Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part two

Proudly DifferentFor the second weekend of this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival, I headed across to Cinema Nova in Carlton on Friday night – the first time it’s hosted MQFF screenings – and saw In The Grayscale (Chile, Claudio Marcone).

InTheGrayscale2

Bruno likes Fer’s stubble against his cheek.

Architect Bruno has recently moved into his grandfather’s workshop, away from his wife and young son, because he’s got some stuff to work out. While researching a new building project in Santiago, he meets tour guide Ferdinand, openly – and black-and-white – gay, and of course, there’s an attraction.

Not surprisingly, that attraction ends up in a very steamy and erotic sex scene, and while it’s quite the revelation for Bruno, he’s still got some things to work out – including exactly what this new project will actually be. Ferdinand, however, isn’t really up for indecision.

All of this is not exactly new, but it does make for a thoughtful story, and even though the metaphor of a bridge to joing two different worlds comes close to overstatement, not everything is tied up neatly at the end, because life rarely is that tidy.

BeautifulSomething4

It seems very clear that Jim is definitely a beautiful… something.

Beautiful Something (USA, Joseph Graham) isn’t particularly tidy either – but it’s messy in a different way. It follows the activities of four gay men across one night in Philadelphia: Brian, the damaged poet; Jim, the pretty muse and model; Drew, the driven sculptor; and Bob, the restless talent agent. Paths cross, lots of sex is had, decisions are made and inspiration found.

Oh, Brian just reeks of damaged hipster poet, doesn't he?

Oh, Brian just reeks of damaged hipster poet, doesn’t he?

At times, the characters, especially Brian, veer towards stereotype, and the search for a real connection and acknowledgement is a little prosaic, but the film and the characters are admirably unapologetic, and there are some well observed scenes about love, lust and intimacy.

The same can’t be said for the Saturday night 10.30 session, Everlasting Love (Spain, Marcal Fores). Lecturer Carlos enjoys crusing the local forest-slash-beat, to watch and engage in anonymous sex, but his encounter with one of his students, Toni, leads him into disturbing territory. Because Toni has some very dodgy friends…
If you go into the woods today...

If you go into the woods today…

While I appreciate the programme note writer’s wish not to give the ending away, this film should have come with a warning, to be honest. It’s not that I’m averse to horror, or queer horror, but a heads-up wouldn’t have gone astray. And yes, there were walkouts when it became too gruesome.

Ah yes, this main image for the film is on screen for all of five seconds.

Ah yes, this main image for the film is on screen for all of five seconds.

All that aside, it wasn’t the best edited film I’ve ever seen. Following the plot wasn’t always easy, and some of it was just poorly scripted – in an effort, I imagine, to create the shock ending. Oh well, at least it was the only turkey I saw this year.

Greg Louganis - doing what he does best.

Greg Louganis – doing what he does best.

 

Back on Board: Greg Louganis (USA, Cheryl Furjanic), not surprisingly, is a documentary about openly gay and HIV-positive Olympian Greg Louganis. It explores his early career as a diver, and how he became the world’s greatest diver, with Olympic records still unbroken 28 years later. It also charts the more recent battle to save his houyse, and his reintroduction into the diving world.

Greg is now a handsome silver fox.

Greg is now a handsome silver fox.

With lots of archival footage, and frank and candid interviews with Louganis and his coaches, it’s an absorbing and well-crafted film. Louganis was – and still is, in his early 50s – an infredibly handsome man, and footage of his Olympic diving demonstrates his skill, grace and beauty as a diver. It also affirms that diving showcases the male physique at its best.

These white Speedos are just a little sexy...

These white Speedos are just a little sexy…

And of course, there were plenty of Speedos – including the very racy, slightly transparent white Speedos Louganis wore at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Nineteen

Nineteen

Our final session for 2016 was the Australian Shorts program – always on the list because it’s interesting to see what’s happening in our local filmmaking industry. This year featured a strong selection of films, covering a wide range of outlooks, experiences and approaches.

The Summer of ABC Burns

The Summer of ABC Burns

Oasis1

Oasis

Winning the City of Melbourne Award for the Best Australian Short this year was Nineteen (Madeleine Kelly), the story of a vulnerable young man’s encounter with a rent boy. Taking the Film Victoria Award for Best Director was Dannika Horvat for The Summer of ABC Burns, a well-told tale of schoolgirl love and popularity. And the Shaun Miller Lawyers Award for Emerging Australian Filmmaker went to Joshua Longhurst for Oasis, an understated story of an awkward boy’s interaction in a caravan park shower block with the object of his desire.

