One of Australia’s largest and longest running publicly-owned film festivals – St Kilda Film Festival – is going online this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The best 100 Australian short films, including LGBTQI films, will be screened from June 12-21, 2020 at the festival produced by the City of Port Phillip. The good news is the audience reach of the festival will increase exponentially – anyone based in Australia can watch the films for free on the festival website.

Richard Sowada took over as Festival Director this year and his first challenge was to get filmmakers on board.

“Before we worked out precisely how we would go online, we went to all the filmmakers who had been selected in the Top 100 and asked them how best we might construct an online event that could benefit them and their films the most,” Sowada told Star Observer. “Many had financial concerns so we were able to refund fees. Others were concerned about the digital management of their work so we worked with platforms that they were familiar and comfortable with. We took what our audiences said and then built the online structure from the ground up,” said Sowada.

Once Sowada managed to convince filmmakers, the programming fell into place but challenges remained on how to translate workshops, talks and networking online.

“Finding time to argue the point over a drink and learn from deeper discussion and make physical connections – that’s hard! The positive side is that perhaps we all have some pent-up emotions and held-back opinions, meaning hopefully there will be an explosion of colour and creativity on the other side,” according to Sowada.

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 The festival will have a spotlight on films that handle sexuality and gender identity with a special package of six short films under the title, Forbidden Fruit. The films will be available online from June 12 till the conclusion of the festival.

“We had enough excellent content to build a great feature length program, so that’s an excellent indicator of the volume of LGBTQI and gender-based work. Some of this great work has found its way into other programs and into the opening night such as the film Strangers,” Sowada said.

Director Jamieson Pearce did not start out with the intention of making a film on ageing in the LGBTQI community with his film Strangers.

  • Peach
  • We're Not Here
  • Strangers

“Representations of elderly characters are usually divorced from any sense of sexuality, let alone being LGBTQI,” said Pearce.

Observing the struggles of his parents who are getting older, working as an usher at the Melbourne Recital Centre watching elderly audiences and proofreading copies about research on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in nursing homes – all came together to spark his interest in the ageing experience and inspired Strangers.

“Aged care facilities are supposed to be places of care. Too often, this responsibility to care is subordinated to a corporate approach to management. The residents seem to be managed as clients rather than cared for as people. I wanted to reflect this in Strangers, but without attacking aged care staff… (who are) lovely people who are overworked and undervalued by a system that prioritises profit.”

And in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact on aged care facilities, Pearce hopes the film will “refocus our attention on the humanity of old people, rather than just seeing them as a problem to be managed.”

The other films in the Forbidden Fruit package are Benderdirected by Alex Cardy, Peach by Sophie Saville, The Fall by Shanon Anderson, We’re Not Here by Bonnie Moir, and Bad Lesbian by Michelle Douglas.

“We are extremely excited to be able to present this year’s festival online. Not only does this let us keep supporting local filmmakers during this time and showcasing the incredible talent we have on offer in Australia, but this year it is totally free for the whole of Australia to enjoy,” said City of Port Phillip Mayor, Bernadene Voss.

For information and screening details visit www.stkildafilmfestival.com.au

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