A good definition
of queer

Filmmaker Elliat Graney-Sauke

Elliat and I met briefly at the queer festival in Copenhagen in July 2007 and we got in touch through email later because I had heard of her documentary film “Travel Queeries” and wanted to do an interview with her about it.

On your thank-you-list i saw many berlin-based queers which isn't surprising because you lived there for a few month, Elliat. Do you think berlin is a center for radical queers in europe? and how did you pick the locations for filming your documentary?

Berlin came about as a 'home base' kind of unintentionally. When I was at Queeruption, Barcelona in 2005 I met Tina Pornflakes and a bunch of other queer kids who were in Berlin. I had dreams in general of coming back to live/visit Europe, but had always imagined myself in Barcelona or in Spain by the sea (had heard amazing stories about squatted castles... so I of course wanted to run away to that!). I had never really had much interest in Germany or the culture there. Of course Berlin has a reputation for cabaret scenes and gayness, but I had no idea about or connection to the current scene and culture there. Anyways, I came back that fall after Q8 and stayed with Tina at x-b (ein autonomes houseproject in Friedrichshein), where I ended up living for 6 months) and I totally fell in love with Berlin. I really just went to Berlin cuz that's where most of the people I knew were living.

In planning, we were very intentional about getting collaborative artists from a mix of countries, but the connections that came through the most were in Berlin and the UK, mostly cuz that's where we had the closest connections with people and had spent the most time. It was really hard actually to pick who in Berlin to interview for the film also. I ended up with a list of like 25 Berliners or more who I felt were essential, but obviously this list got cut down some.

In the introduction to you movie's website you write that travel queeries ”examines” the culture, art and activism of radical queers in contemporary Europe”. why do you explicitly call it ”radical” queers? what does ”radical” mean for you? are there ”regular queers” as well?

It's funny... when I started reading this question, I thought you were going to ask 'why contemporary'... haha. Anyways, radical is a good question. When we were interviewing folks some people asked us why radical, but it partly came down to helping us keep the focus of queer as political... as radical.

I think 'radical' in part because 'queer' has become absorbed some by the mainstream and in the states I think folks more often will specify being a radical queer or radical fag, etc. to show that they are more in the realm of fucking with gender roles, politicizing queer and being a part of bigger activist culture/values. Queer in general to me can be a really wide spectrum of folks, including all the genderqueers, etc. but a lot of club nights and queers in Seattle at least are mostly just focused on having a scene that is social, tattooed and punky, but not really political.

The folks I would consider radical queers are living in co-ops or making really fucked up crazy art or are at least being active in their lives in connecting queer reality around art and/or activism to other struggles and communities. That is where I come from with a US perspective, but I think it also translates pretty much to Europe as well. Radical in general can be folks who just make mainstream gays/straights a bit uncomfortable because of how they push ideas/rules/norms. When I'm in radical queer spaces, I love not being able to tell genders of folks and having to ask pronouns or not using them, people going beyond gay/lesbo looking relationships and in general being more forward thinking, outside the box... even though girl/boi boxes are fun!... haha.

That reminds me of how in your trailer many different people say the word „queer” in very different accents and intonations. I think that works very well as an opening and to me this sums up part of what queer is about – many different points of view.

In your film how do you link footage from places as belgrade, barcelona, berlin and warsaw? are the differences between people and communities not as big from one country to another? What's the unifying element?

Well, it's funny cuz I'm actually still in the process of editing (shhh, don't tell), so all that stuff is still coming together. But generally, the idea is to show this kind of collage of queers and how stories and connections overlap. An example of that is people talking about the equality march in Warsaw in 2006 – we have queers in london talking about it and going to embassies, fags from the Tunte Haus in Berlin talking about going and meeting to help a guy who got arrested and then queers in Warsaw talking about organizing and what a difference having international support makes and how it has effected or aided the march and visibility of lgbt issues in the Warsaw and Poland. This is a great example of showing all these folks, who might not even know each other, are connected and it really exemplifies the international community and commonality around queer culture and lives.