Other notable shorts include Cake (Jacintho Muinos), a fun film about a Grindr hookup and its consequences, and Marrow (Stevie Cruz-Martin), a brave and confronting self portrait of sexuality and disability.

Marrow

Marrow

Each short film embraced and explored their sexuality and Australianness – voices that have not always been loudly proud. No cringe factor here, thanks very much.

 

 

And that’s it for another year – the first for Spiro Economopoulos and Dillan Golightly, and a successful one. let’s see what they present for us in 2017.

 

 

Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part one

Oh, I do love Melbourne in autumn. All the colours, the vibrancy…

Okay, that was a little cheeky – extra points if you can tell what Doctor Who story I massacred that quote from – but Melbourne really is alive in March and April, and the CBD is buzzing with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival creating a stimulating and often exhausting level of activity.

Proudly Different

I haven’t seen any Comedy Festival shows yet – I am planning to – but I have seen a few MQFF films over the past week.

First up in this, the first festival for new Executive Director Dillan Golightly and Program Manager Spiro Economopoulos, was the Opening Night film, That’s Not Us (USA, William Sullivan). Opening night films are tricky beasts, as I’ve observed before. It’s got to be something that’s going to appeal to a wide cross-section, and That’s Not Us certainly had all the right elements: three couples, a lesbian couple, a gay male couple and a straight couple head off together for a weekend away at an aunt’s beach house. Now there’s great opportunity to explore all sorts of dynamics: sexual, social and domestic. What a shame then that it didn’t exactly deliver.

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost...

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost…

Yes, each of the couples had their own issues to deal with – the girls hadn’t had sex with each other for quite a while, the boys were wrestling with the Chicago university offer one had received, and the straight two were grappling with gender role expectations, but the three storylines all operated independently of each other. And while they are all legitimate issues within a relationship, they’re not exactly redolent with dramatic potential and conflict. It all felt just a little… beige, to be honest.

I don't remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

I don’t remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

There were no real shouting matches or cross-couple tensions or bitch fights, and maybe that was the point of the film, but for me, it left me unmoved and ultimately I didn’t care for any of the characters. The after party in the Fed Square Atrium was a hit though.

Chemsex is definitely not an Opening Night film, but it is a good example of why we still need a queer film festival. It’s a UK documentary directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty and it explores the rising use of drugs in London’s gay scene, the sex activity and rise in HIV infections that are intrisnically linked to it.

You may think this would make for an erotic and sexy film, and given its late-night Friday screening, a lot of the audience seemed to be up for that – but it was not sexy at all. It was sad, confronting and at times difficult to watch.

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous - understandably

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous – understandably

I’ve never been a drug user – pre-existing medical conditions prevent that – and I’ve never found the idea of chemsex attractive at all, but it’s going on here in Melbourne too, and apps like Grindr and Scruff are facilitating unsafe and addictive sex and drug use.

This documentary shows the effects that has on the lives of the men interviewed, and it is destructive. It’s a sobering, cautionary tale that despite its difficult content is a necessary film for most gay men to see.

On a much lighter note is Tab Hunter Confidential (USA, Jeffrey Schwarz), a documentary about the 1950’s Hollywood heartthrob. It charts the career of this impossibly handsome blond, blue-eyed man, from Z-grade movie actor to singer, star and household name.

Luckily, Hunter is still alive, so rather than just rely on the recollections of his co-stars and other celebrities, the filmmakers speak at length with him, and hear his stories first-hand.

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

What’s interesting is that while Hunter kept his sexuality hidden in the ’50s – necessarily, given the era – he wasn’t pretending to be straight, he just kept his private life out of the spotlight, and he talks quite candidly about that now, as an 80-something man.

He looks happy, and why wouldn't he? He's Tab Hunter!

He looks happy, and why wouldn’t he? He’s Tab Hunter!

It’s the innocence of a bygone era that’s the charm of Hollywood docos like this, and Schwarz has a lot of fun playing with that, using old footage and photos to ironic effect. And it certainly makes you wonder, 60 years from now, what Hollywood celebrities will we be watching with similar stories.

 

 

A world away from Hollywood is the Spanish film, Hidden Away (Mikel Rueda). Set in Bilbao, it’s about Ibra, a young Moroccan refugee who runs into Rafa, a young Spanish boy, in a nightclub. There’s an instant connection, especially for Rafa, who goes out of his way to seek out Ibra’s friendship. But both of them have to deal with prejudice in various forms: racism, classism and homophobia.

