You can see it from Richmond’s busy Swan Street or St Kilda Junction, but these billboards aim to reach an audience half a world away.
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) is behind the advertisement – in Russian – that it hopes will connect with Russia’s LGBTQI community. This year MQFF will run a special event called To Russia With Love. It will stream the festival live online via Periscope.
The MQFF billboard reads: “To Russia with Love, please join our live stream of the opening night of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. (We wanted to put this up in Russia but it’s illegal)."
“We wanted to send a message of hope and solidarity,” says MQFF executive director, Dillan Golightly.
But, in a country where anti-gay “propaganda” laws criminalise any positive or normalised depictions of queer identity in a public space, advertising the event there was impossible.
“When we contacted people in Russia about putting posters up we discovered that if they did they’d be breaking the law,” Golightly says.
So they put up the billboards in Melbourne. While not the easiest way to reach an audience on the other side of the world, Golightly and her team hope the internet “will do its job” and get the word out to the queer community in Russia.
“For 26 years the Melbourne Queer Film Festival has loudly celebrated being proudly different,” says Golightly. “But there are plenty of queer communities who don’t enjoy this privilege, including Russia’s. For us this is a reminder not to take what we have for granted in Australia, despite still having a way to go.”
And for Golightly it is also a reminder of the importance of MQFF itself. The March event is now the longest-running queer film festival in Australia, and one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
"The more we come up against bigotry and negativity, the more we need to demonstrate our solidarity and commitment,” says Golightly. “And the more vital it is that we continue bringing proudly different stories to the big screen.”
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival runs from March 31 to April 11. Tickets and program are available at mqff.com.au.
The MQFF Russian billboard is at St Kilda Junction and on Swan Street in Richmond until March 31. Opening night of the MQFF will stream live on Periscope @MQFF (with a Russian translator) on March 31 from 12pm (Moscow time).