By Mark Morellini
Queer Screen’s 26th Mardi Gras Film Festival comes to Sydney, with a program of 120 of the best LGBTIQ films from around the world. The festival boasts five world premieres, 75 Australian premieres and 22 films showing transgender, non-binary or inter-sex characters/subjects, which is a record.
Lisa Rose, the festival director, said that the popularity of this festival is constantly increasing. “Over the past few years we’ve had great growth in terms of attendance and diversity of audiences, and I think people are really excited about the variety of LGBTIQ films being made. Our festival this year is all about embracing our story but also about embracing the stories of others. It’s about coming and supporting the community but also learning about other people in the world and their experiences.”
When asked whether straight audiences should attend this film festival, Rose explained that there are many films which should appeal to straight audiences. “Ten percent of our audience identify as straight and we welcome the straight community to come to the festival. It’s a great experience for the LGBTIQ community to watch films with people who are like-minded and people from the community, but it’s also great for straight people to broaden their horizon.”
Most of the documentaries including Believer, Becoming Colleen, Making Montgomery Clift and Scotty And The Secret History Of Hollywood are suitable for straight audiences, along with dramas such as Boys and closing night film Rafiki.
However, there are several films such as Sauvage (a highly sexual and graphic French gay-themed film) which are strictly for queer audiences. “This caused quite a kerfuffle when it screened at Cannes. It’s pretty confronting in certain scenes and there were quite a few walkouts from straight people. But it’s a really interesting film with fantastic performances.”
Australia features prominently in this year’s film festival, with screenings of 14 shorts and three documentary features. Sydney filmmaker Ian W. Thomson, who won an award at the festival four years ago for best documentary, has spent two and a half years working on Becoming Colleen, his new trans documentary which screens at the festival. A labour of love, this is the story of a woman living inside the body of a man who came out of the closet at the age of 82 and dreamt of having gender reassignment.
Colleen was a respected policeman, a loving husband and a devoted father. “The love that she had for her wife Heather transcends their gender roles. This story illiterates the importance of human relationships, relationships with people who we fall in love with who can understand our complexities and work with us,” Thomson explained. “The amazing part of this story is that it was a love between two people that did transcend their gender. Once Heather got on board with it, they would dress up at night and walk arm in arm under the cover of darkness – they shared a secret and that really bound them together.”
Thomson is adamant that straight audiences should watch his documentary.
“I hadn’t had much to do with transgender people before this documentary, but I think the biggest lie that I feel I have been sold all my life is that all that exists is the binary – the heterosexual man, the heterosexual woman – and the more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve realised, transgenderism is just as much a part of human biology as being heterosexual. It’s just that we’ve been in denial and historically it’s always been there.”
The message Becoming Colleen sends out to audiences is that it’s important to accept love and celebrate people for who they are.
“The stereotypes, the tags and the labels often create barriers, but to get to know somebody’s personal story can really open your heart and your mind to that person.”
Thomson is incredibly privileged and honoured that his documentary was chosen to screen at this film festival.
“It’s a great festival and a great audience and it’s exciting to get the film out there because I think this is a conversation that we need to be having as a culture on a very broad scale. We will be screening in Melbourne, have been accepted into the human rights film festival and in Perth. There’s also been interest from overseas film festivals which is fantastic because even though this is a regional story, it’s very universally themed.”
CONSEQUENCES (SLOVENIA): Drama about two teenage boys living in a reform centre and the relationship which builds between them. This high energy film about toxic masculinity and teenage angst may be an uncomfortable watch for some audiences.
NIGHT COMES ON (USA): Sundance award-winning film about a lady who is released from prison and searches for her sister and father. A moving and powerful story of revenge and the love between two siblings.
ZEN IN THE ICE RIFT (ITALY): This trans film which premiered at the Venice Film Festival surrounds a 16-year-old perceived as the only girl on the ice hockey team. A defiant and resilient film for the trans community but should be of interest to all audiences.
SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (USA): A riveting documentary about a man who outed movie stars from the golden years of Hollywood. Known as the pimp to the stars, 93-year-old Scotty Bowers reveals many interesting tales about A-Listers including Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Katherine Hepburn.
** Becoming Colleen & panel discussion: Diversity in Aged Care with advocate Sandra Pankhurst and panelists from ACON and NurseWatch – Sun 24 Feb 3:30pm, Event Cinemas George St
Feb 13–28. Event Cinemas George St, Hayden Orpheum, Golden Age Cinema. $19.90-$90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.queerscreen.org.au