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Review: Auckland's OurFest 2010

Thu 25 Feb 2010 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

The year is 2010. Auckland's Hero Festival is dead. Long live OurFest? It all finished last week. A complete, two-week festival featuring sixteen events. There were some good ideas in there, and wonderful people. Except no-one seemed to know the festival was even on! I've been asked several times this week: "what's OurFest?"… "You've missed it," is my impatient reply. I couldn't be there for the opening weekend's events, but heard good reports. A small, friendly crowd gathered at Dot's bar for their Queer Self Portrait Exhibition. A gentlemanly bunch going around the Domain for the Long Yang Club's Mystery Meander Day. A relaxed Lazy Sunday Tea Dance at Kamo. Then, the first week featured a bowling event (a Hero stalwart), another art show at Dot's, and another night out at Kamo! But as usual with queer festivals, the most exciting happenings were on the weekend… The Big Gay Zoo Day I'd planned The Big Gay Zoo Day myself, and was pleased with the few dozen people we had going around the park. I'd told everyone to wear green so we could spot different groups of us around the zoo, but so many typical Aucklanders couldn't even rise to that simple dress-up plan - we had several attendees in the black JAFA uniform. Sola Rosa and Anika Moa entertained at the zoo's band rotunda in the evening, rounding off a lovely day. I didn't realize how popular the ZooMusic concerts are – it was packed! Anika dedicated one tune to her partner who she'd newly-civil united with, and the crowd cheered. Sadly, the rain started after nightfall so people took off home as her last songs were performed. I hope the zoo day happens again next year – perhaps with a gay zookeeper guide to take the group around for part of it. I've always wanted to feed the giraffes! The Big Gay Out Miss Mole gets to know some Aucklanders at the Big Gay Out A very happy Valentine's Day, wasn't it? This year's Big Gay Out one of the biggest and best organised in its decade-long history. Well done and huge thanks to the Get it On! crew who did all the splendid work behind the scenes to make it happen. This is annually NZ's largest and highest-profile LGBT event, attracting scene queens, rainbow families, busloads of visitors, MPs, celebs, entertainers, young and old alike, and a huge number of pampered pooches. It's a day we can truly be proud of. Thank goodness the weather cleared! The quality of the entertainment on stage was a big step up this year. Highlights were the Aroha Festival performers, Will C Barling, and of course Annie Crummer. Politicians from various parties appeared, including a very relaxed and sociable PM John Key with his gal-pals Buffy its official Big Gay Out after-party. Quiet drinks at Galatos The second week of OurFest featured a different event at the spacious Galatos venue off K' Road each night. I'd been looking forward to some great evenings out. Monday night's comedy showcase was presented by lesbian naughty gal Urzila Carlson and four other talented up-and-coming comedians. They were each wonderful, and very crudely funny. But playing to a minuscule crowd – there were only twelve of us in the audience – is excruciatingly difficult for a comedian to do… it's just impossible to create any sort of atmosphere. Urzila did the best she could, and involved us all to the point that by the end of the night I knew everyone's name, where they were from, what they did for a job, who had slept with who, and whether or not they used toys in their lovemaking. Fun facts! The OurFest crew had shown a fair degree of insight by cancelling Tuesday night's Amateur Drag Comp, (phew). Tuesday was also Dot's Jazz Evening, with live musicians. The event suited the comfy venue. They had their usual crowd there, an affable lot. Wednesday rolls around and Steven Oates dutifully decided to go ahead and host the Quiz Night at Galatos, even though there were only ten of us there. I was well over OurFest by this point, and tried to summon the troops to just abandon the whole quiz idea and head to Caluzzi bar's Random Drinks, but Steven was determined to giveaway the main prize – two tickets to the OurFest Awards evening. Sadly, the two winners of the quiz didn't end up going along when they heard the event was black tie dress code. I was busy on Thursday but I heard that the Queer Short Films evening – at the cavernous Galatos main room again – attracted almost twenty people, making it one of the best-attended OurFest events of the week. Kudos! The awards night OurFest Awards winners Firstly, congrats to all the worthy winners of the OurFest Awards night. Many of them are volunteers who thanklessly give their time and take the stress of planning and assisting with worthwhile things in our gay city. Rainbow Youth's Thomas Hamilton was sadly not there to receive his Supreme Award in person but got a huge round of applause when he was revealed as the winner. The event organisers were hoping to sell at least 300 seats, but ended up selling around 150, and giving a few free to nominees. So the nice ASB Lounge at Eden Park looked fairly light on people. The OurFest Awards – and its $85 price per seat – was a controversial plan, but the idea of an LGBT-honouring evening was always a good one. On the night, Michelle A' Court was a wonderfully funny host, the GALS singers were enchanting, and we were also treated to the Teddy short film and a locally-produced Lily Allen F**k You sing-along clip on the huge screens. The buffet food went down well, but the 'gift' bags were a sad assortment of boring advertising (and the obligatory condom pack from the Get it On! team). The night's drag performers? Well, they are nice people, but the shows were not of the 'full production' standard you'd expect at such a high-profile event - they could have been cut right out, leaving the audience gratefully free to go home earlier. So what went wrong? Fresh-faced event producer Kent Phillips popped up last May as the go-to person to provide Auckland's gays with a February festival, after the Hero Trust was officially wrapped up with no real strategy for the future. Kent had some experience, knew the scene, was able to get a crew together and had plenty of exciting ideas. But by December, his newly-named OurFest was an also-ran, with February and March full up to the brim with confirmed wonders like the Aroha Festival, Bears Week, Westie lesbian shows and other awesome events for the city's LGBT citizens, which all had one thing in common – they had nothing whatsoever to do with OurFest. "We'd planned to give Auckland a spectacular February, but we see they already have one, so we're gonna bow out, have fun!" would have been a sporting statement for OurFest to put out in the dying days of 2009. Instead, Kent kept insisting the festival was a goer, but could not provide any details. And his idea for the Awards Night was getting more overblown by the day. $85 a ticket for a celeb-laden black tie awards extravaganza at Eden Park? On a Friday evening? In February? Hmmm… The Outfest event schedule was revealed eventually, long after most people had given up on getting it at all. Many of the events in it would have worked much better at other venues. The comedy night would have been perfect at Caluzzi bar with their regular crowd. The quiz could have been at the Naval pub. K' Road is full of gallery spaces which could have hosted the Film Night. Instead we got one of Auckland's biggest dance party venues Galatos as an echo chamber all week. FutureFest Sorry OurFest. You had lofty and respectable goals, but 2010 proved you just don't have what it takes to unite our people. So, where to from here? Don't worry. The Big Gay Out is secure for another few years, no matter what else happens on our crazed festival scene. And the return of premiere happenings from 2010 like the Aroha Festival will ensure summer 2011 will be still be eventful for all the gay Aucklanders who aren't heading to Wellington's OutGames. We'd still love an awards night, but surely it should be the Gay Auckland Business Association (GABA) who organises it. They'll make it a professional and stylish enough occasion without all this expensive 'black tie' nonsense. A true community event! How about it guys? Matt Akersten - 25th February 2010    

Credit: Matt Akersten

First published: Thursday, 25th February 2010 - 11:22pm

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