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Review: Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2014

AFTER another proud showcase of queer cinema at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival this year, we take a look at some of the films that left an impression and some that left us wondering. Daniel Driscoll was on the scene to report.

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The 24th Melbourne Queer Film Festival was yet another successful event with sold out shows and a quality choice of short films, documentaries and features.

Spread across three venues, ACMI, Hoyts Melbourne Central and Loop and Lool Roof, the festival hosted a spread that was not to be missed. With such a large selection of films and a limited amount of show times, seeing everything over the festival’s 10 days seemed impossible, which certainly made it difficult for any film to be viewed by more than a few hundred people.

There was however a selection of films chosen to be included in the ‘back by popular demand’ schedule on the final two days, giving the most popular films of the festival a final chance to be viewed before the festival’s conclusion.

Highlights included the brilliant documentary Gore Vidal – United States of Amnesia – which gave insight into the writer and his love/hate relationship with the United States and the people that run it – and Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?, a quirky film about finding love and making a film in order to gain their affections directed by and starring Anna Margarita Albelo.

Films at the festival had varying budget ranges but the panel had clearly chosen films of substance to include in the limited showtimes available. For instance, the festival featured the first lesbian feature from Nepal, SoonagavaDance of the Orchids.

The festival also featured special presentations, including the 20th anniversary screening of Australian classic, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and a screening of the remastered 1961 film, Victim. Lee Gambin’s queer reading of Hollywood cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop and The Lion King in Such Intersssssting Lives, along with a 10th anniversary screening of the documentary, The Tasty Bust Reunion documentary (20 years after the event).

With a strong offering for both straight and gay film goers alike,  the quality of choice on offer was only marred by the lack of showtimes this year, making it especially difficult to see more than a handful of films. Hopefully, next year more screens will be available or perhaps they will acquire yet another venue to meet the demand.

Below are a few thoughts on some of the films I did manage to catch.

Born This Way

Born This Way shows what it is really like to be gay in a country with a law that specifically states that homosexuality is illegal. Cameroon is a country of strong religious beliefs mingled with a bit of witchcraft and rape is used as a means to ‘change’ someone’s sexuality. Those championing gay rights are generally allowed to continue as long as they keep it relatively quiet.

In the documentary, we meet lawyer Alice Nkom who works to defend those accused of being gay in all parts of the country. She explains her work is difficult when it is a country with no democracy and no human rights laws.

At times expectantly shocking, Born This Way stirs up a feeling of indignity in the viewer and serves as a reminder that this sort of abuse still goes on today. There is a feeling that advocates are working with modern technology to spread a 21st century idea in a place where attitudes are stuck in the 19th century.

While there is a generally somber tone about the state of things, it is mixed with humour that comes as a welcome relief when dealing with such a serious subject. For example, at one point in the documentary a lesbian makes the joke that they started a soccer team because lesbians play a lot of soccer.

The film is serviceable and informative but overall doesn’t really impact like a great documentary should.

Gore Vidal – United States of Amnesia

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Image supplied.

This is what a good documentary should be: informative and highly entertaining (you can’t help but laugh out loud at the lines Gore Vidal shoots out when they’re needed most).

Vidal is brilliant and witty and this film is a great introduction to a writer and critic of the United States – a giant of literature and critical writing for half a century.

While there is a great deal devoted to his relationship with his home country, the film only scrapes the top of who the man really was. It gives you the usual run down of how he grew up and what perhaps made him the person he later became but you don’t gain any deeper understanding than you would from watching him when he was a societal personality earlier on in his life.

His relationship with his long term partner Howard Austen is covered only briefly as is most anything to do with his sexuality and other relationships. Regardless, it’s still an enlightening look at one man’s opinion; someone who saw the world for what it was and how it is and particularly how American politics really works. Vidal is the kind of public intellectual whose honest opinions are a rare gem in a world where such forthright opinions are shooed away by those with vested interests.

Thinkers like Vidal are a necessary commodity that are hard to find today.

Any Day Now

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Image supplied.

Starring Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) as Rudy Donatello and Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope) as Paul Fliger, Any Day Now is set in the late ’70s and early ’80s and tells the story of drag artist Rudy and Paul, a closeted gay man working in the Attorney’s Office. Meanwhile, 15 year old Marco (Isaac Leyva) is left by himself after his mother is sent to jail whereupon Rudy takes him in.

From there, Rudy seeks Paul’s help in acquiring temporary custody of Marco and we witness the white lies they must tell in order to deal with an ignorant justice system.

As the story develops, we see the prejudice that gay couples at the time were faced with when wanting to adopt and just how difficult the courts could be.

Cumming is wonderful as Rudy, owning the role outright. Dillahunt does a good job playing the more awkward Paul to the confident Rudy.

The story is at times heart-warming but also tragic as the story twists and turns to its final conclusion.

Look out for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival when it returns to screens in March 2015.

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