Tel-Aviv Hosts the Only LGBTQ Film Fest in the Middle East

The only LGBTQ film festival in the Middle East has become a pillar for Israel’s Pride Week for the past 10 years. TLVFest draws thousands of visitors each year.

The only LGBTQ film festival in the Middle East has become a pillar for Israel’s Pride Week for the past 10 years. TLVFest draws thousands of visitors each year. The festival features films which are seen as the best in their respective category. With the goal of exposing local and global LGBTQ issues, the festival has given space for community to have their vision and voice out in the world. The impact of having these spaces for queer and trans identified people to convene and support the artistic work of our own community is so important. Not only does this festival show representation of LGBTQ people living fulfilled lives, but it encourages non-LGBTQ people to be more tolerant and welcoming to our community. 

Sonya Soloviov is the current festival producer, GO talked with her to get a better understanding of the impact the festival has in the community. 

Sonya Soloviov (left) at TLVFest 2016Photo by Burghard Mannhöfer

GO Magazine: Can you tell me a bit about the background of TLVFest and how long it’s been around?

Sonya Soloviov: Tel-Aviv’s International LGBT Film Festival began back in 2006. It was a privet initiative of Yair Hochner, the manager of the festival from its beginning. In the first year, with almost no funding, the festival ran for 5 days in small screening halls of “The Third Ear” (a DVD and record shop in the centre of Tel-Aviv) and drew a crowd of 2,000 people. This was a huge success and showed the need for LGBT films in Israel. In 2007, we moved to the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque, which has been our home ever since. Today the festival lasts 10 days and draws about ten thousand visitors, it is held during Pride Week in Tel-Aviv. We screen a rich international program featuring feature films, documentaries, short films, and have a diverse Israeli program. Though, each year it’s a struggle, in the end we are able to create a wonderful and inclusive cultural LGBT event, which hosts international and local guests from the film industry. This year the festival is going to take place June 1st – June 10th.

GO: What does it mean to host the only pride and LGBTQ film fest in the Middle East? Do you find that many LGBTQ people travel far and wide to attend these events?

SS: The Middle East is a complex place. Even though the Israeli government presents Israel as the only place in the Middle East with a LGBT community, there are vibrant communities in Lebanon and Jordan. With that in mind, we do enjoy a certain freedom having our film festival in Tel-Aviv. In the past two decades Tel-Aviv has established itself as a beacon of tolerance, and this allowed our festival to flourish. Tel-Aviv Pride draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, because it’s the best and biggest party around, and TLVFest is the cultural centre of this party.

GO: How can LGBTQ community members in the US support our community in the Middle East?

SS: I know that the LGBTQ community in the US has a lot on its plate nowadays. If you have the time come and visit, this always helps. Like I said, the Middle East is a complex place, there are many different LGBTQ organizations in the Middle East, and you can always look them up. Just like in the US, there is no one way to support the LGBTQ community, so choose the one that you can relate to the most.

GO: How did you go about selecting the films featured in TLVFest this year?

SS: Each year the festival gathers committees in order to select the films for the festival. The films selected are best in their categories, from all aspects, cinematic, thematic, and representing each letter from LGBT in the best way.

GO: Having this representation for young LGBTQ people in the Tel-Aviv and the Middle East is so inspiring. Do you see adding a young adult or youth section to the festival in the future?

SS: We believe that it is important to let young people to express their voices. So, in the past ten years we are having a special section of short films made by Israeli teens about LGBT issues. It is amazing to see that there are many young people in high schools that are opening up and creating extremely moving LGBT movies.

GO: Which film featured in TLVFest is your favorite?

SS: There are many films that we screened in the past, and are going to screen this year which I love. Choosing a favourite is very hard, because each film touches you in a different way. I’m a hopeless romantic and love films that give me some hope for a happy ending. The Swedish “Kiss Me” from 2012 is one of my favourites; also, “S&M Sally” by Michelle Ehlen is a great one and always makes me smile.