themselves on the line and focus their attention on LGBT issues because they know they have influence.

“Whether it’s a media platform, singer or company, through their actions and amplification more people are going to take notice,” Lin says.

Even if people are not able to see the movies at the TIQFF, through the mass exposure Queermosa aims to generate, Lin hopes people will reevaluate some of their previous notions of what it is to be gay or straight. He also hopes that those “who are still hesitant to be more affirmative of their own sexual identity” can feel more bold to be themselves.

As part of the Queermosa initiative, Lin, who owns Portico Media, also plans to suggest policy changes to make television shows in Taiwan more diverse and economically viable.

“We can all do things as individuals, but there’s a role that media can play in influencing public opinion and that’s quite important,” says Lin. “Entertainment programming, especially the ones we are creating ourselves, can be reevaluated to make them more relevant to what young people are experiencing in their lives.”

He plans to produce a policy document that will reference standards set by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a U.S. non-governmental media monitoring organization.

Lin says it “was quite phenomenal” for him to see how the U.S. media landscape has changed. When he was in high school, it was rare to see LGBT characters on TV. Now, HBO, AT&T, DirectTV and Netflix are clamoring to get attention from the LGBT community and to get talent and projects to put on their platform.

“That really gave me a lot of hope and vision for what Taiwan could become because if we look at overall all the countries in Asia, I think Taiwan, in terms of its LGBT friendliness, is definitely way on top,” says Lin. “There are so many things Taiwan can’t claim to be number one in anymore, but if we can be number one in our warmth, then I think that goes such a great way in spreading our soft power. And it’s possible for people to live and watch content that is reflective of their own individual selves.”

Lin says the international community tends to overlook and underestimate everything that is happening in Taiwan. But he and his co-workers are committed to the cause and hope to generate more enthusiasm and opportunities for domestic TV productions to collaborate with international players, be it directors, actors or scriptwriters.

“What is the hesitation? Perhaps it’s fear because it has not been done before,” Lin says. “But why don’t we talk about ways we can overcome this fear and take it to a level where TV can be more relevant to the modern society.”

From overseeing TIQFF and Queermosa to drafting policy white papers and launching a digital service as a companion to the film festival, Lin hopes to further connect Taiwan with the international community. He is aiming for these Taiwan-generated initiatives to rope in other Asian countries and “show the rest of the world that we can be leaders in this discussion.”

The third TIQFF will be held in Taipei from Oct.22 - 30. More info here.
The first Queermosa Awards will be held on Oct. 28. More info here.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole