WHEN Dillan Golightly first came out in the early 1990s, she pinched a poster promoting the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) and hung it up in her share house bedroom.

“At that time it was a big deal — for better of society and everyone it isn’t as much of a big deal anymore, but back then it was,” she told the Star Observer.

“About six months into my baby dyke journey I realised there was an MQFF and had the poster in my bedroom.

“There were two androgynous people on the poster in black and white, it was amazing.”

Spiro Economopoulos also remembers his first encounter with the festival in 1999.

“I remember going to the opening night for some reason, the film was called Relax… It’s Just Sex,” he said.

“I was coming to MQFF before I was going to the Mel- bourne International Film Festival (MIFF), so it was the first time I was exposed to a larger festival.

“It was a really great movie actually, and a really great experience.”

As it prepares for its 26th festival, MQFF welcomed Golightly as its executive director and Economopoulos as its program manager late last year.

The festival is an annual Melbourne event that aims to showcase films with an LGBTI focus from Australia and around the world.

With increased sexual and gender diversity represented in mainstream television and film, the importance of LGBTI-themed film festivals often comes into question.

Golightly answered this question by saying the festival was “proudly different” — two words the festival has been branded with this year.

“Mainstream cinemas still don’t showcase all of the stories we want to see,” she said.

“Most of the films we show won’t get mainstream representation, and that’s what MQFF audiences have come to expect at the festival, which is why they keep coming back.

“What makes this festival great is that this year we’re really embracing the idea that we’re proudly different.”

Before Golightly and Economopoulos joined the team, previous festival director Lisa Daniel spent 16 years at the helm.

Golightly said they wanted to add to Daniel’s lasting legacy.

“When I joined [MQFF], I saw that we do have a core LGBTI community going to the festival,” she said.

“But actually there’s a larger LGBTI community that might not have MQFF on their radar, or even the allies, the curious, the film crowd.

“To have a really curated cultural event is important to lead audiences to discover new things.”

Economopoulos highlighted new parts of the program to illustrate this, such as a new music strand and package of web shorts.

“We’ve been looking at how they’ve been doing it, and we don’t want to reinvent it but instead introduce some new things into it,” he said.

He added that as program manager it was “amazing” seeing how many stories were out there for the LGBTI community.

“What’s interesting is that I’ve realised by watching all the films that there are so many stories to tell,” he said.

“What we’re seeing in the mainstream is only a fraction of what’s out there so these festivals are a great opportunity for people to see that diversity.”

Melbourne Queer Film Festival is on from March 31 to April 11. Details and tickets: www.mqff.com.au

The Star Observer is a proud media partner of the MQFF.

Spiro’s Festival Five:

  • Closet Monster: A young man with ambivalent feelings towards his sexuality is thrown in to disarray when he meets the charismatic Wilder. However, his pet hamster is on hand throughout the film to offer sage advice.
Closet Monster

Closet Monster

  • Girls Lost: This gender-swapping fantasy follows three outcast teen girls who find a mysterious plant that can change one’s gender overnight.
Girls Lost

Girls Lost

  • Departure: A family vacation in southern France sees young Elliott competing for the affection of a rough and handsome village youth with his lonely mother.
Departure

Departure

  • He Hated Pigeons: This is a compassionate meditation on love and grief, and will be accompanied by Frankie Topaz performing a unique live score.
He Hated Pigeons

He Hated Pigeons

  • Everlasting Love: Set in a the cruising ground of the woods, this suspenseful film is Spain’s answer to recent sexual hit Stranger by the Lake.
Everlasting Love

Everlasting Love

**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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