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30 Years of Teddy Awards
by Becky Tan

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.