This year marks six years of Queerdoc, still the only dedicated gay and lesbian documentary festival in the world. The festival opens on Thursday 4 September and screens until Sunday 7 September. All sessions will be at the home of Queerdoc, the Chauvel Cinema, Paddington.

Queerdoc is once again presented by Queer Screen, who are best known for staging the annual Mardi Gras film festival. This year, the documentary festival has 23 short and feature-length films covering themes as diverse as gay cops, BDSM and religion as well as the evergreen theme of the internet and sex.

Despite the climate of censorship and the debate raging around the rights (and non-rights) of gays and lesbians, Queerdoc has managed to package and present three sessions of films of special interest to young gays and lesbians aged 15 and above. Censorship regulations normally require that film festivals are limited to adults aged 18 and above so this is a coup for Queer Screen. Programmer David Pearce says he was determined to get these films screened to a younger audience because, he says, we feel that queer youth will find many kindred spirits in these stories of pain, love, discrimination, wonder, and excitement being faced by those growing up queer in a straight world.

The festival opens with Out For Laughs On The Ocean, directed by lesbian comedian Shann Carr, an inside look at the kooky, kinky life aboard an Atlantis gay cruise. Three other shorts appear on the opening bill including Matzo Maidels, five minutes of 1927 lesbian erotica. Other films include:

Hooked: Get It On (Line)
Director: Todd Ahlberg (USA 2002)
First time director Ahlberg took inspiration from the cultural appropriation of online cruising to make a documentary which looks at internet addiction, sex addiction, chat rooms, detachment, isolation and hooking up. Ahlberg posted a note online calling for men interested in the project and received 1,200 responses. He narrowed it down to 30 interviews in 40 locations across 11,000 miles. The result is extraordinary and transcends anything else I have seen in the genre. Hooked includes everything from young guys who have never experienced beats and who have virtually come out through hook-ups, through to guys whose only experience of intimacy is obtained through chat connections. Unbelievably frank and honest, even for Americans who love a confessional, Hooked cleverly explores the undertones of darkness as well as the statistical myths that abound in chat rooms. Hooked is my pick of the festival.

Hooked screens with Face First, a short from Todd Verow

(Frisk), who has made a montage of all the face and dick shots he has had emailed to him over the net. It’s an interesting insight into how some men don’t see themselves.

I Exist
Directors: Peter Barbosa & Garrett Lenoir (USA 2003)
This film gives insight and a voice to American gays and lesbians of Middle Eastern descent as they struggle with homophobia in their own families and communities. I Exist deservedly won Best Documentary at this year’s New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and is a very moving and upbeat account of a community within a community struggling for identity and acceptance. This is a rare opportunity for gays and lesbians of Middle Eastern origins to access a film depicting their images, realities and their stories.

I Exist screens with two other short films which also examine religion, race and homosexuality. Pangyau, a Malaysian short directed by Amir Muhammed, has a Malay-Muslim man reminiscing about a teenage relationship he had with an ethnic Chinese classmate set against the ever-changing street scenes of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Pangyau is Cantonese for friend, aptly chosen as the title of a film exploring homosexuality against a backdrop of the ways race and religion have been used in Malaysia’s socio-political discourse. Act Of Faith, a short directed by American Dan Bree, follows the coming out struggle of two gay Muslim men who have remained faithful to Islam only to face rejection. The film won the Best Documentary award at the 2003 Planetout.com Short Movie Awards.

Beyond Vanilla
Director: Claes Lilja (USA 2002)
Beyond Vanilla is definitely for those who want a more complete understanding of the kinkier aspects of straight, gay and transgender sex on the other side of vanilla, including an array of fetishes, SM and BDSM practices. Although the film is largely a series of talking heads, there are demonstrations and how-to instructions. Many in the audience will be grabbing their crotches by the end, I’m sure.

Amasong Chorus
Director: Jay Rosenstein (USA 2002)
This documentary looks at the highs and lows of a feminist choir in Champaign, Illinois, who won a GLAMA for their first recording -“ an uplifting film for lovers of choirs and choral music.

Club Q
Director: Kristen Wolf (USA 2003)
Club Q recounts the tale of how an aspiring female DJ Page Hodel and a group of her talented friends created San Francisco’s legendary dance party for women which opened in 1987 and closed in 2002. Here are fascinating insights into a world that is no more but which changed the lives of so many.

Jim In Bold
Director: Glenn Holston (USA 2003)
Jim In Bold is one of the three sessions in the youth package of the festival. The documentary looks at the impact of the suicide of 19-year-old James Wheeler on his friends, family and community. Jim In Bold was specifically made for a teen audience. The film won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Q Cinema Festival in Texas.

Dangerous Living: Coming Out In The Developing World
Directors: John Scagliotti, Dan Hunt, Janet Baus & Reid Williams (USA 2003)
The arrest of 52 men in Cairo, their subsequent torture and their imprisonment for homosexual acts form the backdrop for this accomplished, if a little schematic, look at the struggles of gays and lesbians in the developing world. The film includes footage of the Sydney Gay Games.

Queerdoc is on at the Chauvel Cinemas Paddington 4-7 September. Book online at queerscreen.com.au or by phone on 9645 1611

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