Mardi Gras Film Festival

Film, Film festivals
Mardi Gras Film Festival
My Days of Mercy

Diversity is the theme of the Queer Screen’s 25th festival of LGBTQIA cinema, spanning Indigenous drag queens, Syrian refugees, vampires and acting legends

It’s a momentous year for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and not just because equal marriage is finally a reality. The festival celebrates its 40th year in 2018, while its film festival component celebrates its quarter century.  

The Mardi Gras Film Festival also has a new director. Lisa Rose was appointed last June. “Queer film has been my passion since I was a teenager,” says Rose. “I used to grab at any semblance of seeing myself on screen that I possibly could! And in 2012 I started volunteering for Queer Screen.” A former board member, Rose got the director’s job after Paul Struthers moved on to go to the Frameline Festival in San Francisco.

In 2018, the Mardi Gras Film Festival will involve 56 features and 59 short films playing across 72 sessions in 15 days. “Because it’s our 25th anniversary and the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras, we wanted to do a thing where we looked back, looked at the present and looked forward as well.”

Rose says that even though gay has “gone mainstream”, there is still a place for queer film festivals in 2018. “Because there is nothing like watching a queer film with a queer audience. Also, there are so many stories being told now that it’s just about having that diversity.”

Here are 14 highlights from the program, with Rose explaining why you should book your tickets fast.

1 Black Divaz Wed Feb 28, 6.30pm
An Australian documentary about the Miss First Nation pageant in Darwin.

“It’s one of our fastest selling films and all the queens are going to be here for the screening, all in drag, so it should be a super fun night. There’s a party afterwards. It’s a great documentary. We don’t often see Indigenous queer stories, so it’s great to be able to showcase that.”

2 The Carmilla Movie Sat Feb 24, 11am
A feature film sequel to the Canadian vampire web series.

“We have the actress who plays Carmilla, Natasha Negovanlis, coming to the screening and she’s incredibly popular with fans, who call themselves ‘Creampuffs’. It really resonates with young queer women and non-binary and trans people. Natasha is doing an exclusive dinner while she’s here and it sold out in three hours. She’s also doing a Q&A after the screening.”

3 Desert Hearts Sat Feb 17, 3.30pm
A woman goes to Reno for a quickie divorce in 1959 and falls for a young ranch hand.

Desert Hearts is a seminal lesbian film from 1986. It was one of the first lesbian films ever made that didn’t end in despair or suicide or asylum or going back to a husband! The restored movie looks fantastic on screen.”

4 Evening Shadows Sun Feb 25, 7.30pm
Katrik is shocked that his father has arranged a marriage for him.

“It’s very rare to get a queer feature film from India, particularly one that isn’t tragic. It’s about a son coming out to his father and mother and what that means. The filmmaker is the director of the largest queer film festival in India and he’s going to be here with the lead actress.”

5 Freak Show Thu Mar 1, 7pm
Billy Bloom is a flamboyant free spirit in a normcore school.

“When I went to Frameline in San Francisco in June I saw 36 films, and this was my favourite. It’s just a really fun film with a good message and an excellent performance by Alex Lawther, who’s an upcoming star. It’s directed by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, and features Laverne Cox in cameo, and Bette Midler who plays Billy’s mother. He’s a fabulous character and you can’t help but root for him.”

6 ‘Little Potato’ Sun Feb 25, 5pm & Wed Feb 28, 8.30pm
A mother and son emigrate from Russia to the US.

“My absolute favourite film that I’ve seen all year is a short film called ‘Little Potato’. It’s just 14 minutes of pure, unadulterated joy and surprise after surprise. It’s also very funny. I would have played it in front of every film if I could. I’m playing it in the Queerdoc Shorts and the Seeking Something New Shorts, which is the gay male package.”

7 Love, Simon Tue Feb 27, 6.30pm
Simon Spier, 17, crushes on an anonymous classmate online.

“It’s a significant film: the very first big Hollywood studio film that is about a gay teenage protagonist. It’s the first one! It’s being released in March, but Fox have given us a preview screening. It’s got a John Hughes kind of vibe mixed with that Emma Stone movie Easy A. It’s a very fun film. There are so many young people super excited about this.”

8 McKellen: Playing the Part Sat Feb 24, 3.30pm
The great actor and activist talks about his life.

“They interviewed Sir Ian McKellen for 14 hours for this 90-minute film. He talks about how the great love affair of his life is the craft of acting. And then it delves into the imprint he’s trying to leave on the world, which is to try to help young queer kids being OK with who they are. He’s a very charismatic and interesting man.”

9 A Moment in the Reeds Sun Feb 18, 7pm & Thu Feb 22, 8.30pm
A Syrian refugee goes to the Finnish countryside to help a father and a son renovate a summer house.

“The father goes away, and the refugee and the son connect on this really intimate and physical level. It’s probably the sexiest film on the program. It says some really interesting things about what’s happening in the world.”

10 My Days of Mercy Tue Feb 20, 6.30pm
The daughter of a man on death row falls for a woman ironically named Mercy.

“This was a late announcement that I wasn’t able to secure until after the guide went to print. It had some great reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival and it stars Ellen Page and Kate Mara. It’s about two people on opposite sides of the death row debate in America who find they have unbelievably good chemistry.”

11 My Queer Career Retrospective Thu Feb 22, 6.30pm
A quarter century of Australia’s largest LQBTQIA short film competition.

We’re showing the best Australian queer short films of the last 25 years, including the very first film we played in 1994, ‘Genderfuck’. We have a film that Claudia Carvan was in called ‘Two Girls and a Baby’ (1999), which is a fantastic little film. It’s a long session but there will be an interval.”

12 Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution Tue Feb 27, 8.30pm
Butch dykes and queer skinheads of the mid-’80s and ’90s.

“I am not a fan of punk music. I’m very uncool. But I started watching this documentary and I was so enthralled by it. By the end I was just, ‘I love it.’ There are a whole bunch of funny and fascinating stories of people in the queercore and punk scene.”

13 Queer Screen's Top 25 Films of All Time! Sat Feb 17, 2pm
A lively, free panel discussion.

“We did a poll of Queer Screen members and fans to vote on their favourite queer films of all time and we’re going to reveal what the top 25 films are in the panel discussion in the Festival Bar. It’s myself and Kate Jinx from Golden Age Cinema, and Matt Ravier, who’s a film connoisseur and film festival professional.”

14 Witches and Faggots, Dykes and Poofters Sun Feb 25, 3.30pm
Behind the scenes of the first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978.

“This is the story of the first Mardi Gras and was was made in 1979. The National Film and Sound archive have recently completed a 2K restoration and this is the world premiere of the restoration. I watched it on DVD last year and it rammed home for me how different things were 40 years ago: just to see how vicious the police were. There’s footage of the protest and everything and there is also footage of the meetings. It’s incredibly interesting. We’re having a celebration afterwards to recognise the 78ers and what they did for our community.”

By: Nick Dent

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