Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival to Evolve, Emerge, Fly in 2020

MGFF Straight UpCapturing the continuing evolution of queer film and characters, Queer Screen’s 27th Mardi Gras Film Festival kicks off this Thursday 13 February boasting 6 world premieres, 93 Australian premieres and 12 Sydney premieres across 57 feature-length films, 2 episodics and 75 short films told through 15 different genres.

“Our 2020 theme Evolve, Emerge, Fly reflects both the continually improving quality of the local and international films on offer as well as the diversity of emerging Australian talent,” says Queer Screen Festival Director, Lisa Rose. “It also represents the broader evolution of queer film, as we move beyond ‘coming out’ stories to tell all sorts of stories, through all sorts of characters, in all genres.”

“In addition, several films examine how LGBTIQ+ people seek to belong from a global perspective. When we look at the movement of people around the world, whether forced or voluntary, we see that ultimately, we all just want to belong somewhere and the truth is, we belong everywhere,” she added.

Highlights of the 2020 Mardi Gras Film Festival include:

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)
This heartfelt lesbian rom-com, shot entirely in Sydney by writer-director Monica Zanetti (Skin Deep MGFF15) and based on her beloved play, is the first Australian feature to open Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in its 27 year history. Sophie Hawkshaw plays school captain Ellie, who is seriously crushing on her rebellious classmate Abbie (Wentworth’s Zoe Terakes). Determined to ask her first love to the year 12 formal, Ellie devises a plan to go public with the invitation but before she can go through with it, her dead aunt Tara (Julia Billington, Starting from… Now MGFF16) reappears from beyond the grave. Marta Dusseldorp (Stateless, Janet King) plays Ellie’s high strung mother whose concern about Ellie’s coming out is more than it seems…

Queer Japan
Think you know Japan? Think again! Prepare for a strange and fascinating journey through the fascinating queer scene of Japan that you won’t see in travel guides. From the underground gay scene in Tokyo, to the avant garde party scene, to the quieter Okinawa – Queer Japan welcomes you to experience the mesmerising spectrum that is ‘queer’ in this traditionally closed off society. Created from over 100 interviews conducted over three years, Queer Japan brings dozens of people’s experiences to the screen, including internationally renowned gay manga artist Gengoroh Tagame, the first openly transgender elected official Aya Kamikawa, and boundary-pushing artists and drag performers. Queer Japan is a wholly inclusive documentary about what it means to be queer.

Crazy Rich Asians’ sexy leading man Henry Golding stars in this poetic tale from director Hong Khaou (MGFF15’s Lilting). Golding plays a gay man whose family left Vietnam when he was a child, and who returns to Saigon from the UK to distribute his parents’ ashes. As well as reconnecting with a cousin who reminds him of the world he left behind, he also hooks up with an American, Lewis (Parker Stevens) who has his own personal connection to Vietnam – their liaison offering both men a sympathetic ear. Monsoon looks at the complexity of home and place, and how our culture, history, sexuality, and family history forms our identity. With the dreamy Golding as our guide, this beautifully shot and evocative film finds that the answers can sometimes be wondrously elusive.

Straight Up
A modern screwball comedy that’s full of eminently quotable dialogue and pop-culture references, Straight Up is about Todd (James Sweeney), who has an epiphany, deciding the answer to his loneliness is to be… straight! Who cares that he loves Legally Blonde and cashmere sweaters? Enter Rory (Katie Findlay), a wannabe actress who can return Todd’s banter better than anyone. Oh, and she also loves doco night. But is that enough to build a relationship? Especially when no one wants to talk about S-E-X? Could she be the Doris Day to his… um… Rock Hudson?

On returning home from the UK, Noah (Reece Noi, Game of Thrones) a disillusioned musician finds creative inspiration and love via a community led dance club which is run by the headstrong Finn (Yiana Pandelis), a hearing-impaired trans-man on the cusp of transitioning. This Australian feature provides a delicate representation of love, respect, empathy and acceptance and features singer Christine Anu in a supporting role.