As far as plots go, it’s not exactly new – it’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario in many ways, but that storyline prvides a good framework for the more complex racial and sexuality themes. Interestingly, like last year’s Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, not once does either boy state they are gay, although some of Rafa’s friends are less than complimentary, and their attraction for each other takes a while to develop.

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Thankfully, there are no sex scenes; it’s more about two teenage boys coming to terms with their feelings for each other and their own sexuality.

 

 

And that’s somewthing it shares in part with the festival’s Centrepiece Presentation, the local documentary Remembering The Man (Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe). It tells the not-unfamiliar story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo – immortalised in Conigrave’s memoir, Holding The Man, and its stage and recent screen adaptations.

Using archival footage – including home movies of the pair – and photos and interviews with the friends and colleagues of Conigrave and Caleo, it tells the story of their love, beginning as teenage boys at Xavier College, and their experiences with AIDS in a candid, heartfelt and moving way. It also provides aspects and anecdotes not heard before, and paints a respectful portrait of the men that works well as a complement to last year’s film version.

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

Even though it is a tender and emotional telling, there’s still a measured objectivity here that really makes it work as another part of a love story that has become part of Melbourne’s legacy and history.

And so, off I go, diving into the final weekend of MQFF films. Expect a report early next week. I promise!

 

 

MQFF 25

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

2015 was something of a landmark year for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival – not only did it celebrate its 25th year, but it was also Lisa Daniel’s last year as Festival Director after 16 years in the position. Under her educated and keen eye for queer film, the festival has grown and become one of the largest and most respected queer film festivals in the world – something she should be very proud of, and Melbourne should really appreciate.

This year I decided to go for (mostly) quality over quantity of screenings, and took heed of some of Lisa’s recommendations, as well as seeing two Australian feature films – something that’s been very thin on the ground for some time now.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks

Opening Night is always a good night, and this year Lisa selected Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, to open the festival. And it hit the mark. In the past, there’s been negative responses to foreign language films on opening night, but not this year – which demonstrates that Lisa has indeed done a good job in educating Melbourne audiences.

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

It’s the coming-of-age/coming out story of blind teenager Leo as he becomes attracted to the new boy at school, Gabriel. It’s sweet and gentle, and affirming without preaching, and remarkable not only because its focus is not on physical attraction and there’s a pleasing lack of sex on screen, but also because the word ‘gay’ is never used, and the boys’ sexuality is not an issue to any of the characters, themselves included.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

The first of two Australian feature films I saw was Drown, directed by Dean Francis, based on a play by Stephen Davis. I’ve seen a number of his short films, and they’ve dealt with homophobia and bullying in a dark and angry way, so I knew this film wasn’t going to be light and fluffy. This is the story of Len (Matt Levett), the local hero at a Sydney surf lifesaving club, until he’s threatened by new member, Phil (Jack Matthews), not only because of his physical abilities, but also because he’s gay, and that creates quite a bit of conflict for Len.

Len isn't having a great night

Len isn’t having a great night

Drown is a fascinating, often confronting, exploration of masculinity and sexuality and how they are expressed by both straight and gay men. There’s an inherent aggression here, for all the characters, and it demonstrates that at their most extreme, straight men and gay men aren’t that dissimilar; while straight men channel that aggression into sport and competition and fighting, gay men express it through dancing, drugs, seduction and sex.

Told through the eyes of Len, Drown has a heightened and often exaggeration perception of reality, and while there’s plenty of bare flesh and aussieBums on screen, it’s not a superficial or titillating film. Yes, some of the sex scenes are erotic, but for the most part, they’re overshadowed by violence and conflict. At times it is too violent, and some scenes could have done with an edit, but there’s also a lot of ambiguity and unspoken subtext at work here.

Just a bit confronting...

Just a bit confronting…

The fact that this film was produced quickly and through crowdsource funding is not evident on screen at all – it’s beautifully shot and has a polish and finish that belies its low-budget production. Let’s just hope that Francis’ next film isn’t quite as angry.

Jamie Marks is Dead... apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead… apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead is a US supernatural (I guess) directed by Carter Smith. When the dead body of teenage boy Jamie Marks is found in a river, the spirit or ghost of the bullied gay boy connects with Gracie, and straight boy Adam for help to cross to the other side. It’s a curious film, with almost incidental queer content. There’s a dark melancholy with a touch of whimsy at work here, but to be honest, I’m not sure that as a queer/supernatural crossover is works very well. Still, it was good to see an American gay film that didn’t follow the same tired formulaic story.

