“Did you know that the Iris Prize – the world’s biggest queer short-film prize – has been won by Australian films the last three years?” asks Mardi Gras Film Festival director Paul Struthers. “Australian queer cinema is doing really well indeed right now. We’ve won awards at festivals like Berlin and Sundance. And this year [The Mardi Gras Film Festival] is showing three Australian films [All About E, Skin Deep and Drowned] that I’m sure will go on to have a good run internationally.” Struthers has the enviable job of programming one of our most prominent cinematic celebrations the LGBTQI community – and his passion for is obvious within three seconds of meeting him.

Now in its 22nd year, the festival will once again bring a swag of delights to film lovers in Sydney. From endearing, middle-aged drag queens, to exiled lesbian police officers, roller-derby players, lifesavers, hilarious documentaries and international hits starring Hollywood heavyweights, Struthers says programming a festival like this one requires but one ingredient: diversity. “Its about range. We want to have a variety of films that will appeal to a cross section of the LGBTIQ community.

“You want to have gay films, lesbian films, trans films, comedy, drama, documentary and films that will appeal to what we call the ‘straight allies’. You also want to have screenings classified as M15+ so young people, who might be a bit insecure about their sexuality, can see themselves represented on the screen. And then of course there’s the films with famous faces.” Some of which, this year, include Patrick Stewart (Match), Ben Whishaw (Lilting), Leighton Meester and Adam Brody (Life Partners), Gaby Hoffman (Lyle) and Sigrid Thornton (BFFs). “But also,” he adds, “you really want to have quality cinema.” An element this festival prides itself on.

With so much range on offer, an event like this can take some navigating. So we asked Struthers, aforementioned films aside, to share five of his favourites from this year.

“I really love this film from Brazil. The Huffington Post called it a masterpiece. It’s about an old chap who is in his 50s, an extreme drag performer and lives with his mum, so his life is really interesting. It played at Berlin and when I first saw it, I thought it was a feature film. But when I read the notes I realised it was a documentary made by a 26-year old. Castanha is just a wonderful piece of challenging cinema, we’re so lucky to have the Australian premiere of it.”

A Girl At My Door
“This film is from South Korea, where we’ve seen a lot of great films and film makers come out of in the past few years. It played at Cannes last year and received a three-minute standing ovation. It’s one of those films that will crossover to a straight audience because the only thing that’s gay about it is that the main character happens to be a lesbian. It’s about a police officer who is banished to a small town in South Korea because she’s had a relationship with a woman. She then meets a young girl who is being abused, and it becomes about that relationship. It’s a very interesting and beautiful film.”

Do I Sound Gay?
“I love this documentary! It has played at various film festivals around the world, including the biggest documentary festival in America, New York Documentary Festival, where it was the opening film. This chap wakes up one day and wonders, “Is my gay voice getting in the way of me having the perfect job, the perfect lover, etc?” [laughs] He interviews everyone from the comedian Margaret Co, to writer David Sedaris, social commentator Dan Savage and George Takei. It’s a fun romp through having a “gay voice” and very very funny.”

“This is another one I love which I think will crossover to our straight audiences. It stars Gaby Hoffman who’s really been everywhere in the past year, from Girls to Transparent and Wild. Critics are calling it the ‘lesbian Rosemary’s Baby’ [laughs]. It’s a really great, slightly scary thriller about a young lesbian couple who have lost a child and are expecting another when a lot of mysterious things start to happen. Lyle is very well done and has a wonderful ending.”

The Shorts Program
“This is more of an overview of queer film. There are four sections – we’ve got Gay Shorts, Mixed Shorts 1 and 2 and My Queer Career. There’s been over 400 films watched to fill up these sessions, which are programmed by my colleague, James Woolley [The Mardi Gras Film Festival program manager and shorts programmer] and I’ve seen a few of them and they’re great. If I was new to the festival, I would recommend getting over to the shorts sessions because there really is something for everyone in the packages and there’s a fantastic cross section here.”

The 22nd The Mardi Gras Film Festival, presented by Queer Screen, runs from February 19–March 5 at Event Cinemas, George Street.