Since May 2010, the most prestigious film festival, le Festival de Cannes, has a queer film award, the Queer Palm. Cannes is not the only A-list festival to highlight queer film. The "mother" of queer film awards, the Teddy, has been given out at the Berlinale since 1987 to push gay and lesbian films beyond underground and increase awareness both within film industry and general public. Two decades passed until another A-festival created such a prize: in 2007 the Queer Lion at the Mostra in Venice followed suit.
The time span of those 20 years – between 1987 and 2007 – encompasses the complex relationship between queer cinema and the film festival circuit. In the 1980s, in a climate of an active LGBT movement, the production of (independent) gay and lesbian cinema increased and queer film festivals were founded (in North America and Western Europe). In the festival season 1991/92, innovative, edgy films with a queer note travelled the circuit and won prestigious awards at Sundance, Berlin, Toronto. This led film critic B Ruby Rich to coin the term "New Queer Cinema," for a wave that quickly became a niche market, helping the proliferation of queer film festivals worldwide and the growth of an unprecedented queer film (festival) ecosystem, with specialized distributors and programmers with their own networks and meetings at larger festivals (Queer Lounge at Sundance; the traditional Queer programmers meeting at Berlinale).
Why do we need queer film awards now? Festival awards add value to a film, function as seal of quality, which is used to promote the film, create buzz and audience. Queer film awards, even as "non-official" festival awards, ideally do the same and add a focus on sexuality/gender within the heteronormative film world. If they are not discounted as "ghetto awards," they might be a way for arthouse distributors to access an extra market: the parallel queer film festival exhibition circuit. But: Have queer film festivals started out as arenas of community formation and counter-representation to become another revenue arm for the film industry?