LAST September, long-standing Melbourne Queer Film Festival Director Lisa Daniel announced 2015, the festival’s 25th year, would be her last.

Over the past 16 years she’s been at the helm, Daniel has grown MQFF from a small local festival to become one of the world’s top queer film festivals.

“Melbourne audiences are really loyal, they love a film festival, it’s such a big film festival town,” said Daniel, reflecting on why MQFF has lasted as long as it has.

“And we’ve put together such a great event over the years.”

She acknowledged the challenges faced by the cinema industry worldwide — ticket sales are down as more and more people want to watch films at home, or download them illegally — but hoped film festivals were exempt from those changes to some degree.

“Certainly in my 16 years I’ve seen a massive change in the way people view film — sitting in a darkened cinema is not as common as it used to be,” Daniel said.

“That social aspect is changing a fair bit. But I’d like to think festivals are reasonably immune to that sort of stuff. It’s a different experience from just, say, going to see something on a Saturday night in the city.”

Melbourne Queer Film Festival director Lisa Daniel (supplied photo)

Melbourne Queer Film Festival director Lisa Daniel (supplied photo)

The outgoing director pointed to the various events and panels held throughout the festival that set something like MQFF apart, and said it was important to acknowledge the film’s role in Melbourne’s LGBTI community.

“Some potential commercial partners say, ‘why do you even need a film festival any more, it’s not really relevant any more,’ but of course it is,” she said.

“It’s not just relevant because we don’t yet have equal marriage and we have a higher suicide rate and we don’t yet have full equality, it’s just relevant because why the hell not? We have a Melbourne International Film Festival, we have a comedy festival, we have an animation festival, why on earth would you not have a queer film festival?”

As Daniel’s final MQFF, the packed program is a fitting send-off. The usual collection of queer films from the world’s finest filmmakers sits alongside short film packages for every taste, and events and panels to accompany many of the films. For Daniel a highlight of this year’s program is The Foxy Merkins from US director Madeleine Olnek, a comedy about a down-on-her-luck woman learning the ropes of New York’s lesbian sex-work scene.

A previous film from Olnek, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, in MQFF in 2012, is one of Daniel’s favourite entries into the festival from over the years.

“I’ve always really liked her stuff,” she said, thinking about other top films.

“We screened a fantastic film years ago at the Capitol Theatre to a full house called Aimée & Jaguar, which was based on a true story. There are so many.”

While she’s sure the fact of finishing up at MQFF after 16 years will hit her eventually, Daniel isn’t there yet — she hasn’t had much time to think about it as she gets ready for the festival launch just weeks away in mid March. Asked about her legacy at MQFF, the woman who has left her indelible mark on one of the world’s most respected queer film festivals was humble in her response.

“Look, I’d like to think it would be growing the festival from a very small community event into a successful, world-renowned, well-organised event,” Daniel said.

“Given the lack of resources that we had and the lack of quality cinema that we had 16 years ago it was a pretty small event, not a lot of funding.

“I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve put a lot of good people around me and we’ve managed to make it into one of the top five queer film festivals in the world.”

The 25th Melbourne Queer Film Festival is on March 19–30. Details and tickets: mqff.com.au

**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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