It’s no secret that as a collective, the gay and lesbian community is enormously talented. Nowhere more than on the silver screen has that talent resonated so much. Community members have long excelled both in front of and behind the camera.

So putting together a film festival with the core value being gay content is quite a responsibility — and one Queer Screen’s festival director Lex Lindsay and general manager Jain Moralee relish.

The 2010 Mardi Gras Film Festival is brimming with colour and flavour and, given the inexpensive price of tickets to the screenings, is sure to be one of the most popular events on the Mardi Gras calendar.

“Being the 2010 Mardi Gras Film Festival, I couldn’t help myself but play on the 2-0-1-0 reference — the second gayest postcode in the world,” Lindsay said. “I’ve spent most of my six years in Sydney in this area, and there’s something about Darlinghurst/ Surry Hills that is so uniquely queer and somehow sacred to our community.

“So that got me thinking about sacred spaces for the queer community — where you find them, how they are made, what they mean to us and how we can keep from losing them.

“You will see these things highlighted through the program, the selection of films and the way we present them to you. And our brilliant designer, Jeremy Stewart, has come up with a number of cute and clever ways of expressing them through our festival imagery.”

Of course Queer Screen and the Mardi Gras Film Festival grew from relatively humble roots in the ’80s to the successful organisation it is today. Lindsay said the history was a chequered one, but one which always had the promotion of queer cinema at its heart.

“There have been gay and lesbian film festivals in Sydney since the early ’80s. In fact, some argue the world’s first gay film festival happened here at Sydney Uni in 1977,” Lindsay said.

“Those events eventually grew into the Mardi Gras Film Festival, produced by the AFI and a queer filmmaking collective with funding from Mardi Gras, and as the festival got bigger a decision was made in 1993 to incorporate a new organisation that would have the specific charter of supporting LGBT films and be the caretaker of the Mardi Gras Film Festival.

“Since then Queer Screen has developed new events and projects, the queerDOC documentary festival, the My Queer Career initiatives for emerging queer filmmakers and we now produce another seven smaller festivals around the country.

“Now as we look to the future, we are shifting our priorities again to provide more support at the development level of local films — through script development, production funding and commissioning new works … all we need is the money.”

My Queer Career will, as with most years, be a highlight of the 2010 film festival. This year’s judges are Company B artistic director Neil Armfield, former My Queer Career winner Amy Gebhardt, Southern Star Entertainment program director Courtney Gibson and media and film critic Andrew Mercado.

Moralee promised viewers a more diverse range of films at the Angel Place screening than we have ever seen before.

“Stories range from the lonely-hearted and second-life exploration; coming down and hanging out; singing garbage men; shoplifting and cross-dressing, to anti-breeding sentiment and a fabulous doco about the much-loved photographer William Yang,” she said.

“It showcases local filmmakers working in drama, doco, animation and mixed media styles, and also drama, comedy and song.”

And in keeping with Queer Screen’s commitment to diversity, the selection of films on this year’s schedule covers the very best in both gay and lesbian cinema.

“And Then Came Lola is the most talked about lesbian film of the year, and the Topp Twins documentary is absolutely compulsory viewing for everyone,” Moralee said.

“There are also some really fun films like Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay and Drool, and the third instalment in the eating out series All You Can Eat.”
Lindsay also has his own personal favourites on this year’s schedule.

“In terms of the Sacred Spaces theme, the film Making The Boys is really central to this program. In this film we see the spaces colliding — time, place and culture meeting — we reflect on 1969, the Stonewall Riots, the cast and crew of The Boys In The Band and how they were intimately involved, and look back on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall,” he said.

A new addition to the 2010 film festival is the Queer Pet Project — especially designed for the massive number of community members who love and adore their pets.

“We have asked — and it is not too late to enter — people to send in their home movies of the favourite queer other in their lives — their pet — and we are receiving some very cute and funny homemade shorts,” Moralee said.

“This year we had some great documentaries come in that we could not fit into the My Queer Career program, so we are having a Local Heroes documentary program which has films about one of Australia’s pioneering sex change trannies; leathermen; and my favourite — a doco about Australian female ladies of hip-hop.”

With two decades of programming under its belt, you could almost be forgiven for thinking organising the annual Mardi Gras Film Festival would be a piece of cake.

Not so, says Lindsay, who believes we may be the victims of our own success.

“I think our largest challenge now, if I were to be really honest, is the apathy of the sales agents and distributors of queer titles towards queer community events like ours,” he said.

“We are having a brief resurgence of gay and lesbian characters in cinema and TV and I think it dilutes our perceived potency as a vehicle to the audience.

“On the flipside, our biggest asset is our audience who are so fiercely loyal and generous to us. Again, it’s like the Quentin Crisp thing — there are days when I feel we are becoming the nice old gentleman in the room that people look at and say, ‘There there, you’ve won the fight, no need to keep beating your chest about it’, and you want to say, ‘You know, if the guy who used to sit in my chair, and the guys before him didn’t beat their chests 20 years ago you couldn’t even trade that title for a bucket of popcorn — our audience knows that, shouldn’t you too?’. ”

info: The Mardi Gras Film Festival is on February 12 – March 6. To find out more visit www.queerscreen.com.au or download the full guide from www.starobserver.com.au

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