Paul Struthers is the Mardi Gras Film Festival Director.
James Woolley is Mardi Gras Film Festival Program Manager and Shorts Programmer.
A common question asked of me, as director of a queer film festival, is whether queer cinema is still “relevant”. And what’s more, does Australian queer cinema still matter? The only answer I can give to these questions is an almighty “yes”.
Being gay in central Sydney, you feel pretty safe walking around most areas, holding your partners hand. Sydney is seen as one of the world’s “gay Meccas”, second only to San Francisco. Sadly, however, we still miss some of the crucial tenets of equality, and that’s something many people forget. Most notably, we still lack the option to marry the person we love. When talking about the relevance of queer cinema, it is these struggles which make it vital—queer cinema demonstrates that the love we share with one another is no different to those in the straight world.
Australian queer cinema is featured heavily at the 22nd Mardi Gras Film Festival. This year we have three strong Australian features, and many Australian short films. Drown, directed by Dean Francis, holds a magnifying glass to one of the iconic images of Australia, the lifeguard. We meet a new gay lifeguard, Phil, whose sexuality is questioned by Len, the surf club champion struggling with his own sexuality. What ensues is a very realistic set of events, which expose the harsh reality of being out and gay in certain jobs in Australia. In many types of employment in this country, LGBTIQ people will remain closeted out of fear of suffering abuse and termination of their jobs. Drown is a film that will start many a debate about how safe it really is to be queer in Australia today, despite the leaps society has made. This is the power of queer cinema, to start discussion about issues of homophobia and transphobia that many are keen to sweep under the rug. In Australia, where we face a harsh and unforgiving masculine culture, these discussions are ever more important.
Another reason queer cinema still matters is that it not only laments the hardships LGBTIQ people suffer, but celebrates how beautiful life can be. Playing at our festival this year, All About E is a fun romp through Sydney, centred around a lesbian DJ named E. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it does celebrate love and joy. Skin Deep, set in around Newtown, showcases the magic of an unexpected new love. Both these films are vital, especially for a younger audience, to witness that being LGBTIQ isn’t always an endless struggle. All these films comment on an Australia that does accept differences to an extent, but impress that there is some way to go.
The Mardi Gras Film Festival also holds Australia’s largest LGBTIQ short film competition, My Queer Career. With $13,500 worth of cash and support being awarded to the best films, we’re very proud to be supporting local filmmakers and promoting local queer stories. It’s encouraging to see that Australian filmmakers are creating films with such confident and comfortable queer characters, and that these films can tour the world and take home international prizes. Australia has won the biggest LGBTIQ short film competition, The Iris Prize, three times in a row, and the award comes with a £30,000 prize to make a follow-up film, two of which have taken local filmmakers to Sundance.
We’re always thrilled that the My Queer Career entries are of such high calibre and also of such diverse styles. The 2015 finalists include some controversial films, some very stylish films, and some great experimental cinema too. Make sure you get in quick – this session will sell out soon.
The Mardi Gras Film Festival runs in Sydney from 19 February to 5 March. See the full program.