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American Women's Club of Hamburg

30 Years of Teddy Awards

The Teddy Awards was established 30 years ago to honor films about gays, lesbians, and homosexuals of all colors and breeds. Co-founder Wieland Speck says, “In the late 1970s queer films were very scarce.” It wasn’t until the 1980s that gay films began to be tolerated by a wider audience and people met in a Berlin bookstore to view and discuss and everyone got a vote. Two of the first winners were Pedro Almodòvar and Gus van Saint, now world famous directors. Popularity grew and in 1987 Speck purchased small stuffed teddy bears in a Berlin department store and mailed them to the winners as prizes. Speck says, “By the mid-1990s the Festival recognized the Teddy Awards and for the first time included it in the list of independent awards. By 1997 the quality and number of films had expanded to the point that a jury was appointed and the toy teddy bears gave way to real bear trophies. Now the Teddy Awards people support gay festivals in other countries, which was not always a matter of course. Although the Cannes and Venice festivals picked up the gay film festival idea quickly, even today many countries, such as Asia and Africa, have strict laws discriminating against gays. In 2014 there was to be a gay festival in Kiev to present a prize: a Sunny Bunny. Right-wing extremists set the cinema on fire.

The documentary Inside the Chinese Closet is a good example of how queer (as the Teddy Awards people like to say) people cope with strict rules in society. It features Cherry, a lesbian, and her girlfriend, as well as Andy, a young man in same-sex relationships. Both try to tell their parents (fathers rather than mothers) about their individual situation, with interesting results. The parents are not overly shocked or upset or angry. Their only request is that the relationship should seem “normal” to outsiders who might gossip. In China one is expected to get married and have a child. Period. They encourage their gay son, for example, to “marry” a lesbian woman – no problem because “marriage is similar to politics.” Each could continue their private lives as before. They discuss ways of providing a child: stealing one from the hospital, adopting one from an orphanage, buying one from poor families. But what if one half of the “couple” should take the child and disappear with his/her real partner? Until then “the issue hasn’t been solved yet.” Andy says, “When we come out of the closet, our parents go in.” And they stay isolated until their gay child has set up a façade that seems “normal” to the rest of the world. Directed by Sophia Luvarà, Inside the Chinese Closet showed in the Panorama Section, as well as the Teddy Awards section.

Don’t Call me Son (Máe só há uma) also showed in both the Panorama and Teddy Award section. This Portuguese film by Anna Muylaert begins with 17-year-old Pierre, a normal teenager who plays in a band, experiments with sex and watches porno movies. He lives with his single mother and his younger sister Jacqueline. All is well until police arrest his mother Aracy and reveal the truth: she had kidnapped him from the hospital at birth and the real parents have been searching for him ever since. He is torn out of his familiar surroundings to take up residence with Gloria and Metheus who call him Felipe. They have a younger son, Joca. Pierre goes from a relatively poor environment to a rich one in a gated community, for which he must give up an entire life and start anew. He rebels in many ways and reverts to his blossoming homosexuality to put a rift between himself and these interlopers who think they know what is best for him even if they are blood relatives. He begins to wear dresses and black lace panties; he uses nail polish and lipstick. He shaves his chest and comes out as a transvestite. Here, we have homosexuality as a statement of independence.

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