I think I already touched on how queer can act as a political identity, but to give another example – folks in the film talking about the Queer Barrio during the G8 in Germany in 2007 and folks (mostly in the UK) doing Queers without Boarders activism. Also folks at Queer Beograd focusing on issues of Sex Workers Rights and integrating work/awareness around Roma people in the community/culture. Obviously there are queers who deal with racism, sexism, ablism, fatphobia/body fascism. But when 'queer' becomes a single issue culture, it basically does not show support or allyship towards folks that deal with these overlapping oppressions. It also assumes a white queer moneyed culture as the norm, which of course makes it smaller and not really the whole picture of all the queers there really are.

The Queers without Boards really stands out to me in the fact that besides queers in general being against boarder controls and detention centers, aiding queer/lgbt refugees who in many cases are fleeing for their lives because of their gender expression or sexuality – which hello, is so a queer issue! To me, this is really the next step in queer activism in an international context – how we can really support queer/lgbt folks who don't have the luxury of being a punk squatter kid but who are fighting for their lives (and not that we should only care about the queers). It just seems like a pretty important thing to be working on in being responsible with the privilege we have living in moneyed countries. Kind of really walking the talk, and not in the way where it's your personal job to save the world, but just being conscious/involved.

I saw you won a bunch of prizes for your work of connecting art and activism, among them the 'Art for Social Change' Award from Mpowerment, by the way: what is that anyway? Can you explain a bit further your personal idea of "art as social change"?

Haha... yeah, my gay awards. MPowerment is a queer youth program based out of the Life Long Aids Alliance in Seattle and they give awards annually for work in the community. When I was 19, I moved to Seattle from Olympia and started an arts fest led by-and-for queer young people called The Bend-It Extravaganza. I actually just directed the 6th annual festival this past spring since I was back in town for a bit and it was the main alternative event to pride. The name was made up specifically for the festival and my work, since I was really pushing away from just art scenes and just activist scenes- really trying to merg something that was a cultural event that celebrated creativity and had politics. Also, here there is a lot of stigma around 'youth' and in the lgbt community the bar scene is big and you can't even go to shows most of the time if you are not 21 years old (drinking age)- it's totally bullshit and anti-community. I also really have to say that a lot of the ideas around the festival and that mentality came from living in Olympia (which was a kind of queer eutopia as a teenager). When I was 16 I was involved in the organizing of the first Ladyfest in '00 and also later the first Homo-a-GoGo in 2002. Both of these festivals had some politics built in and they really opened my eyes to how it's possible to just organize something and then make it actually happen... i am totally addicted to organizing ever since then.

Most of the queers I was around in Oly were also amazing activist and fucking brilliant queers who were really creating the kind of world/community they believed in. I think hanging around folks like Nomy Lamm, Beth Ditto and a lot of the music scene kids and the radical queer kids from Evergreen College really were some of the main ones. I am also really close with my aunt Pat Graney, who is a dance choreographer, and she is a pretty fucking radical lady! So yeah, to me, I was introduced to queer in a very politically active community of artists, so it just seems like common sense in my head.

the eternal question: is there such a thing as „queer filming” (or art in general)? i mean can you think of any formal aspects or approaches in filming or producing a film that you would associate with „queer” or is it the content that makes a film into a „queer film” –if it does? do you attempt to translate „queer” also on a formal level?

The process for making the film went through many evolutions around structure and planning, which I think was originally based in a kind of collective norm from our community/queer culture. I think creating the structure was a learning process for everyone, and I know that I personally got to know a lot more about myself and how I operate in projects and artistically. There was a kind of idea of 'queering' the traditional roles in filmmaking, but for me when it came down to it I think having more separation and defined roles was really essential when doing something this large in scale and also a part of me personally in general. When it comes to housing or smaller projects (more grassroots you might say), collective mentality can work really well, but when it gets too big I think it's hard. For me I grew to appreciate having more defined roles and adapting some of the hierarchy used in productions, but I am also kind of insanely driven when it comes to projects and art and it's better to have things clear and folks can have their own set things.

Queering art to me is kind of about just questioning things, processes, ways of coming into ideas and connecting them to self. Queers are amazing and have a real integrity which I think comes out in how folks create. As far as whether films are 'queer' or how to judge that- I think that comes up a lot in festival programming, etc. and I think if art is questioning things and.. I don't know, has a kind of 'queer sensibility' then I'm down.

