THE director of one of the most popular films at Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival this year has alleged he was prevented from filming at a number of the city’s surf lifesaving clubs due to, he suspects, the movie’s gay subject matter.

Drown focuses on the ramifications for an Australian surf lifesaving champion when a new and gay member of the team steals his crown.

The film was sold out last week when shown at the Mardi Gras Film Festival and is having an encore screenings this evening in Sydney’s CBD and over the coming weeks in the city’s eastern and southern suburbs.

It is also part of the line-up for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which begins on March 19.

“The great thing about this project was when you tell people what you’re doing so many people got behind us,” Drown’s director Dean Francis told the Star Observer.

“It’s an idealisation of the Australian male who is straight, who is imposing physically and who goes with the pack mentality where there is zero room for sexual or gender diversity.”

However, despite the presence of Lifesavers with Pride at successive Mardi Gras parades, Francis believes surf lifesaving as a whole is yet to be more inclusive to LGBTI people.

“Unfortunately a lot of the surf clubs didn’t [allow filming] because we were actually sticking salt into a wound that they didn’t want to put salt into,” he said.

Francis, who also produced the film, said their first choice for a location was Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Club in Sydney’s east.

However, he said the club refused to allow filming to take place: “Maroubra were totally unsupportive… but in the end we shot there anyway.”

Honorary Secretary of Maroubra surf live saving club Alison Vuletic, told the Star Observer the decision to disallow the filming had been taken by previous management and they had no information for the reasons behind it.

However, Vuletic said: “Our current policy is that our venue is not available for production of films or ads as it is too disruptive to the many lifesaving education and training programs we run… so it would be reasonable to assume that this was the case back then as well.

“Maroubra SLSC has no discriminative policies against gay people and welcome all members of the community to join our club and volunteer their time to protect the public against drowning.”

Maroubra is famous for being the home of notorious surfing gang the Bra Boys.

The 2007 documentary Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker than Water was filmed at the beach.

Francis said the reception was better at other surf lifesaving clubs, in particular Mona Vale’s club on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Nevertheless, the crew continued to face discrimination during filming, according to Francis.

“There was one scene where we had the boys dressed in Speedos — as the boys would — and these two lifesavers go ‘what is this, a fucking gay bar?’,” he said.

“And we were like ‘no dude, this is what you do.’

“It was like holding a mirror up to them.”

Filming for Drown also took place on the gay strip of Oxford St and in and around the Kings Cross neighbourhood.

“In Kings Cross it was incredible, we got bottles thrown at us and water thrown out of windows,” Francis said.

“We got a lot of grief but Oxford St was a lot more chilled out.”

Drown will be screened tonight at 7pm at Event Cinemas George Street: http://tix.queerscreen.org.au/session_mgff.asp?sn=Drown

It will also be screened at Melbourne’s ACMI theatre as part of Melbourne Queer Film Festival on March 21. Details: tix.mqff.com.au/session.asp?sn=Drown

Further screenings in Sydney are also due to be held on Wednesday, March 18 at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction and Monday, March 30 at Event Cinemas Beverly Hills. Details: http://tugg.com.au/drown/

[NOTE: This story was updated on Monday, March 16 with comments from Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club.]

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