Opening 6 Sep 2018
Presently, life in Syria is difficult, but even more so for homosexuals. Many have fled to Turkey, where homosexuality is not considered a crime, although it is becoming more difficult, even dangerous, to live it publicly. While working on another project, director Ayse Toprak met Mahmoud, a gay Syrian, who has asylum in Berlin, where he has set up an organization to offer gay counseling. He plans to hold a competition of gay Syrian men in Istanbul. The winner would be Mr. Gay Syria and represent that country at an international competition in Malta. Mahmoud finds five candidates. We learn a bit about each one’s life, especially that of Husein. He is 24 years old and a barber. He had fled to Turkey with his parents, wife, and two-year-old daughter –all of whom are unaware that he leads a secret gay life, which he can do more freely now in Turkey.
Ayse Toprak accompanied Mahmoud for over a year, collecting the information, filming in Istanbul, Berlin, and Malta. We witness a Christopher Street Day parade in Istanbul, which is not purely peaceful. While learning about gays who had fled Syria, I was reminded that different cultures cope with the LGBT population in different ways. I thought of the Chinese film, Inside the Chinese Closet by Sophia Luvará, which showed at the 2016 Berlinale film festival. Chinese families tend to ignore any gayness, as long as the façade reflects “normalcy.” In Shanghai, for example, all were happiest, when the gay family member “married” (another gay person, but of the opposite sex), and “had” a child (i.e., adoption). Here, in Mr. Gay Syria, I sometimes wasn’t sure which country was on the screen, but in retrospect, of course, we were mostly in Istanbul. Mr. Gay Syria has shown in over 70 international film festivals, winning about 15 prizes. It will open in Hamburg five weeks before the 2018 Gay-Lesbian Film festival, which is October 16-21. (Becky Tan)