Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) was founded in 2014, holding its first one-off screening in September of that year and 3 annual Festivals since then. Attendance has grown from 1801 at our first festival in 2015 to 4609 in 2017 (a 156% increase).
SQIFF’s audiences are made up of diverse LGBTQ+ communities and a significant majority of 18-35 year olds. In attracting such audiences, the organisation’s central tenet of challenging barriers people face to attending film events is vital. This case study will focus on 3 access measures we have implemented: gender neutral toilets; screening all films with English language captions; and our sliding scale ticket prices.
SQIFF’s hub is the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow, which features one set of gendered toilets on its first floor alongside a couple of single stall toilets on the ground floor. Every year, we convert the upstairs gendered toilets to gender-neutral ones for the duration of our Festival. This means placing a sign on the ‘men’s toilets’ which reads ‘TOILETS WITH URINALS AND CLOSED STALLS’, and one on the door of the ‘women’s toilets’ reading ‘TOILETS WITH CLOSED STALLS ONLY.’ Both signs also contain a ‘half man, half woman’ visual symbol. We also employ these signs in other venues we are using which have gendered toilets and where we’re allowed to do so.
The reason for changing up the toilet facilities is a barrier trans and other gender-non-conforming people (e.g. butch or masculine-presenting lesbian women and genderqueer individuals) often experience whilst out in public spaces. Many are used to being questioned or abused whilst using public toilets and as a result often ‘hold it in’ till they get home rather than using the bathroom or are put off altogether from accessing particular venues. Instituting gender-neutral facilities is thus one way of attracting and making trans audiences feel more safe and welcome.
Since our very first event, we have also tried to screen every English language film with English language subtitles or captions for D/deaf and Hard of Hearing access. To achieve this, we have utilised either volunteers or paid staff (where we’ve had available funding) to add captions to the films we want to show. This is a costly and time-consuming process. It has paid off for us in LGBTQ+ D/deaf and Hard of Hearing people being able to attend the whole festival if they want to.
We’ve found the measure additionally makes screenings more accessible to people with ADHD or other concentration difficulties and to people who don’t have English as a first language. We don’t have concrete data on the total number of people benefitting from this measure but in 2017, an open question about identity in our audience feedback survey showed 11% of attendees identifying themselves as D/deaf or disabled. We quickly learned that screening with subs or captions (and providing BSL interpreters for intros and Q&As etc.) needs to be done in conjunction with direct involvement of D/deaf queer individuals with the Festival. We have thus had 3 people on our advisory committee over the last few years who are D/deaf and LGBTQ+. Importantly, we’ve also paid Deaf individuals to help us market to and engage D/deaf audiences alongside taking part in programming and hosting events to include D/deaf representation in the programme.
Our sliding scale ticketing scheme was introduced for the first time at the 2017 edition of SQIFF. The system works by having a sliding price scale of free, £2, £4, £6, or £8 – along with a recommendation of what people might choose to pay according to their personal situation. No proof of the latter is asked for. Benefits of this include making events more accessible to those on lower incomes, having an equivalent ‘by donation’ system but one which a standard box office system can handle through setting specific ticket prices, encouraging people who have financial means to think about their privilege more and be more aware that others can’t afford to go to cultural events, and encouraging people who can afford it to support queer filmmakers and artists, who typically get less funding and support from the industry than their straight peers.
The scheme was highly successful in 2017 with audience numbers increasing by 45% and box office takings by 69%. To put this in further context, potential capacity between our 2016 and 2017 Festivals rose by 40% and our 2016 tickets prices were £5 (full price), £4 (concession), or free for refugees, asylum seekers, and those who were unemployed (no proof required).
SQIFF 2018 takes place 5thto 9thDecember in Glasgow. See www.sqiff.org for more information.