Last year’s Sydney Film Festival opened with the touching British lesbian feature My Summer Of Love and gave local audiences an early glimpse of Gregg Araki’s classic Mysterious Skin.

When this year’s festival opens on 9 June, programmers will serve up another compelling selection of queer cinema. But this time round they’re turning to real-life gay stories.

Alongside about 70 features, the festival will include about 35 documentaries. And some of the hardest hitting non-fiction stories will come from award-winning queer-themed films.

Among the most wrenching of the non-fiction line-up is French film Beyond Hatred, named best gay documentary award at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

That’s an extraordinarily moving film about a guy who was bashed in 2002, Sydney Film Festival artistic director Lynden Barber says.

He was walking across a park one night. Three skinheads who were actually looking for an Arab to bash couldn’t find one so they stopped this gay and said -˜are you gay?’ and he stood and argued with them and said -˜yeah I am.’

They beat him up for it and then just dumped him in a pond where he was left to drown.

Beyond Hatred follows the families of the victim and his attackers as the skinheads stand trial.

It’s an incredibly made film and what is really moving about it is just the attitude of the victim’s family, Barber says.

The family of the guy who was killed write to the three skinheads -¦ and basically ask them to reconsider their own hatred and ask them to look into themselves while they’re in jail. They basically say to them -˜if there’s any time you want write to us, please feel free to do so’, which is extraordinary.

That’s where the title of the film, Beyond Hatred, comes from.

Also in the queer documentary program is Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis, the story of subversive US director Jack Smith, who died in 1989.

He was a very seminal influence in the avant-garde and experimental underground filmmaking in America in the early 60s, Barber says.

His most famous film, Flaming Creatures, was banned in 22 US States. It wasn’t exclusively queer in its content, but it had transvestites, queer sex as well as straight sex, Barber says.

Jack Smith was gay and he was a big influence on Andy Warhol and John Waters as well as the performance director Robert Wilson.

Wilson is himself profiled in Absolute Wilson.

Wilson talks about growing up gay in Waco in Texas, which is a pretty difficult place to grow up day, Barber says.

He grew up also with a speech impediment and learning difficulties, and yet went on to be this incredibly revered directors of operas and performance and art.

Fans of more light-hearted fare can look to fictional films like A Soap, a Danish-Swedish production that won the Silver Bear award in Berlin.

Billed as a parody of a 1970s US sitcom, A Soap looks at the friendship between a newly single straight woman and a pre-op male-to-female transsexual.

It’s actually a really tender story about two people who have emotional needs and they’re reaching out to each other, Barber says.

Other queer-themed films this year include Canadian hit C.R.A.Z.Y., a witty and entertaining coming-of-age tale featuring a protagonist unsure about his sexuality.

The Railroad All-Stars features gay characters in its story of Guatemalan prostitutes who form a soccer team to boost public respect.

And Chinese effort Dam Street, about a marginalised young woman, comes from director Li Yu, whose 2001 debut Fish And Elephant was one of China’s first lesbian-themed films.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from 9-25 June. For more information and bookings visit the festival website.

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