Lovers of cerebral cinema will be pleased, as will those who prefer film of the frothy variety. The politically inclined will also find something to interest them in this year’s diverse Mardi Gras Film festival line-up.

Queer Screen launched the two-week program yesterday, ahead of the festival’s traditional opening-night short-film competition My Queer Career at the State Theatre on 16 February.

The 13th Mardi Gras Film Festival will include more than 50 feature films, from a low-budget lesbian slasher flick to gay actors playing it straight and a US soap queen’s award-winning portrayal of a pre-operation transsexual.

Programmers David Pearce and Megan Carrigy selected several films during a visit to the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival last June.

We had a look at those with an audience, so we could tell the audience reaction to the film, which is always important, Pearce told Sydney Star Observer.

The pair also reviewed movies from gay and mainstream festivals including London, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro. Many of the Mardi Gras Film Festival screenings will be Australian premieres.

This year the quality of films as a whole is a lot better. We had a better choice to choose our films from, Pearce said.

Highlights include all-male horror feature Hellbent and Make A Wish, a tongue-in-cheek lesbian slasher film set in rural Texas.

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman is set to impress in the transgender-themed Transamerica, pictured, which won her a best actress Golden Globe earlier this week and will have its Australian premiere at Queer Screen’s festival.

French director Ga?Morel’s Three Dancing Slaves (Le Clan) will challenge notions of sexuality, with a gay actor playing a straight man and a straight actor cast as his gay brother. The Education Of Shelby Knox will look at gay activism in Bible belt America.

Besides My Queer Career’s 11 finalists, a series of short films will examine family life in the gay community, a theme found throughout the program.

A lot of the other films are about family and how families work and how people fit in with them, Pearce said.

With films from Peru, the Philippines and the former Yugoslavia, the festival will also have a strongly international flavour.

But there will be no Australian features this year, an absence Pearce attributed to limited funding for local filmmakers.

New Zealand film 50 Ways Of Saying Fabulous, adapted from the iconic Graeme Aitken novel, will fly the flag for antipodean cinema.

As usual, the Mardi Gras Film Festival will also highlight the offbeat with offerings such as Japanese movie Yaji And Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims, whose storyline includes gay lovers, Samurai and recreational drugs.

There will be a session devoted to queer animation, and short animated works from gay and lesbian artists will screen before festival features.

The Mardi Gras Film Festival runs from 16 February to 2 March, with screenings at the State Theatre, Palace Academy Twin, Dendy Newtown and Randwick Ritz. For more information or to book, call 1300 306 776 or visit the Queer Screen website.

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