14/10/2015 by Sarah Glerup

Happy Birthday MIX: 30 years of diversity

Celebratory speech held at the Lily Award Show on Oct. 10th 2015 by Sarah Glerup.

I am so happy to be here tonight to celebrate the 30th anniversary of MIX with you! And I’m happy to do it from down here on the floor. I know film festivals are supposed to be about the beauty on the screen, so technically I’m facing the wrong way… But attending MIX is also about sneaking peeks at the beauties in front of the screen. And tonight I have the perfect view!

I myself turned 30 this year, so I never had the pleasure of experiencing the very first MIX festival. But I have a friend, Jørgen, born the year after my mother, and he was there. On the 18th of June 1986 he took a seat next to his boyfriend in the now long gone cinema Delta Bio. They saw a documentary on Harvey Milk.

Now, Jørgen does not remember how the audience was comprised that day. But he belongs to the first generation that could live an openly gay life in Denmark, so at 33 he was probably among the older guests. All of whom would have been active in a gay community that stuck together in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. They gave birth to not just an LGBT film festival, but also a sports club, a radio channel, a library.

What Jørgen does remember clearly is that the documentary on Harvey Milk shook him and his friends to the core:

”We knew there was some persecution, but we had no idea it was that bad,” he told me. ”You see, at the time we did not have a lot of channels to get information from. There was a state monopoly on television. Ordinary cinemas would never screen a documentary like that. To see it you would simply have to go to a festival like MIX.”

That was 30 years ago. MIX showed up as a necessity: the only place to find stories reflecting LGBT life.

My own first MIX experience was less dramatic. I had seen lesbian films before – discretly ordered by mail and hidden in the back of a make-up drawer during my high school years.

But never before had I seen a lesbian film while surrounded by real, live lesbian people! Curiously, the film I saw was actually a classic made in … 1986! ”Desert Hearts”. Famous because it was the first film ever to offer its lesbian main characters a happy ending. So left the cinema that day believing lesbian love could come true – and believing real lesbians wear jeans with an extremely high waist…

To Jørgen in 1986, MIX was a source of information. To me two decades later, MIX was a place to realise there were other film loving lesbians out there. The question is: What is MIX today?

A lot has happened in LGBT history over the past 30 years. Civil unions were legalised – and much later actual marriage. The cocktail therapy for HIV and AIDS arrived. And Copenhagen just got its first LGBT retirement home.

Even just looking at LGBT films, so much has changed. We get more happy endings, even if a popular Oscar recipe still seems to be: The queer character must die… Overall, production quality has increased with bigger budgets and actors that can act. Sometimes even actors we know! Playing an LGBT character does not carry the same stigma it used to, nor does watching LGBT characters on the screen.

This means a lot of LGBT films these days enter the ordinary distribution circuit. You don’t have to attend MIX to see the really big ones, because they hit your local cinema. And the really bad ones you can watch in the comfort of your own living room on NetFlix.

It’s great news in many ways, but it does pose a challenge to MIX: Now that Jørgen can find his stories elsewhere, what role is MIX supposed to play? Is there even a need for an LGBT film festival today?

Yes. And I say that without hesitation.

Because fortunately, a lot has happened with MIX as well since 1986. For one, its name has changed from ”Copenhagen Gay Film Festival” to something far more inclusive. This  s reflected in the programme: The first festival offered six films specifically about gay or lesbian experiences. This year MIX screens more than one hundred titles. Many of them are about trans experiences, queer experiences, even crip experiences. That’s really important.

It brings me back to my first MIX experience and what it offered me: A sense of an LGBT community that I couldn’t find anywhere else in Denmark.

Sure, there are bars and clubs, but what if you don’t drink? There are gender studies at university, but what if you’re not an academic? There are gay choirs – I used to sing in one – but what if you can’t carry a tune?

We have all these different venues, and they’re so important, but each of them cater to very specific parts of our community.

Not all of us fit in at queer festivals. Not all of us are into politics. Not all of us give a hoot about sports.

But we all watch films.

”Desert Hearts” made me smile that day about ten years ago, but what blew my mind happened after I left the screening: There, in the hallway, were people of all genders, all ages, and not all of them wore jeans.

It was – and it is – diversity at its very best. It’s what I’m looking at, right now, from down here. And it’s fucking gorgeous.