Barrio Boy

Barrio Boy

Cocktales was one of the short film packages and provided an interesting and varied mix of gay shorts. Like many queer films, the quality of the short films is much better than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t get predictable stories, such as Dinner at 40 and Open Relationship, and mawkish ones like Pepper. But we also get the understated Searching and Barrio Boy, and the very silly and fun If We Took a Holiday. And interestingly, none of them actually featured an sex at all.

It's Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

It’s Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

Also silly and fun was the Dutch comedy, Queen of Amsterdam directed by Tim Oiehoek. Fluffy and far-fetched, and perfectly programmed at 6pm Friday night, it’s about the regulars of a gay bar in Amsterdam who concoct a plan to raise the money to buy back the bankrupt bar – and that plan involves a jewel heist and the Gay Pride Parade. Not necessarily groundbreaking but enjoyable nevertheless.

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Onto something more grounded, Lilting is a British film directed by Hong Khaou, and is a beautiful portrayal of the awkward relationship between a gay man Richard (played by Ben Wishaw) and his recently-deceased partner Kai’s (Andrew Leung) Chinese-Cambodian mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng). To broach the language barrier, Richard brings in a translator and the two begin tentative steps to an understanding. It’s poignant and understated and a sensitive representation of a gay relationship. Once again, there’s no on-screen sex, but convincing post-sex discussions, and is much more powerful for what it doesn’t show or tell.

Unfortunately, that is something missing from the final film I saw, at its encore screening, the second Australian feature, The Dream Children, directed by Robert Chuter and based on a play by Julia Britton. It’s the story of a gay couple, Steven (Graeme Squires) and Alex (Nicholas Gunn), who live in St Kilda. Steven is a closeted game show host who nevertheless has a very active extra-curricular sex life, and Alex wants to adopt a child. Legal options are non-existent, so the couple explore black market adoption with predictable results.

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while  swimming laps

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while swimming laps

Chuter’s better known as a theatre director, and has quite an extensive back catalogue, including some well-respected outdoor period plays in the grounds of Rippon Lea, and more recently the divisive production of Teleny in 2014 (read my thoughts on that here), and indeed, he directed a stage production of this play in 2009. While The Dream Children‘s intentions are noble, the delivery is forced and heavy-handed. It opens with a fairly full-on sex scene between Steven and Alex which is decidedly unsexy and feels like it was included merely to shock. And many of its other sex scenes – and there are many, as well as a number of other scenes involving the trailer trash child surrogate and her cliched drug-addicted partner, feel contrived and gratuitous.

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

The relationship between Alex and Steven lacks intimacy and affection; they’re mostly arguing about the adoption arrangements or having mechanical, soulless sex, except for scenes where we see them enjoying time with their young son.

The dialogue is awkward and stiff and often didactic, the mood and the drama are overwrought and could really have done with a more delicate touch. Conflict and arguments don’t always equal good cinematic drama, and unfortunately there is too much of it. If only more time had been spent fleshing out the final ten minutes, where their relationship finally flourishes, rather than focusing on unnecessary and overlong scenes of conflict.

If only we'd had more of this and less conflict

If only we’d had more of this and less conflict

 

Having said all that, it’s an impressive looking film – Melbourne, especially St Kilda and Elwood, look great on film, and like Drown, is an independently-funded and produced film. Hopefully we’ll see more Australian queer features in the future – and heaven forbid, government funding bodies and local distributors may even look past their cautious and conservative choices and see the merit in backing films such as these.

And if that is something that Lisa Daniel has had more than a hand in changing, then that is legacy enough from her. But she leaves behind her a great legacy of which this will only be a small part. Congratulations, Lisa, on the 25th MQFF, and for 16 amazing years as Festival Director. You will be missed!

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Thought-provoking at Melbourne Queer Film Festival

So that’s a wrap for the 22nd Melbourne Queer Film Festival. And after 14 sessions, and an interesting selection of films, I hit my queer film threshold, and piked on my final session. We went hard, and then we went home. But not before we’d seen a number of good films, and at least one disaster.

The Argentinian film 'Absent'

I kicked off last week’s screenings with an Argentinian film, Absent, directed by Marco Berger, whose first film Plan B screened in 2010. Absent is about a 16 year-old boy who contrives a way to stay the night at his swimming instructor’s apartment. It’s clear – although not to the instructor, initially, that this boy is infatuated with said instructor, and the sexual tension literally drips off the screen. The infatuation is not returned, but it does trigger something of a sexual awakening in the instructor. Absent says a lot with very little dialogue, and explores desire and sexuality in a detached but compelling way. If only some US filmmakers could tell stories like this too.

