The Mardi Gras Film Festival enters its 12th year and continues its tradition of bringing to the big screen two weeks of sexy, funny, tragic and heart-warming queer films. The 2005 Festival has scheduled 200 films: 34 features, 156 shorts and 10 documentaries, many making their world premiere.

It’s the strongest program seen in years, with content sure to satisfy everyone from bears to transgenders to lesbian BDSM aficionados. The commitment to diversity is apparent from the opening night: a screening of the nine finalists’ shorts from the My Queer Career competition.

Queer Screen company manager Clare Sawyer said the decision to give My Queer Career the festival opening slot, rather than the traditional scheduling of an international film, was an easy one.

My Queer Career has always been a sell-out event at our previous MG film festivals, so it seemed like a natural thing to move into fully supporting the queer filmmakers that are so talented, Sawyer said.

We’ve got nine very different films -¦ a documentary and animation called The Hundredth Room, a beautiful and moving story about a woman who lived with her partner and her process of grieving.

There’s other films like Coming Out At Work Is Hard To Do, which is by a Melbourne woman who was outed by being part of the Mardi Gras parade.

We’ve got another short called Hitch Cock, which has also been reworked as a play. It was made as a short film, but it’s also one of the Short And Sweet theatre festival [in Newtown], Sawyer said. Hitch Cock the play is premiering on the same night as our opening night, so they’ll all be turning up in costume.

Many of the entrants have already graced international festivals including the Venice Film Festival, with opening night short film Transient having just been selected for the Berlin Film Festival.

Sawyer said the quality and diversity of entrants was the result of having great judges: Fenella Kernebone (SBS Movie Show), Joy Toma (former executive producer of Eat Carpet) and John Bortolin (manager of Bondi Junction/Mosman Greater Union Cinemas).

They really came together and although there were a lot of different tastes, the decisions were pretty much unanimous, Sawyer said.

Films that focus on gay, lesbian, transgender and queer youth were a major element in last year’s festival, when Megan Carrigy curated screenings for young people aged 15 to 18 years. This year Carrigy has graduated to co-programmer (alongside David Pearce), and has brought her commitment to young viewers to the broader program.

This year we’ve expanded the number of sessions that are open to 15 years and over, including the opening night, Carrigy said.

Last year Carrigy found it difficult to find queer films for young people -“ but since then there has been a boom in youth content internationally.

We’ve got all kinds of stuff from all over the world, from animation to your usual all-American coming out high school dramas. There’s a whole lot of those -“ we could have a whole session on proms if I really wanted too! Carrigy said.

The result is an excellent selection of feature films and shorts which focus on teenagers coming out, coming to terms with sexuality as well as explorations of what it is like to be young and queer or the child of GLBT parents.

Features include the outstanding Summer Storm; The Graffiti Artist; Clara’s Summer; Dorian Blues and a feature-length version of the 2004 lesbian Charlie’s Angels spoof hit, D.E.B.S. Then there are the Queer Youth Shorts and a three-day video-making workshop at Metro Screen in Paddington.

For those 18 years and older, there’s plenty of adult fare. Raspberry Reich promises plenty of sexy satire, Bruce LaBruce-style; there’s a lesbian romance from Hong Kong entitled Butterfly; and the closing night film is the latest from the trashmeister John Waters, A Dirty Shame. Expect Chris Isaak, Tracey Ullmann, and an already infamous expulsion from an airplane lavatory.

The festival runs from 17 February to 3 March. Bookings for the opening night must be made through the State Theatre or via Ticketek. Other sessions are available from the Palace Academy Twin (their sessions only) and the Valhalla Cinema, Glebe (Valhalla sessions only); MCA Ticketing bookings on 9645 1611, fax 9645 1699; or online -“ all of which must be made at least 24 hours before you wish to attend. Pick up the 20 January 2005 issue of the Star (# 748) to get a copy of the film festival program.

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