Queer Comrades: Interview with Stijn Deklerck
In April 2009 we started with the third season of Queer Comrades. We decided that instead of producing one episode every two weeks, we would take a month for each episode. Originally, we still were thinking of working within the talk show format, and we still did a couple of talk show episodes.
However, we started experimenting more with shooting most of the episode outside of the talk show studio, and in a more documentary-style format, so slowly we switched to making more documentary-style episodes.
Switching the formats made sense to us for several reasons. With the talk shows, we always really focused on spoken content, and not so much on visual content or even emotional content. We felt that in order to continue raising awareness on LGBT issues in China, it was time to put more attention towards visual content and emotional connection to the viewer. It also kept everything fresh for us – the talk shows were getting a bit ‘routine’, and adopting a new view on things kept us sharp.
Also, there were some changes in the Chinese landscape that enabled us to push things forward. More and more LGBT organizations were coming up in China, and more and more people were OK with being publicly out. Whereas before it was always a scramble to find anybody to appear in our episodes, now people were actually spontaneously volunteering and calling us to say they wanted to be on our show.
Also, the amount of LGBT-related events multiplied – now, instead of having maybe one event every three weeks, you started having three events per week. In order to respond to the increase, we started producing our video news items – they were also a good thing to quickly respond to things that were happening in other cities/other countries and keep our audience updated of major developments.
We also got more and more recognition for our work, and our staff started travelling more often to places in and outside of China to join in conferences, festivals, etc. Those travels always gave us an opportunity to grab the camera and film the queer culture in other cities and countries.
We also got a bit more funding too. The Ford Foundation, still one of our main funding sources today, started supporting us in 2008. While we still kept everything very low-budget during that year, in 2009, we applied with them for a bit more funding to further develop our project.
Overall, the production process remained kind of the same, with us first laying out the basic broadcasting schedule and a provisional list of episodes, and then filming, editing, and broadcasting the different episodes throughout the season. Now, of course, we had a bit more breathing space and some more opportunities to go in-depth.
In 2010 we launched our own website QueerComrades.com – it takes a lot of work maintaining the website, but at the same time, it’s great to have your own broadcasting platform. Often at the major public video websites (where we still broadcast), our videos get deleted if they are considered containing “sensitive material“.
I personally really liked what we achieved with Come to Daddy, where we featured older gay people from all over the world and gave everybody a look into the older LGBT world of different cultures. I also liked Comrades, You’ve Worked Hard!, where we followed and documented the first ever Mr. Gay China Pageant which, in the end, was cancelled by the Chinese authorities.
I think our departure from the talk show format is clearest in episodes like those. The Cream of the Queer Crop is more interview-based and, therefore, still emphasizes mostly spoken content, but I like it because it captures a moment in time of the LGBT movement in China. In the documentary, you can kind of see how our working method evolved – we really took the time with each of the queer activists to sit together and crawl into their heads – also, we went to different cities in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin) to film them, and that wouldn’t have been possible during the first or second season.