If you thought the International Mr Leather (IML) competition was simply a group of guys gadding about on stage draped in barely-there animal hide, you’d be wrong.

Screening as part of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, documentary Kink Crusaders reveals there’s much more than meets the eye to the annual IML competition.

Focusing on the 2008 competition in Chicago, the film charts the history of the event from its humble beginnings in a city leather bar to attracting a diverse range of contestants from all over the world, including the first wheelchair competitor, Mr Leather Ottawa.

Director Mike Skiff said he wanted to capture the camaraderie between contestants.

“We knew of the fraternity aspect of it and what was wonderfully surprising to us was that there was also this spiritual component,” Skiff told the Star Observer.

“People bring their own faiths into it and that can coincide with the competition being part of the person’s spiritual journey.”

The film certainly shows some intimate glimpses into contestants’ lives. For some, standing proudly on stage is a highly emotional experience after lifelong struggles with identity and self-esteem.

In the film, IML founder Chuck Renslow discusses the changing attitudes in the leather community and the ‘gay white male’ paradigm which is slowly shifting.

The first (female-to-male) trans man Tyler McCormick won the title in 2010.

Producer Wayne Mack, who will be in Melbourne to present the film, said while there is still some resistance to change, overall the leather community is welcoming.

“It’s become a much more diverse group and they tend to be the type of culture that will accept you no matter who you are, no matter what you’re like,” he said.

Kink Crusaders screens Saturday March 24, 10.30pm at ACMI.

INFO: www.mqff.com.au

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