This year’s Mardi Gras Queer Film Festival is packed with politically challenging films across a wide range of genres, including comedy, documentary and drama.

“When it comes to queer films, there’s always going to be political aspects in it,” says festival director Paul Struthers. “The queer community is still fighting for equal rights around the world.”

“Often the films that get released in cinemas paint a very limited picture of the queer experience, so it’s still really important to have LGBTQI film festivals,” says Struthers.

“There’s something really special about being in a theatre with a big cross section of the LGBTQI community, celebrating our stories on the big screen together,” adds Sydney-based director Craig Boreham.

“The experience of gender and sexually diverse communities is so varied and evolving. It’s fantastic to have a place to be able to come together and share the lived experiences of our community around the world,” Boreham adds.

Here are his top-five films to see at the festival this year.

Out Run

“I’m a sucker for a good documentary,” says Boreham, “and this one is riveting.” Out Run, by S Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons, tells the story of Bemz Benedito, the first transgender person in the Philippine congress.

Initially the filmmakers set out to depict LGBTQI rights movements outside the US. When they learned of the LGBTQI Ladlad party and Bemz Benedito’s fight for equal rights in one of the most Catholic nations in the world, the Philippines, it became their sole focus.

Highlighting the extreme marginalisation, ridicule and discrimination faced by members of the Ladlad party, Out Run is shocking and, at times, heartbreaking. But with the film’s depiction of the Ladlad party’s incredible sense of solidarity, passion and grit, it also inspires great hope.

Seat in Shadow

From accomplished sculptor and avant-garde artist Henry Coombs, Seat in Shadow is a humorous, visually exquisite and wonderfully imaginative film.

It is a story about collision: of cultures, generations, the mystical and the physical. And also the collision of two unlikely characters, Albert, an artist, and Ben, a self-diagnosed depressed cynic, who balance each other.

“It’s a visual and emotional feast,” says Boreham. “A rare, rich psychodrama with revealing surrealist touches, exploring the relationship between an artist and his muse.”

Teenage Kicks

Provocative and darkly poetic, Boreham’s own film, Teenage Kicks, follows Mik Varga, a young man from a migrant family at the end of adolescence. Riddled with guilt after his brother’s death, he is torn between his sexual self and the self that belongs to his grieving family.

With typical Aussie idiosyncrasies and shots of Sydney backstreets, Teenage Kicks stirs something nostalgic and close to home in this tale of burgeoning sexuality.

Teenage Kicks has already had a US release and is doing the international festival circuit right now, so it’s exciting to be bringing it back to the big screen in Sydney,” says Boreham.

Tomcat

Raw and evocative, Tomcat, by Händl Klaus, is a story about forgiveness and the delicate balance in relationships.

“It’s the story of a gay couple who seem to have the perfect relationship until a moment of uncharacteristic violence challenges everything,” says Boreham.

Set in Vienna, the film is beautifully shot and is almost meditative in its pace, allowing Klaus to strip everything back and explore the fragility of love in a very raw, honest way. It won the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival, an international award for films with a LGBTQI focus.

Political Animals

“Just the trailer had the audience cheering,” says Boreham about Political Animals’ reception at the Mardi Gras Film Festival launch.

Winner of the Audience and Documentary Award at Los Angeles Film Festival and Documentary Audience Award NYC's NewFest, Political Animals (by Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares) celebrates the oft-overlooked achievements of women in LGBTQI history.

It’s a story about four pioneering women – Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg and Christine Kehoe – who went to great lengths to pass a wide range of anti-discrimination laws in California. It skilfully combines present-day interviews with archival footage to represent the incredible achievements of these women.

Political Animals is both inspiring and engrossing, as well as being a timely and important reminder of the power of grass-roots action in advocating for civil rights,” says Boreham.

The Mardi Gras Film Festival runs from February 15–March 2. Find the full program here.