SCREEN - February 6, 2003 Bear Hugs
Fiona Halligan

Bear Hugs

Who will leave Berlin clutching a Teddy? Since 1987, the Teddy Foundation has rewarded what it considers to be the best gay, lesbian and transgender films on offer in a festival, which has always been strong in this arena. "We are the only big international festival which brings these films together in the main categories - it is not a niche thing for us," says Panorama director Weiland Speck, who devised the original idea of the awards.

The prizes, which include best feature, documentary and short films, and sometimes a jury prize and special Teddy, go to films, "which reach beyond the gay scene to achieve universal impact", according to Speck. They are awarded by nine-member jury, which this year is headed by former Edinburgh Film Festival director, David Robinson.

Not surprisingly, the Panorama section is strong likely Teddy contesters. There is also a possible contender from the Competition section, according to Speck - Patrice Chereu's Son Frere, about two estranged brothers who become close again when one develops an incurable illness. To give an indication of previos form, last year's best feature winner was Tony Ayres' Panorama title Walking on Water, and other Teddy hits have included Hedwig And The Angry Itch, Paragraph 175 and, of course Celluloid Closet.

Return to tradition

What to expect this year? According to Speck, 2003 marks the return of the "good-old-fashioned gay film, after the last three or four years of films with strong lesbian and transgender content". What is a good-old-fashioned gay film? "The industry has recently been about showing films with crossover appeal, but now the traditional gay films are back," says Speck. "By that I mean movies with gay issues shown in a way that other people don't tend to get very involved with, but appeals greatly to a gay audience. Niche marketing for gay films did not really work. Now we will see of there is enough acceptance of gay people for them to truly cross over."

Speck has six features in Panorama in the running for a Teddy. One of the titles, Yossi & Jagger has already crossed over to become a surprise box-office hit in its own country, Israel, having started life as a made-for-TV movie. Directed by Eytan Fox,Yossi & Jagger details the love-affair between two officers in the Israeli army.