Vancouver-based Busk Films celebrates first year of lesbian film website
Two women kissing. Is there any consumer of North American pop culture who hasn't seen a female popster or Hollywood star doing that?
But three years ago, Vancouverite Andrea Wing couldn't find much online for lesbians to watch besides just that.
"I was working in the film industry and making films as well, documentaries, and I just would go online trying to search out content specific to my niche, and I couldn't really find anything of quality at that time," the soft-spoken and congenial Wing tells the Straight over tea at an East Vancouver coffee shop. "Netflix wasn't an option and these various other streaming services weren't an option. So I resorted to YouTube. And on YouTube, you just had trashy mashups of TV shows and women kissing."
Spotting an untapped market, Wing launched Busk Films, a Vancouver-based, internationally oriented video-on-demand website.
"The lesbian market for sure has been marginalized for many years in terms of the branding and even in terms of location of bars," she says. "I really wanted to…just give the community something that was slick, and just something that had a sense of a place that you wanted to be, clean, simple, very contemporary."
Exactly one year ago, she launched the site in Melbourne, Australia, where her partner was at the time. "I wanted to come out of the gate giving more of an international feeling," she says. "And I find that the Australian market is a really close, tight-knit community—information disseminates really quickly, and I wanted just to take advantage of the fact that this is all in place."
Her decision to launch in Australia also reflects her sensitivity to the needs of a global audience.
"When I see rentals coming in from places like Singapore and Croatia, I guess you really see the reach and the potential of the site. And oftentimes, you just think that the United States and Canada is your market. And we've really tried to go after the Australian and the U.K. markets, and really just try to ensure that our users know that it's not just about the U.S."
But getting started wasn't a cake walk. Obtaining films at first proved to be a challenge because, she says, some filmmakers were unfamiliar with digital rights and video-on-demand market. Luckily, a few jumped aboard. And on her company's first-year anniversary (which she is celebrating today), she can proudly proclaim that she has reached her goal of acquiring 100 lesbian films.
Although the site features some classic titles like Claire of the Moon and Desert Hearts, she says her main interest is in finding titles that most people don't know about.
"We're trying to go after the more unknowns and these hidden gems that exist around the world. I think that it's important to have these films get representation as well. It's hard as an independent artist. As an indie, you couldn't knock on the door of Netflix or iTunes and say 'I have this great film' without having to go through someone else."
She welcomes submissions from filmmakers. More importantly, the company gives back to the creators by providing them with a percentage of their revenue.
"The big driving desire behind this company is also to allow filmmakers to make money…. The site is actually built so that a large percentage of each rental goes directly back to the filmmaker. So it's a way of keeping films being made. It's a way of keeping filmmakers inspired."
While she has the works of local filmmakers, such as Desiree Lim's cross-cultural comedy-drama Floored by Love and Gwen Haworth's trans documentary She's a Boy I Knew (plus Get Along, a three-part documentary about indie rock darlings and lesbian icons Tegan and Sara), she'd still love to see more Vancouver content.
The global range of titles (which include everything from adventure flicks to documentaries) also reinforces Wing's interest in appealing to an international market. Selections range from countries as diverse as Taiwan (Drifting Flowers), India (The Journey), Russia (Piter Moskva), Norway (Spark [Gnist]), Italy (No End [Senza Fine]), and more.
But Wing is also interested in reaching viewers in remote locations or outside city centres, even within our own country.
"A lot of my friends from northern parts of Canada, [or] like central British Columbia, were saying, 'You know, we don't have a local store with gay content so it's just impossible for us to actually find it unless we order it online or order a DVD.' "
While watching videos at home is more convenient for most viewers, there's an important difference between some straight and gay viewers. For some gay viewers (including those who are closeted), being able to order and watch films at home also is a matter of risk-reduction. A person wanting to see gay content in a homophobic city or culture could potentially face verbal or physical assault, harassment, or social ramifications.
"The thing that kept coming up was people that don't have access, that feel unsafe going to rent content," she says. "They can do this in the privacy of their own home and eventually not feel any kind of threat for doing so."
Having achieved her goal of amassing a selection of 100 lesbian films, Wing is ready to expand: one of her next goals is to start incorporating gay male content. (Yes, boys, she has read your inquiries.) She says the first gay male titles will probably be released in late spring.
In the same way that Busk Films continues to evolve, Wing also thinks that lesbian films are evolving, by moving on from identity politics and broaching themes that everyone can relate to.
"I think that it seems like there's a shift away from covering these grandiose topics of what it means to be lesbian and focusing on the defining moments of becoming a gay woman, and moreso on the subtleties of life in general. So it's becoming more humanistic…. It's less so about the big, lofty lesbian ideals and moreso about just 'This is my life' and a lesbian in everyday life, so to speak."
Needless to say, it's also an exciting time for Wing's company to be participating in and contributing to. Happy anniversary, Busk Films, and may there be many more to come.
The trailer below offers sample clips of films available from Busk Films.