When Mardi Gras brightens up Sydney's streets every February, it showers the city in LGBTIQ+ pride — but that's only the beginning of the celebratory fun. Among the plethora of supporting events, the annual Mardi Gras Film Festival brings the party to the big screen, taking film lovers into a wealth of stories from a number of countries, and demonstrating the depth and breadth of queer cinema in the process.
MGFF not only brings brings the best in LGBTIQ flicks to Sydney, however. It also spreads the love across the state thanks to its touring program. That means that the filmic feast keeps on going until April — and, more cinema-goers receive more chances to catch the queer film highlights from the past year, including these five must-sees.
Winning Filipino star Paolo Ballesteros the best actor award at the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival, Die Beautiful offers a rousing and moving transgender tale — one that's set in the beauty pageant world, flits between the past and the present, and perfects the balance of heartfelt emotion and vibrant celebration. With the fate of its protagonist apparent from its title, the film not only depicts the path that Trisha Echevarria charted in life, but the determined efforts her community makes to honour her in death. Her dying wish? To be dressed up as a different celebrity each day of her wake.
A MOMENT IN THE REEDS
It was only last year that God's Own Country earned comparisons to Brokeback Mountain, but took a seemingly well-worn situation and turned it into something all of its own. Expect Finnish drama A Moment in the Reeds to do the same as it explores the homecoming of Leevi to renovate his father's summer cottage, and his bond with Syrian asylum seeker Tareq, who is hired to help. As in all love stories, the delights are in the details — and, while all love stories boast similarities, it's the way they convey the intricacies of romance in their own unique manner that counts, as first-time director Mikko Makela understands.
The directorial debut of Trudie Styler, Freak Show can't be accused of fading into the background. Like film, like spirited protagonist, too. Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is his own glitter-wearing self when he turns up to his first day at a new school, and he's not willing to be anyone else — although, he does need to learn to navigate the usual teenage issues. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is, but what this movie lacks in originality it attempts to make up for in personality. And, in recognisable faces as well, including Abigail Breslin, Laverne Cox, John McEnroe and Bette Midler.
Love stories linked to the world of lucha libre women's wrestling aren't an everyday occurrence on screen, with director Jennifer Reeder joining forces with writer and star Fawzia Mirza to give cinema the romance it didn't know it was missing. The duo also fill their combined effort with layers upon layers of cultural and societal probing, as a Pakistani-American immigration lawyer and a Mexican-American bookstore-owner deal with the aftermath of their one-night stand — including the vast differences between being able to live your life the way you want to, and still bowing to conservative expectations.
Starring Australian actress Anna Lise Phillips, Sensitivity Training steps into will-they-or-won't-they, opposites-attract territory. And, with its narrative revolving around a far-from-friendly scientist forced to interact with the world and learn to temper her ways, it treads down a familiar path when it comes to potentially redeeming misanthropes too. Thanks to engaging performances and its own sensibilities — and sensitivities — what sounds formulaic on paper finds its own niche, and provides a reminder of why The Boys, Animal Kingdom and Crownies' Phillips is always a welcome presence on screen.
Mardi Gras Film Festival runs February 15 to March 1 in various Sydney cinemas, March 16 to 18 at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, March 23 to 25 at Arc Cinema Canberra, and April 6 to 8 at Mount Vic Flicks, Mount Victoria. For more information, visit the festival website.