An inclusive Vancouver International Women in Film Festival

Photo courtesy of Tiger Tiger Pictures

“I might not have been born a woman but my life as a woman is real,” Quen Wong narrates poetically in her debut feature-length documentary Some Women.

The film will be screened soon at VIFF Centre as part of the 18th annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (VIWFF) that runs from Mar. 7 to Mar. 25.

VIWFF is one of the three international film festivals for women and gender-diverse people in Canada and the only one dedicated to the same community in Western Canada.

A journey of self-exploration

Wong’s story is an intimate and personal account of her journey as a trans woman in Singapore. It also draws references to the older and younger generation of other members in the community, showing a side of Singaporean history and social fabric that very few know.

IWFF director Quen Wongv. | Photo courtesy of Quen Wong

Wong says the stars were aligned for her to make this documentary when she was approached to make a film about Bugis Street in Singapore, a heritage neighbourhood that used to be an enclave for trans women but is now erasing its queer history.

“When I was first making the film, I didn’t plan to be in the film. But I didn’t think as a trans person myself, it would be fair for me to make a film and not be open about my own status,” says Wong. “As we workshopped my concept and writing, I was highly encouraged to be more visible so I began this journey of self-exploration as well.”

The journey shows many of Wong’s intimate and vulnerable moments with her family, with her partner and with her own inner struggles, narrated by a poetic and meditative voiceover from Wong herself.

“I marvel at some of the risks I took,” she says. “The whole story with Francis, for example. The photograph reveal was completely organic. It was just something I thought I had to do because we were learning about each other. What if he couldn’t accept it, what if he thought I wasn’t the person he thought I was? Luckily it went well. I think as a result that scene is very powerful. People have come up to me and said, wow, you know, I really could put myself in your partner’s position. It is difficult to answer those questions and to accept you, but, because he can, I can entertain the idea as well.”

Wong was referring to the scene where she showed her partner Francis her old photos before the gender transition for the very first time.

Supported and loved by her family and partner, Wong’s story is a happy one and so are the other characters in her documentary – larger than life and full of spirit.

“I really wanted to turn everything on its head and show people that our lives might not necessarily be terrible, and, with more liberation and more rights recognized, we can live as full a life as anyone else,” she points out.

Everyone’s journey, Wong adds, is individual and coming out entails a significant amount of risk because there is still a lot of discrimination at the
institutional level.

“I also know that there are many trans people who are living double lives. They still face a lot of opposition from conservative and religious families, from schools and workplaces because a lot of employers just don’t understand,” she says.

But Wong herself recognizes the value of being visible.

“Society reacts to what they see,” she says. “The more we are willing to express ourselves freely, the more society will be able to change for the better. We are not one thing. There are many different people and many different expressions, and we are all human.”

The documentary won the Audience Choice Award at the 2021 Singapore International Film Festival and this screening at the VIWFF will be its Western Canada premiere.

Films to watch

In all, the festival will showcase 37 films from 14 countries, including 19 Canadian films, nine of which are from B.C. filmmakers. Aside from in-person and online screenings, there will also be panel discussions, workshops, a screenplay competition and an awards ceremony.

Tristin Greyeyes, IWFF lead programmer. | Photo courtesy of Tristin Greyeyes

“Outside of the festival, there are also monthly coffee chats for the filmmakers in the community to come together. It is a good way to connect and learn from other people,” says Tristin Greyeyes, lead programmer at the festival.

As part of the film selection committee, she also recommends a few shorts from the festival that caught her attention, namely Shallots and Garlic, Bertie Wrote me a Poem and The Retrieval.

Shallots and Garlic is an Indonesian-Canadian film. It started going in this commercial food direction, then it had a twist that I wasn’t expecting,” says Greyeyes. “You are getting an understanding from an outsider’s perspective of this culture in such a short film. It’s powerfully written. Bertie Wrote me a Poem also floored me. I was not expecting the conclusion, and it’s heartbreaking. The Retrieval is a Maori film. It is made by youth. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, they support and uplift their youth by giving them the tools to tell their own stories.”

As a young filmmaker herself with an Indigenous background, Greyeyes is in the process of making her first feature documentary. She says as an Indigenous person, she never saw herself working behind the camera because there was no one she could aspire to. Now she has several Indigenous filmmaking role models and works hard to be one herself. She believes that the film industry is changing to be more accountable and inclusive, and she continues to advocate for Indigenous filmmakers.

“There’s still so much more work that needs to be done, and we got to be careful not to be pacified with the bare minimum. We could do more, and we could do better,” she says.

She adds that there is also a lot of unlearning of old ways that need to be done when it comes to gender inclusivity. Just like the theme in the film Some Women, there is still very little gender inclusivity when it comes to non-binary people or trans people in the film industry.

For more information visit: