Queer stories are being increasingly embraced by mainstream Hollywood, but there’s still progress to be made. Hollywood blockbusters, for example, just skim the surface. This week the Melbourne Queer Film Festival is back with a diverse and globetrotting range of LGBTIQ+ films covering transgender military personnel and bodybuilders, lesbian strip nights and forgotten queer histories.
Here are five excellent films from five corners of the globe, portraying five very different queer perspectives.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (USA)
In the 1940s, George Albert “Scotty” Bowers ran a petrol station on Hollywood Boulevard with a side-hustle sourcing lovers for Hollywood’s biggest stars. In the game until the 1980s, he’s now an eccentric hoarder in his nineties, and he’s finally opening up about the secrets he once held for countless mid-century Hollywood stars – those he hooked up and those he slept with himself.
The list of names is extraordinary. According to Scotty, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Rock Hudson were all customers, and he was very close with the abdicated English king Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson. Not everyone believes Scotty’s stories, and not everyone wants to. Some of his stories, particularly about his upbringing, may shock. But he’s a fascinating subject: free and joyous and open, and this is a poignant documentary that goes well beyond gossip.
Malila: The Farewell Flower (Thailand)
When estranged lovers Pich and Shane reconnect, they’re both dealing with death in different ways. Shane’s daughter has been killed. Pich has been diagnosed with cancer. Both find respite in the intricate ritual of weaving bai sri (Thai blessing ceremony) ornaments, and while Pich comes to terms with his impending death, Shane turns to religion to cope with grief.
Director Anucha Boonyawatana’s film is slow, rhythmic and carries the weight of death, spirituality and love. It finds as much intimacy in Buddhist ritual and nature as it does in its love scenes.
Fair warning: the film’s quite far removed from the tradition of western cinema, and unfolds patiently and subtly – but it’s a rewarding experience and a very different take on the queer experience.
Becoming Colleen (Australia)
When Colleen was a little boy, she wanted nothing more than to be a little girl. What she initially referred to as “the problem” refused to go away. Through covertly wearing ballet shoes at work to jealously watching her wife try on wedding dresses, Colleen is frank about everything. Now, at the age of 82, Colleen has come out as transgender.
Director Ian Thompson’s beautiful documentary finds a heartwarming core in the sad story of a life led in secret. Though Colleen’s telling a story of missed opportunities and repressed feelings, she’s telling it from a place of peace, comfortable in herself at last.
It’s the end of school, and tomboy Mati is being pulled in every direction. Whether she’s squeezing herself into a dress at her mother’s behest or being pushed to make decisions about university, she’d rather be riding motocross bikes with her blokey friends. A schoolteacher tells the graduating class that “no one is waiting for you out there”. Bleak. Then she meets Carla, and things get complicated.
Writer/director Katharina Mückstein carries the weight and malaise of adolescence with wit and realism in this satisfying, low-key coming out movie set in a small Austrian town.
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kena and Ziki are daughters of small-time political rivals. Instantly drawn to one another, they quickly form a connection. With neither of them wanting to “stay at home and do the typical Kenyan stuff” they make a pact to be “something real”. The connection becomes a romance, much to the distaste of their conservative, church-going community.
This film was banned in its home country of Kenya for its queer content, but it’s been a hit abroad. Director Wanuri Kahiu depicts a vividly colourful and ecstatic Kenya, and a sweet, gentle romance flourishing in defiance of conservative opposition.
Melbourne Queer Film Festival runs from March 14 to 25.