In conversation with Rico Johnson Sinclair, Founder of CineQ

Tue 10 March 2020

On the eve of the second CineQ festival, we caught up with its director and founder, Rico Johnson Sinclair...

Tell me about the roots of CineQ. What made you realise you needed to show these films in a Queer space?

CineQ started out as just a community watch group, about 4 years ago now. My experience is really intrinsically tied to CineQ and the passion you need to pull off a festival – you couldn’t possibly do it without utterly loving what it’s all about. The mainstream film industry’s attitude to LGBTQ+ films, - especially of those concerning people of colour - cinema is very much ‘we’ve had one now, we don’t need another for another couple of years’ and there is a wealth of film out there covering amazing perspectives being disregarded and CineQ is a platform to show those films.

If we’re going to talk about predominant issues and themes within queer film inside a queer space it is much easier for people to speak openly. If I was sitting in a cinema full of white people watching a film about a Black, queer young man, I’d feel really apprehensive about entering that discussion. In order to dismantle the issues inside our community – because we do have issues inside our community, in that it’s quite divided – it needs to take place within that space.


There is also an acknowledged thread of East-Asian perspectives and films in this year’s CineQ programme.Was this intentional? Do you plan to run themes in the future?

It was intentional, not necessarily as a theme but it’s definitely there. At the moment the queer scene in the UK is having a lot of conversation about LGBTQ+ people of colour (like coming out when you’re from an Afro-Caribbean background), but the East Asian community can be often left completely out of it. So I’m definitely trying to use cinema in a compelling way to include them in that conversation.

I’m not East-Asian so I was worried about programming these films and getting it wrong -I had to do a lot of consultation to carry it off. In the future I’m definitely interested in spotlighting a certain queer sub-culture, I’m interested in emphasising South Asian cinema next year so I need to get people from that background in and give them the tools to programme the films themselves.

What do you want the festival-goers to take from this year’s programme?

I really want to galvanise the community into thinking of someone who’s other than themselves. I think because queer people in general have been through trauma through coming out, there’s a tendency to think you don’t have to be there for anyone else. The external perspective can be that the queer community is super loving and accepting when really I’ve found its quite fragmented.

Another thing I want to emphasise both to the cis and queer community, is that we’re dissimilar, we’re not the same and that’s OK. We can work together collaboratively and not be separatist. Ultimately CineQ is about building a safe space for queer people of colour to have these conversations, so I want to make it a space with the focus on them but then invite others into it - I don’t believe in excluding anyone. For cis or gay white people visiting, you are utterly welcome but just realise this space is not ultimately for you. No place should be out of bounds to anyone, just some people within that space need to be prioritised.

If someone could only see one film at CineQ this year – which one would you recommend?

My favourite film in the programme this year is Tongues Untied, which is also paired with a creative dining experience. A higher percentage of people of colour who are queer lose touch with their family when they come out, which if you’re a different nationality means losing touch with your culture. A massive part of culture is food and as part of this creative dining experience will be making food that resonates with the individual’s culture whilst enjoying the film.

I think the most important film however is Portrait of Jason– from a cinematic perspective it’s the most cerebral and requires the most thought about what it actually is. On the surface its simple, the complexities within are what makes it stand out. It’s very different from the rest of the programme; whilst Jason was one of the very first openly gay Black man on screen which is important in itself, the white directors berate and taunt him throughout and the actual thinking behind is so cruel. As a piece of history, this is the one to watch. 

CineQ Festival takes place in venues across Birmingham from 26 - 29 March. To book screenings at MAC, please click here