There have been gay and lesbian film festivals in Sydney since 1978. Since 1993, however, Sydney’s LGBTIQ film festival has largely coincided with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and has been owned and operated by a community called Queer Screen, whose sole focus is queer film and screen culture.
In recent years, the festival has grown to include special programs across Australia – making Queer Screen one of the only LGBTIQ film organisations across the globe to operate a national schedule of events throughout the year.
A new film festival, the Queer Screen Film Fest, emerged in 2013, and is now a major event that delivers the latest LGBTIQ movies to screens during September and October. This year, on the 1st of October, the fourth Annual Queer Film Festival ventured to Canberra.
Festival Director, Paul Struthers, says that this festival is incredibly important because of the “limited representation” of LGBTIQ people in mainstream film media, and it is for this reason that “all the films selected encompass themes and stories related to LGBTIQ people. Together these films represent and reflect the actual lived experiences of LGBTIQ people, people of diverse backgrounds.”
Mr. Struthers says that there has been a “major” change in discourse since the festival began just three years ago, as “we are witness[ing] more films of diverse themes being made and played. We are playing less coming of age films, but showing more films in which the stories aren’t evolved around sexuality, but whose characters just happen to be queer.”
One of the films shown at the Canberra leg of the festival, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, encapsulates Struthers’ sentiment. The film explores the case of the San Antonio Four where, in 1994, four Latina lesbian women were accused, tried and convicted of the sexual assault of two girls. The documentary intriguingly examines the stories surrounding the case, where the four women maintain their innocence and insist that the accusations against them were fabricated and born from homophobic prejudice and a phenomenon about covens, cults and child abuse. The film is riveting. It is layered with gripping cinematography, exploring a contentious trial that resulted in interrelated political and personal forces, that functioned to convict those assumed guilty, but potentially flattened the innocent. It is an outstanding documentary that explores the stories of four women who maintain their innocence, and today, are far from free. It is an perfect example of the Queer Film Festival’s ability to show that stories about the LGBTIQ community do not have to focus solely on one’s sexuality. I think this is what makes the Queer Film Festival so special – it shows films with characters that are not solely portrayed because they are queer, but because they have a story that is worth telling.
Mr. Struthers says that he has “hope” that queer issues will become more predominantly encapsulated in mainstream film. I would have to say that after attending in the Queer Film Festival, I hope so too.