Cineffable's Volunteer Labor: Visualizing the Festival's Community

Curator's Note

A good proportion of film festivals operate on a shoe-string budget. These events do not necessarily have access to the resources needed to hire external professionals. As such, many festivals depend on the labor of volunteers who not only curate cinematic programs, but also create various posters and trailers, decorate screening venues, and translate selected films. Cineffable, Paris’s lesbian film festival, is no exception. Created in 1989 as a reaction to the absence of lesbian representation at feminist and gay festivals - both on and off screen - Cineffable relies extensively on volunteer community members.

In this contribution, I argue that the festival’s use of volunteer labor may, at times, be visible to its audience. The amateur trailers, posters, or subtitles created by volunteers often contain imperfections that make it clear the festival is organized by and for the lesbian community. For instance, the trailer for the festival’s 20th edition simply juxtaposes past festival posters, ordered chronologically, on top of a red background. Its imperfect, amateur editing does not aim to increase the festival’s prestige. Rather, this DIY aesthetics makes visible the labor of volunteers and participates in creating a sense of community around the event.

These DIY aesthetics can also be seen in one of the translation techniques used by the festival. As the oldest festival of lesbian cinema, Cineffable premieres and translates a large number of international films into French. It does not, however, always have access to professional translators. In that context, the festival sometimes screens foreign films using two projectors—one for the film and one for a superimposed word-processing document containing volunteer-created subtitles. A Cineffable staff member, visibly present in the audience, scrolls down the document as the film progresses. This manual system entails lags and delays, imperfect superimpositions, and human errors that make visible the labor of translators. While subtitles are usually created by anonymous cultural workers, Cineffable’s translators are defined first and foremost as festivalgoers. In making the labor of volunteers visible, the festival ultimately visualizes its own community.


As a cisgender gay man in my early thirties, I have never attended Cineffable. This short contribution is based on my experience working with Cineffable’s subtitles as a translator for the LGBTQ festival Ecrans Mixtes Lyon. It should be understood as an homage to the vital work performed by Cineffable’s organizers.

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