Sequin in a Blue Room
Prepare to be enamoured with this exploration of attraction and obsession. A phenomenal debut from Australian director Samuel Van Grinsven, Sequin in a Blue Room brings the exciting and alienating world of hook-up culture to the screen. With stunning visuals and a gripping soundtrack, Sequin in a Blue Room explores the world of Sequin (Conor Leach), a teenager who finds himself ensnared in a cycle of sex, obsession, and mystery. Determined to find someone he met at an anonymous sex party, the question becomes will Sequin be able to find them before he loses himself?

The Glass Room
A stunning love story of two women trapped by war and circumstance in Nazi-era Czechoslovakia. Shot on location at the historic Villa Tugendhat, this film captures the unwavering hope of love as seen through the eyes of Hana (Carice van Houten, Game of Thrones) and Liesel who share an intense friendship which frequently verges on more. Based on Simon Mawer’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel of the same name, in turn based loosely on the lives of the Tugendhat family saga, this era-spanning film is an historical, visual feast. As Hana and Liesel are challenged time and again by love and distance, and the decades march on, the only constant is the glass room of the Villa Tugendhat, steadfast in its refusal to bend or change and a subconscious inspiration for the fateful lovers.

Tell It To the Bees
Based on the beloved lesbian novel Tell It To the Bees will have audiences swooning to the unfolding love story between the enigmatic Dr. Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) and the beautiful Lydia Weekes (Holliday Grainger). United Kingdom 1950s. Dr. Jean has returned to her hometown to begin a practice of her own. But the townspeople have long memories, and whispers of improper acts as a schoolgirl follow her. Lydia is a young wife with a young son, Charlie, trying to make ends meet as her soldier husband fights his own demons with alcohol and a traumatic past. When he walks out on her, she is left with nowhere to go, until Jean kindly takes Lydia and Charlie into her own home. As the whispers surrounding Jean’s past get louder, Lydia finds herself drawn to her in a way she never expected, and the two embark on a passionate affair that starts a series of events which neither of them can stop.

And Then We Danced
One of the most acclaimed LGBTIQ+ films of 2019, And Then We Danced is a powerful film about rivalry, desire and defiance. Set against the backdrop of a country which remains deeply conservative, this mesmerising film is riveting, joyful and not to be missed. Goal-oriented rule-follower Merab (an astonishing Levan Gelbakhiani) wants nothing more than to dance with the National Georgian Ensemble and has trained most his life for the honour. But all this is thrown into chaos when he falls for the carefree and rebellious newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). As Merab and Irakli battle it out for a spot in the main ensemble, their combative chemistry soon gives way to something more profound, as Merab comes of age and begins to question the rigidity of Georgian culture and the very dance steps themselves.

Circus of Books
In Circus of Books, director Rachel Mason turns the camera on her parents, Karen and Barry to tell their unlikely tale of running the most successful gay adult bookstore in West Hollywood. In the early 1980s, the couple desperately needed an income to support their young family and took over a local gay bookstore, renaming it Circus of Books. The store became a haven for the gay community to mingle and meet, as well as offering customers a wealth of erotica. In the mid-1980s, the strait-laced couple branched into film, becoming the largest distributors of gay video porn in the USA and even faced prison time in the conservative Reagan era! The arrival of the internet sounded the death knell for Circus of Books, and the business’ bittersweet final days are depicted in this fascinating and personal film.

My Queer Career 2020
Australia’s biggest queer short film prize returns with ten films from emerging Australian filmmakers once again in the running for prizes, including entry into the Iris Prize Film Festival.

An Almost Ordinary Summer
This cheeky comedy – a hit at last year’s Frameline – will tug on the heartstrings, as well as having you cheering out loud for these two later-in-life lovers. Wealthy art dealer Tony (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) – a charming and chilled silver fox with a gorgeous holiday abode – invites his two adult daughters to come stay. Then there’s Carlo (Alessandro Gassmann), a boardshorts-wearing widower from the south who runs a fish shop, who is heading to the same destination with his two sons, daughter-in-law, and grandson in tow. When Carlo and Tony tell their respective clans that they’re actually a couple, and planning on getting married – mamma mia! There are accusations, tears, shouting and subterfuge. And that’s all before coffee is served!

Queer Screen’s 27th Mardi Gras Film Festival runs 13 – 27 February 2020. For more information, and full program, visit: www.queerscreen.org.au for details.

Image: Straight Up (film still)