Australia’s biggest and longest-running queer film festival returns this month with over 100 films on the program. In its 33rd year, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival will “rewind to fast forward” – looking back at the history of LGBTQIA+ communities to inform the now and shape the future – with 10 historical titles screening alongside the contemporary films.
“It tackles this silly notion that LGBTQIA+ folk have only just suddenly popped up in the last five years,” CEO David Martin Harris tells Broadsheet. “Throughout history, queer people, trans people, non-binary people have always existed. And that’s been documented since the start of film as a technology.”
“The historical titles in this festival are an incredible intersectional cross-section of really important films throughout the queer liberation movement from around the world,” adds program director Cerise Howard. That includes films like It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, but the Society in Which He Lives from 1971, which was instrumental in triggering gay rights movements in Germany and Switzerland, and Chocolate Babies from 1996, which tells the story of queer people of colour and their battle against HIV stigma in New York City.
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These films are still deeply and sadly relevant. Over the past several years, the queer community has been facing increasing vilification – both at home and abroad. This year alone in Australia, death threats have resulted in drag storytimes being cancelled, while anti-trans campaigners have toured the country spitting divisive and hostile comments to their followers. It’s recent events like these that MQFF organisers are responding to this year.
“As an international festival, it’s our responsibility to – on an annual basis – respond to the zeitgeist for queer communities here and internationally,” says Harris. “And we really felt that the community, this year, needed solidarity, needed joy and needed us to respond to what has been happening locally and internationally for queer communities.”
Contemporary standouts in this year’s program include the opening-night screening of I Love You, Beksman, a Filipinx coming out story that “has some very profound things to say about the relationships – as complex as they are – between gender and sexual orientation,” says Howard. Plus, there’s the centrepiece presentation of Marinette, which follows the career of one of France’s greatest soccer players and has been chosen as a celebration of our own Matildas. Another standout is the closing-night screening of Solo, which is “a nod to our beautiful drag community,” says Harris. There’s also the Victorian premiere of romantic drama All of Us Strangers, starring Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott (aka Fleabag’s hot priest) which has been described by Indiewire as a “nuclear-grade tear-jerker”.
Of course, being the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, there are plenty of Australian highlights too. These include Goran Stolevski’s third feature film, Housekeeping for Beginners, a cinéma-vérité-style dramedy set in Stolevski’s home country of North Macedonia; Melbourne-based coming-of-age story, Sunflower, which follows a 17-year-old as he comes to terms with his sexuality; and the 25th-anniversary screening of Head On (based on a Christos Tsiolkas novel).
“We've got everything,” Howard says. “We've got the sublime, we've got the ridiculous, we've got the campy, we've got heartfelt, we've got horror, we've got drama, we've got the laughs.”