Richard Drumm went along to YesterGAZE at this year’s GAZE International LGBT Film Festival.
Nestled within the sleepy afternoon of Saturday at GAZE, YesterGAZE was nominally an exploration, for the year that’s in it, of queer (and to a lesser extent female) representation during and around the events of 1916. More of a presentation and discussion than a regular screening, it comprised of a (delightfully passive-aggressive) music video by Zrazy pointing out the erasure of the women of 1916, followed by a screening of ‘The Ghost of Roger Casement’, capped off by a brief vignette of David Norris discussing Casement before closing with a Q&A panel discussion about Casement and the themes brought up by the documentary.
It would seem redundant to review a television documentary from over a decade ago. Nonetheless, it is amusing to see a time-capsule of early noughties tech and editing styles (the quality of title cards and animations that major broadcasters got away with in the era immediately preceding the widespread availability of editing software on home PCs is quite bemusing), not to mention early noughties politics. Oh what a time, when a documentary could be shown featuring Bertie Ahern where not only was he not the focus of it but was even somewhat framed as a hero of the piece. What was particularly refreshing about the documentary was that (in keeping with what we saw in many of the celebrations this year), there’s precious little blind valorising of the Rising. It was a troubled, messy event that succeeded for a complicated, fractured series of reasons and Casement is presented with similar complexity.
Obviously, exclaiming that we’ve come a long way from one hundred years ago, in terms of how a figure like Casement being gay would be received, is a little quaint. However, seeing how controversial it still seemed to be in 2002 was more sobering. (An anecdote from the panel discussion of one woman who refused to believe Casement was a ‘pervert’ when the Black Diaries were authenticated demonstrates the difference we’ve seen in just fourteen years.) It nonetheless feels telling that a hundred years later we’re still discussing a figure like Casement predominantly in relation to his sexuality while his other activities and achievements get a tad side-lined. This was a man who made a valiant effort to draw attention to the horrors of Britain’s colonialism, who in the process realised the subjection of his own countrymen and turned, in the midst of WW1, to the German’s in an effort to help them break from British rule.
While it wasn’t necessarily the explicit goal of the presentation, nor did it make much of an appearance in the Q&A; the erasure of practically anyone who isn’t a white, cis, straight male from major events such as the Rising is an irritatingly common problem and one ripe for exploration, even amongst the LGBTQ+ community itself. Especially in light of the very justified backlash and discussion had around Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall in the very recent past, plagued as it was with justified accusations that it wilfully whitewashed its story and removed the many, significant people of colour and trans protesters.
As for David Norris’ brief appearance, it was exactly what you’d expect it to be; pompous, amusing and tinged with gleeful pride as he got to expound upon the virtues of a fellow gay intellectual. There was the bemusing sense that, as he looked directly into the camera and talked about what a handsome fellow, and how intelligent Casement was and we mustn’t forget what a handsome fellow he comes across as in photos; that maybe Norris is really talking about someone else…
YesterGAZE is a valuable addition to the overall festival, creating a brief dialogue about a particular subject which nicely breaks up the various big name films screening there. If you’re attending GAZE next year and happen to be around for this particular presentation, it’s certainly worth dropping by.