30 May 2014

Loading Docs: Queer selfies

7:49 am on 30 May 2014

Released as part of Loading Docs, a launchpad for short New Zealand documentaries, Queer Selfies is a collection of video self-portraits from New Zealand’s queer community.


Director Robyn Paterson describes Queer Selfies as “a snapshot of a lot of different stories in one sitting. Although you don’t get a full story from any one person, you get a real insight into a whole lot of people’s lives.” To get that snapshot, she set up a self-operated video booth and invited attendees at the Big Gay Out in Auckland to come in and tell their story. When entering the booth they were asked one simple question: ‘What does Home mean to you?’ Over 130 people went through the booth, giving a diverse range of answers.

“Home can be a really loaded concept to the queer community and people have had all kinds of different experiences with home,” she says. “A lot of people have experienced being rejected from their family home. For some people that’s been quite extreme, in some cases quite violent. For other people home is not necessarily literal but finding home is more finding an identity and finding themselves and finding what represents that identity. Then you’ve got people that found home in their relationship. So within those three [potential experiences], you’ve got a really big range of stories to tell.”

A lot of people have experienced being rejected from their family home. For some people that’s been quite extreme, in some cases quite violent.

Paterson says it was important that participants self-direct their expressions of home. “There’s a lot of negativity around selfies at the moment and I think some of that is just a natural reaction to them being popular,” she says. “For a minority community like the queer community, a community that is often under pressure, selfies are potentially a form of empowerment. It’s really empowering that you’re in control of your own image. And when people are experiencing issues around identity, issues around gender, issues around family, then that’s a really powerful thing. You controlling your image, how you want to be seen by the world … that’s really powerful.

“What we wanted to do was put the power back in the hands of the community and go ‘This is your space, you control it. You sit down and say what you want to say’. And although we’ve been elective in terms of how we’ve put those together and who we’ve chosen to be in the final piece, we’ve barely edited them. They’re not intensely edited or chopped up. Most of them are intact.”

Paterson has worked extensively in the local film and television industry as a director, writer, producer, presenter and crew member and was excited to enable a community to express itself in an short film for the internet. “Online is the future in terms of where the eyeballs are at,” she says. “I’ve been really interested in working in short form for a while, because as a modern audience, we’re used to seeing things in a shorter format.”

She says that the way people view things online is different than the way they view them on television or at the cinema. “You have to catch the audience really early and hold them. And I think that anything longer than three-minutes is getting really challenging online.”

Paterson grew up in Zimbabwe, at the height of Mugabe’s post-Independence power. In 1986, at age eight, she met Robert Mugabe when she and her best friend Mercy were chosen by their school to represent the new Zimbabwe. “That was at a time when we were fiercely proud of our country, fiercely proud of Mugabe … He was a movie star, he was a hero, he was the nation’s father. We’d been told all these wonderful things about him, how he’d liberated Zimbabwe from colonialism, so we were incredibly proud of him.”

Paterson and her family moved to Dunedin when she was in high school, which she describes as both a “massive culture shock and climate shock”. Years later she would return to Zimbabwe in search of Mercy, who she’d long lost contact with and feared the worst. Paterson filmed her search for her lost friend and turned the results into the moving documentary feature Finding Mercy.

So, how would she answer the same question she asked others in the video booth?  What does Home mean to her? “For me, it means a lot of different things. Finding home in New Zealand, but also finding home in my partner, who is a New Zealander. Finding her bought a lot of things together for me in terms of identity and place.”

“As an immigrant you’re always searching for home.”

This content is brought to you with funding support from New Zealand On Air.