Starting with Moonlight winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, 2017 was an outstanding year for LGBTQI cinema. By year’s end, a series of instant classics like Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country and Battle of the Sexes had all graced the world’s screens.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that the Melbourne Queer Film Festival’s 2018 line-up has a lot to offer. Carrying the baton from last year’s extraordinary list of queer cinema, this year’s program is where scintillating and kitschy documentaries rub shoulders with dramatic features and comedies from world-renowned auteurs. Big name titles including BPM – which one several awards at Cannes including the Grand Prix – which follows a group of AIDS activists in 1980s Paris as they struggle against the French government and pharmaceutical companies, Elsewhere you’ll find Love, Simon, a classic Hollywood coming-of-age teen comedy – only with a gay lead character. Opening night features a screening of Freak Show, written by legendary NYC “Club Kid” James St James, also responsible for Party Monster.
We’ve scanned the program and picked five must-see titles.
To prepare for Saturday Church, director Damon Cardasis worked with at-risk teens from the queer, transgender and gender non-conforming communities at an Episcopal Church in New York’s West Village. The film follows Ulysses (newcomer Luka Kain), a teenager struggling with his gender identity, who is also forced to cope with new responsibilities following the death of his father. Speaking to Broadsheet MQFF program director Spiro Economopoulos says Saturday Church “soars in the mixing of genres including inner-city drama, musicals and magic realism” as Ulysses discovers his own modes of personal expression through NYC’s eclectic and vibrant ball culture and drag scenes, where he forges music-infused friendships with a crew from the Manhattan piers.
McKellen: Playing the Part
One of the world’s most famous and beloved out actors Ian McKellen – perhaps best known for his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – is the focus of this captivating documentary built around a 14-hour interview with the openly gay icon of stage and screen. Economopoulos says the film is an “engrossing masterclass on acting and a fascinating look at a diverse film career”. McKellen: Playing the Part charts the British actor’s career and life against the rapidly worsening AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the loss of his lover and Academy Award-nominated roles in the Lord of the Rings and Gods and Monsters. Buy tickets here.
This Nordic thriller is a compelling trip into the mindscape of two men, brought together by paranoia and the flickering remnants of their past love. Economopoulos says the film evokes classic Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland mystery Don’t Look Now. He says the “beautifully shot, moody and mysterious Icelandic drama blends elements of a classic ghost story with a modern Grindr twist”. Rift is the second feature from Erlingur Thoroddsen who previously impressed with the gruesome The Child Eater, but keeps things understated here.
Susanne Bartsch: On Top
Take a nostalgic trip through the history of NYC’s 1980s club scene in this biographic documentary of Susanne Bartsch, a promoter who hosted outrageous parties at the Copacabana where gender and sexuality meant nothing, and personal expression was everything. Emerging out of Europe on the tail of Andy Warhol’s influential art movement, Bartsch also gave queer icons RuPaul and Amanda Lepore their first breaks, helping turn them into underground sensations. Filled from start to finish with stunning archival footage including from her star-studded Love Ball in 1989 which raised funds for AIDS research. It’s alleged this is where Madonna first saw voguing in action. Susanne Bartsch: On Top is an appropriately decadent tribute.
Known for wild underground films like Hustler White and The Raspberry Reich, Canadian provocateur Bruce La Bruce sends up Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, which Economopoulos says La Bruce delivers with “his own radical take with a capital F for Feminism.” The film tells a strange and subversively twisted story of a boarding house for young women whose teachers extol the values of radicalism and pornographic terrorism before a male interloper interferes. Featuring La Bruce’s trademark heavily-stilted acting and in-your-face nudity and sex, this is a crazy 90 minutes you’ll be talking about for days – whether you love it or hate it.
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival runs from March 15–26. Find the full program here.