Last year’s Sydney Film Festival had an unusually superb queer selection of films with Gregg Araki’s exquisite Mysterious Skin and Jonathan Caouette’s experimental Tarnation as stand-out presentations.

With fewer queer features -“ and no lesbian content -“ on offer this year, it’s easy to dismiss the 2006 Sydney Film Festival as being not up to scratch.

While there’s certainly nothing with quite the same wounded beauty and rough sensuality of Mysterious Skin or the psychedelic pain of Caouette, there is a small catalogue of queer-themed films worthy of your attention.

Here are four queer films screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

BEYOND HATRED

Director Olivier Meyrou won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival for Beyond Hatred, an incredibly moving documentary about the aftermath of a gay hate-crime murder.

It was a mild September night in 2002. Fran?s Chenu was walking in a park in the French town of Reims when he was viciously attacked by skinheads.

Believing Chenu was dead, they threw his body into a pond and there the young gay man drowned.

If Chenu had denied his sexuality when confronted by the skinheads, he may have lived. But Fran?s refused to be anything other than himself and he paid for that with his life.

Meyrou’s documentary sensitively follows Fran?s Chenu’s family as the murder trial reaches the courts.

Not so much a film about homophobia but one about tolerance and forgiveness, Beyond Hatred shows the great dignity of Francois’ parents and siblings.

We watch as the mundane paths of joggers cross through the Reims park where the murder happened. We hear Francois’ sister recount off-camera how she came to believe a murder victim noted in the newspaper was her brother.

Her quiet voice tells about her trip from Paris to identify the body and her difficulty in telling her parents. It is heart-stopping filmmaking.

JACK SMITH AND THE DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS

If it had not been for Jack Smith, we would not have had Andy Warhol. That’s more or less part of the thesis of Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis: that Warhol was inspired to take up film because of Jack Smith’s groundbreaking radicalism.

And while everyone knows of Warhol, few remember Jack Smith who died in poverty in 1989 of an AIDS-related illness.

Actor, photographer, filmmaker -“ Smith was an artistic outsider who came to New York in the 1950s and found camaraderie in NYC’s artistic community.

Yet Smith would have been as much at home with the French Surrealists in the 1930s as he would have been in the Mardi Gras workshop of the late 1970s.

Director Mary Jordan has assembled talking heads, which include filmmaker John Waters and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn, to discuss Smith’s approach to art and his ground-breaking orgiastic film Flaming Creatures, which was banned in 22 US states in 1964.

Jordan’s documentary works so well because Smith was a prolific artist who left behind a rich archive of audio recordings, letters to his estranged mother, photographs, films and artworks.

Smith’s voice is strangely compelling, pitched slightly above where it ought to be naturally.

An idealist troubled by the reality of the world, Smith’s wild spontaneity could switch to anger and violence -“ he once chased an actor around the film set with an axe. It’s a fascinating profile of a forgotten treasure.

A SOAP

Screening as part of the Danish Spotlight program, A Soap is a curious film that sets about mimicking the television soap opera genre with a series of episodes introduced by earnest voiceover.

And like a real soap opera, A Soap becomes more compelling the more you watch.

But unlike a real soap opera, the story is filled with real drama. Charlotte wants more from life so leaves her doctor boyfriend for life as a single gal entertaining a string of one-night stands.

Meanwhile, downstairs in her new apartment block, her transsexual neighbour Veronica is having a nervous breakdown. The two are thrown together and begin their own strange romance.

It’s not likely that Pernille Fischer Christensen’s feature will be to everyone’s taste.

Filmed in the loose Dogma style, using just available light and a naturalistic script, A Soap won the award for Best Debut Film and shared the Jury Grand Prix-Silver Bear for Best Film at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

C.R.A.Z.Y.

C.R.A.Z.Y. on the other hand is a real crowd-pleaser and a half. A coming-of-age tale about a sexually confused boy is filled with cheeky wit and pathos, and shows off the retro style 1960s and 1970s with a strong affection for gleaming duco, shiny laminex and Patsy Cline.

Born on Christmas Day into a large family of boys, Zac suffers his father’s persistent lessons in masculinity despite showing a more feminine skill at calming babies.

His mother, who irons toast for Zac’s brother, is convinced her son has magical healing skills. As Zac grows up and his father keeps suggesting he is a pansy, Zac gets himself a girlfriend. Yet deep down, he knows something is not quite right.

Jean-Marc Vall?s C.R.A.Z.Y. won Best Canadian Film at the Toronto Film Festival and collected 10 Canadian Genie awards including Best Film. With a divine soundtrack that plays from Patsy Cline to David Bowie and the Cure, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a great watch.

Beyond Hatred screens at the State Theatre at 10am on Monday 19 June and 8:45pm on Wednesday 21 June.

Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis screens at George St Cinema 1 at 6:30pm on both Wednesday 21 June and Friday 23 June.

A Soap screens at the State Theatre at 10am on Sunday 18 June and 8:30pm on Tuesday 20 June.

C.R.A.Z.Y. screens at the State Theatre at 12:20pm on Thursday 22 June and 8:30pm on Friday 23 June.

For bookings call 136 100 or visit the Sydney Film Festival website.

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