One other way that the film is kind of queer is that I really wanted to not make a boring documentary- I know I'm dealing with an MTV generation so to speak (whether people will admit that or not) and people are used to higher levels of simulation and flashier stuff. Not that I think we should all just give into that, but I really wanted to show the fun exciting spirit of queers, the way being in the community and at a queer event makes me feel excited. I'm working on a pretty exciting soundtrack and there's animation and video art in it... so hopefully the film will 'queer' the documentary genre some.

This film is also being made for a larger lgbt audience via film festivals and I want the film to be fun and draw people in to get them into some of the critical thinking that people talk about in the film. Because of this audience, I think we do have to do some formal defining of queer, but not like the narrator comes in and reads something, more just letting all the different definitions that people have tell that story, which of course is not really one answer and that to me perfectly exemplifies a great definition of queer.

How does working together practically function with Margaritte and Sid? who did and does what in your team?

„Travel Queeries” was a short film I did about Queeruption, Barcelona and that was actually the 'seed' project for the feature length. I went to Q8 with the intention of filming what was going on, thinking I had to do something with all the info and people I would be encountering at the event (and probably cuz I'd seen other docs about one of the ones in London and the one in NYC). After meeting tons of rad queers from all over... well, I just had to have more!

I brought the idea to Margaritte to see if she was down to collaborate. We did the first year of production together and with two people it worked pretty well- one would interview and one would do camera. And man, all our normal stuff and all that equipment was fucking heavy!! Between the second year of production Margaritte went back to school and it seemed like a good ideas to me to bring in another person on the production team. Sid was a mutual friend who was also working on another doc. about two gals exploring their histories as Jewish and German w/ nazi family history (it's called 'the descendents project'- check it out!). I had talked to Sid about the film a lot and traveling and she was down for being a part of the second year of production, production being not just filming but also fundraising and logistics.

With three of us for most of the second year, it was good to have more bodies and ideas to help with the production. A typical day of production would be getting up and eating, shooting b-role around the city, going to an internet cafe and e-mailing/calling the people in the next city to confirm interviews and housing, getting some postcards to send home, eating lunch, filming an interview (sometimes two) and then having dinner and maybe going out. That would be a bit of an extreme, but there's a lot to get done- we also would have check-in meetings about money and production/interviews- we tried to check-in before each interview about questions and info about who they are/what they do so everyone was more or less on the same page.

Of course during production there were disagreements and such, but for the most part I think we had a good time together and seeing all the cities and meeting so many great people and learning so much is really fun. For roles in the film, I'm the Director/Producer, Margaritte is the Director of Photography/Producer and Sid is an Associate Producer. We also have a ton of collaborating artists, translators, motion graphics artist, interns, transcribers, advisers, donors... a lot of great support to make it all come together. This summer I'm logging/capturing/editing all summer to make the first rough cut, Sid is in NYC and soon Berlin, where she's going to do focus group screenings and advice via skype, and Margaritte is helping run a farm in Oregon with her friend and will be back in the fall for the end of editing. That's Team TQ.

I know this is a tough question but what was the most memorable situation doing the film brought you into?

That is a hard question. I think during the summer 2006 production in Berlin there was a lot of folks from the UK and other places who came to Ladyfest and having folks from all these different places who were all a part of the production felt really cool- just to see everyone in one room together- same thing kind of happened in 2007 at Queer Fest Copenhagen.

I think how people really opened up their homes and also themselves to us was really fucking cool and really created this consistent feeling of community/'my people,' which has really stuck with me. Even though I may not have spent a ton of time with every person, I really feel deeply for everyone and being in that feeling of community is really great. I want to make sure the final product is something folks are happy with... I have a complex with making everyone happy, but I guess I'll have to let folks have their own reactions and relationship to the film in the end. I'm just excited about the opportunity to document and showcase all these brilliant, lovely, sassy and sexy queers... they make it all worth it! And I think honestly the most memorable moments are yet to come.


Interview by email, first published in Hugs and Kisses Issue 3, October 2008