Amber Dawn leaves Vancouver Queer Film Festival for literary life

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Parting may be such sweet sorrow but Vancouver Queer Film Festival's director of programming Amber Dawn is still feeling exhilarated.

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Although she says she should be exhausted, she said she feels "energized" by the awards given out at the festival's closing gala last night (August 26). "It always really invigorates me to see artists recognized," she told the Georgia Straight by phone.

Amber Dawn also bid her adieus as she stepped down from her position of four years to work on her next book. But she's not completely abandoning ship.

"They can't get rid of me," she said with a laugh. She explained that she adores the festival so much that she'll continue to be a part of it, as a donor and hopefully as a guest curator.

When told that Out on Screen's executive director Drew Dennis described her as "tenacious—at times scrappy" in securing film titles for the festival, Amber Dawn laughed. She explained that Dennis meant the latter term affectionately and reflects what her approach is informed by.

"A lot of the people who know me not as a curator but as an artist probably know that my literary life is a bit boundary-broaching, if you will," she said. "Sex work, radical feminism, a lot of my characters in my stories are street-involved, and myself, I have a sex-work background as well, and I've remained a local and out advocate for sex worker rights…."

She explained that she has subsequently learned to reach out and build bridges with others who are underrepresented.

"I think that my personal experiences have led me to really think about whose voices aren't heard. And you have something like the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and you think already they're something that's not mainstream. But even within the queer community, there's always voices that aren't heard or underrepresented communities, and I really tried as a programmer to build relationships with these communities during my tenure….We started a migrant voices stream that always brings documentaries about migrant, immigrant, and refugee people. You'll see more trans programming perhaps under my programmer influence."

Looking back over her time at Out on Screen, she recounted how it had been a catalyst for significant personal development.

"I grew personally so much in the position. I'm 37 now, and I worked in the position for four years. And I only just exited the sex trade at age 31….But just before Out on Screen, I was doing mostly graveyard shifts at shelters on the Downtown Eastside, which is incredibly important work and I miss it and I love that work too," she said. "But to transition into a leadership role within something as established as the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, I just felt incredibly honoured and I grew so much. It's really changed the way I thought about art and culture and activism, and how we can learn and appreciate one another."

This new personal vantage point has prompted her to work on her next literary project. She'll follow up her award-winning debut novel Sub Rosa with an autobiographical book that will be a combination of collected works and new pieces, entitled How Poetry Saved My Life.

She said it would cover about 10 years of her life, with a focus on how she empowered herself through art. The multifaceted author is also a performance artist and filmmaker, and has edited two queer literary anthologies.

"It tells the story of me as an at-risk young woman finding art and writing and through finding a voice, primarily through poetry and storytelling….I saw that there were more options for me. I invested in myself, if you will. Becoming a writer allowed me to invest in myself. So this is my way of returning to those years, reflecting upon them and telling my personal story. I feel like I'm at a place of great comfort and privilege to be able to look back upon those years and tell that story. But I also know it takes emotional time and work for myself or any writer to write a memoir so I'm gonna make that my focus."

The book will be available from Arsenal Pulp Press in spring 2013.

While she's leaving Out on Screen to tell her own story, she hopes that queer film audiences continue to tell stories of their own.

"What I love about the Vancouver Queer Film Festival audience is they're also all storytellers," she said. "Everyone seems to leave the films understanding how what they see on the big screen relates to them personally. And they've shared so many stories with me, so I guess my message would be continue to share your stories, whether you're making films or writing them down or just telling someone. Everyone, tell your story….It's so important for us as individuals but it's also so important for us as communities for us to hear."

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig. You can also follow the Georgia Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/StraightLGBT.

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