Over 24 years, Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival has not only showcased some of the best and brightest LGBTQI cinema from home and abroad, it has also helped launch the careers of many emerging filmmakers and encouraged a diverse audience base that is growing year by year.
With over 100 screenings scheduled across two weeks this year, we chat with festival director Paul Struthers about his personal picks, and how he feels the landscape of queer cinema has evolved since the festival’s inception.
“One thing that I’ve noticed in the past few years is the influx of festival guests,” Struthers says. “Every year we seem to have more directors, actors, and I think even more this year. For example, we have 14 delegates from Asia-Pacific queer film festivals, we’ve two chaps from GLAAD, the advocacy organisation in LA, and we have countless other filmmakers.
“So that’s something that’s really grown, the presence of local and international guests. And I quite like that, because a festival feels most like a festival when someone behind the film is there to introduce it and to take questions at the end. For example, opening night we have the producer of A Date For Mad Mary, and closing night we have the director for Handsome Devil. There are lots and lots of discussions and Q&As this year.”
For those who are either new to the festival, or unfamiliar with queer cinema in general, it is worth nothing that the program is not exclusively about sexuality and gender, though these are clearly cornerstone elements to the event. But there are also strong themes of political asylum, of economics and equality, of Safe Schools. It is a film festival thriving on a huge amount of content, and both the calibre of talent and the broad audience demographics attest to this.
“It’s supposed to highlight the community and how multifaceted it is,” says Struthers. “When you look at the program, you want to reflect that, and so for me an important factor was diversity – diversity of sexuality, diversity of genre, diversity of age and colour. We just wanted to have a good mixture of film there so that there could be something for everyone.
“Obviously our core audience is LGBTIQ. In recent years we’ve increased the amount of lesbian and transgender films, and in turn we’ve seen an increase in attendance from those groups. I suppose also because we’re playing films from top international film festivals, like Berlin, Toronto, SXSW, Edinburgh, we’re getting fans of cinema in general who are coming along.”
“You need to make sure there’s diversity there,” Struthers continues. “And genre is important. We can’t just have all miserable dramas. You need your light-hearted comedies as well. But at the same time, you need films that hit on contemporary issues, that hit on the LGBTIQ community here and abroad. It’s about finding that good mix. This year was really strong. I mean, I could have had 20 more films. However, it wouldn’t have tied in with the overall mix. I think we’re at that perfect point of screenings.”
A further commendable aspect of the festival is the My Queer Career initiative. Itself 23 years old, it is a competition that sees best new short films by queer filmmakers compete for the Iris Prize, a financial boost to allow the winner to undertake a larger work. While there are many big-budget features from across the globe to be found here, the fact that smaller films are finding encouragement (and crucially, an audience) is a wonderful thing.
“It’s a great session to showcase up-and-coming talent, and is good for filmmakers who are thinking of making shorts to come along and see what else is being made in Australia. We’re quite a big film festival now in the LGBTIQ scene, because we have around 100 sessions including Canberra, Riverside [at Parramatta], the Blue Mountains. And because we do have so many sessions, we can give smaller films a chance, because ultimately, if you get into any film festival you can put it on your CV, and the next time you’re applying for funding or looking for investors, it really helps. So we’re not just looking at the bigger LGBTIQ films, we’re looking at the smaller things too. There are some great low-budget films being made all over the world.”
With such an expansive program, choosing personal favourites is a tough ask. Nevertheless, Struthers does have a handful he has found particularly striking.
“Opening night [A Date For Mad Mary] is a wonderful comedy from Ireland. She’s looking for a date for her friend’s wedding, but all the men she meets just don’t work out. And then she meets the wedding photographer, who is a woman, and well… Another one, Being 17, is a French film about two young men at school. They almost hate each other, because they’re quite violent, but it’s covering up this love story – it’s a beautiful, beautiful film.
“Coming Out is a great documentary about a guy who films himself coming out to his friends and family. And if you’ve ever come out yourself, it’s really edge-of-your-seat stuff. I remember when I came out, the first step was the hardest and then it became easier, but telling your friends and family can be tough. There’s also The Pearl, a transgender documentary about four older trans women. And it’s just so rare to see such a well-made documentary. There’s just so many to choose from.”
[Main image: Bad Girl]