Arts & Entertainment

29th Mardi Gras Film Festival

By Mark Garrison

The 29th Mardi Gras Film Festival is once again set to unspool the best of Queer cinema from around the world from February 17 until March 3.

With 119 films from 37 different countries scheduled to screen at the festival, 51 of which will be making their Australian premiere, there is something for everyone in the festival’s intriguing lineup.

In advance of the start of the festival, let’s take a closer look at some of the films we are most looking forward to seeing in this year’s program.

The Novice – written and directed by Lauren Hadaway, stars Isabelle Fuhrman (so remarkable in Orphan) as Alex, a young woman who joins the rowing team of her university and develops an obsession with being the best.

Reviews have been stellar, and the film nabbed five Independent Spirit Award nominations, including Best Female Lead, Best Supporting Female, Best Director, and Best Feature. The film also took home the Best US Narrative feature at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Jourdain Searles of The Hollywood Reporter called The Novice, “Dark, unnerving and thrilling,” and based upon the trailer alone, The Novice is at the top of our ‘must-see’ list.

The Perfect David Running in a similar thematic vein to The Novice, is is this film from Uruguay. In director Felipe Gómez Aparicio’s first feature film, a teenager named David develops an obsession with developing the perfect body, a pursuit encouraged by his domineering mother.  His desire for physical perfection ultimately leads David down a dark and dangerous path.

Denise Ho: Becoming the Song – A timely addition to the festival lineup, this documentary shines a spotlight on pro-democracy activist Denise Ho, who was recently arrested and then released on bail, following a raid by Hong Kong police on the offices of Stand News, a pro-democracy newspaper of which Ho was a former board member. Ho, who rose to fame as a Cantopop singer and actress in Hong Kong has been a powerful voice in the Hong Kong democracy movement.

Critic Matt Fagerholm of, in his review of the film, said, “I went into the film knowing nothing about the Cantopop star, and came away from it as an instant fan rejuvenated by my connection to every soul throughout the world currently fighting to preserve human rights against the rising tide of totalitarianism.” 

Wildhood This Canadian feature has been chosen to open this year’s festival. The film, directed by Bretten Hannom, tells the story of Link, a Two-spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Link (played by Phillip Lewitski), who takes a journey of self-discovery after discovering his mother, who he thought was dead, is in fact alive.

The Retreat Another feature from Canada, The Retreat features a lesbian couple, whose relationship has hit a rough patch, who are forced to fight for their lives when a group of psychotic homophobic killers try to murder them.

Beyto This feature from Switzerland, directed by Gitta Gsell, focuses on the experiences of a young Turkish man, Beyto, whose family have immigrated to Switzerland. Beyto, a swimmer, finds himself increasingly attracted to his coach. Beyto’s family, in an effort to fight against gossip amongst their friends, sets out to have Beyto marry a woman. The film won Best Narrative Feature at the 2021 Boston LGBT Film Festival.

B-Boy Blues Chosen to close out this year’s festival, B-Boy Blues is about what happens when two African-American men from differing backgrounds meet and fall in love. Empire’s Jussie Smollett, makes his feature directorial debut and co-wrote the screenplay with James Earl Hardy, based on Hardy’s 1990 novel of the same name.

Bliss (Glück) This film from Germany explores the relationship between two Berlin sex workers. The film, directed by Henrika Kull, in her second feature, was filmed in an actual brothel and features real-life sex-workers and their clients.  The film stars Katharina Behrens as Sascha and Adam Hoya (a performance artist and real-life sex worker) as Maria.

Moffie This highly acclaimed film from South Africa (in English and Afrikaans), explores toxic masculinity, homophobia and racism as a young man enters into his compulsory military service only to be faced with the complexities of having to conform to the masculine ideals of military service while at the same time realising he has developed feelings for another soldier.

The Hollywood Reporter listed Moffie amongst its “10 Underseen 2021 Gems.”

See You Then from trans filmmaker Mari Walker explores a former couple who reunite after not seeing each other for ten years. One has transitioned, while the other is now married with children. The reunion becomes increasingly uneasy as the two explore their past. The film stars Pooya Mohseni, who won the award for Best Performance in a US Feature at LA Outfest.

Firebird This feature from Estonia set in the Cold War tells the story of two Soviet soldiers whose growing attraction for each other risks their military careers and freedom. The film has been well received on the LGBTQ film festival circuit, having been screened at the London LGBTQ+ Film Festival, the Moscow International Film Festival, the Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival and Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival.

Boy Meets Boy This German feature directed by Daniel Sanchez Lopez, features Matthew James Morrison and Alexandros Koutsoulis as two young men who meet in Berlin and spend the day together, wandering through the city, and getting to know each other.

While thematically similar to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, Boy Meets Boy has received favourable reviews, and Lopez received a nomination for Best First Feature Film from the Frameline San Francisco International Film Festival.

The Divide, directed by Catherine Corsini, depicts the foundering relationship of two women (Marina Foïs and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who find themselves in a hospital ER during an evening of political unrest in Paris. The Divide won the Queer Palm at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Kapana explores the burgeoning relationship between two men who unexpectedly meet in a bar. This 2020 feature, directed by Phillippe Talavera, is the first gay-themed film from Namibia, a country where same-sex relationships are still criminalised.

The festival will offer screenings at Event Cinemas on George Street, as well as additional “one night only” screenings at the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne and Event Cinemas in Parramatta and Hurstville. Additionally, more than half of the festival program will also be available to stream on-demand.

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