The AIDS documentary 'We Were Here'

Wednesday night was a two-films back-to-back night, both very good, and both sobering and thought-provoking. The first, We Were Here, was a documentary about the beginning of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. A series of first-person accounts from people who lived through the late ’70s and 1980s as many of their friends and lovers died around them. A moving way to see how far we’ve come, and a reminder that the battle isn’t over yet.

The very repressed Francois in 'Beauty'

The South African film, Beauty (Skoonheid), treads a dark path, with a middle-aged married man, Francois, who attends men-only sex sessions but denies he’s gay, becoming obsessed with a friend’s young and very attractive son, the flipside to Absent, really. With more than a touch of Death in Venice, it’s a tense story about a fairly unlikeable man, but its ambiguity and an enlightening final act make for engaging viewing.

Vito Russo, gay activist and writer

An interesting companion piece to We Were Here is the doco Vito, the story of gay activist and writer Vito Russo. It charts similar territory, focussing on Russo’s activist work in New York during the ’70s and ’80s. And like We Were Here, it’s a very moving and timely portrait of an important figure in queer history.

I only got to see one short film package, Sex Drives & Videotape, and what was most interesting about that was the number of short films now dealing with how gay man relate to each other, either in relationships or sexual hookups. The quality of the filmmaking has gotten better, and demonstrates a growing confidence in storytelling.

The cliched and insubstantial 'eCupid'

Unfortunately, confident storytelling isn’t something I can ascribe to eCupid: Love on the Download. This was my Festival Fail for the year. Essentially a gay rom-com that had a promising premise – a smart phone app interferes with the lead couple’s relationship – it just couldn’t fulfill. With wooden acting, dreadfully trite dialogue, and a cheesy and annoying habit of spelling out everything the characters were feeling, this was a throwback to the kind of US gay comedies I thought we’d seen the back of five years ago.

My own Private Romeo...

Private Romeo, on the other hand, was a brave fusion of a group of young and attractive military cadets rehearsing an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet. The more they rehearse it, the more it takes over their lives, and results in a simmering sexual interpretation of the play, complete with Shakespeare’s original text. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and hard-going for a late Friday night film, but rewarding nonetheless.

'Hollywood to Dollywood'

Another film that could have benefited from a different time and venue was the doco Hollywood to Dollywood. Midnight at the Greater Union in Russell Street on a Friday night wasn’t ideal, especially when punters were encouraged to dress up as Dolly Parton. Suffice to say, there was only one, a woman. the fact that a pack of drunken straight men passing the cinema before the session and wondering loudly why there were ‘so many poofs’ in the cinema may have had something to do with that. the film itself was a fun road trip with gay twins Gary and Larry on a mission to drive to Dollywood in Tennessee to hand deliver a screenplay they’ve written for Dolly.

An important and weightier documentary was The Cure – an exploration of ex-gay programs run by Christian churches in Australia. Having had a rigorous Pentecostal upbringing myself, many of these stories were very familiar to me, and credit must go to the interviewees for being so open and honest about their experiences. Hopefully this film will be picked up by SBS or the ABC, because it really needs to be seen by a wider audience beyond queer film festivals.

A hot 'August' day...

My final film was August, one that I’d heard mixed reviews of. Starring Australian actor Murray Bartlett as Troy, a man returning to Los Angeles after living in Spain, and reconnecting with his ex, Jonathan, whose heart he broke when he left. Of course, Jonathan has a new boyfriend, Raoul, but that doesn’t stop him from having some hot, and very setamy sex with troy. Unlike eCupid, August doesn’t spell everything out, and maintains a smouldering sexual tension throughout the film, and just enough subtext and commentary about relationships to keep it interesting. And it made for a fitting end to the festival – for me at least.

And, as always, MQFF has left me with plenty of food for thought, especially regarding my own feature film script. One day it too will screen at MQFF. I hope…

Queer Film Festival kicks in

With the Cloudburst of Opening Night done and dusted, it was time, last Friday, to dive into 2012’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival feet first with the new film from Casper Andreas, Going Down in LA-LA Land.

Andreas is one of the more prolific indy gay filmmakers in the US, and over the last few years, has directed Violet Tendencies (2010), The Big Gay Musical (2009) and A Four Letter Word (2007). His films usually sit at the light and fluffy end of the spectrum, with lots of eye candy, and that’s not a bad thing. With LA-LA Land, there’s all of that, but there’s a bit more substance as well. Based on a novel by Andy Zeffer, it’s a familiar story about a young gay gay arriving in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career – as you do – and soon finds himself in the porn industry – as you also do.

Matthew Ludwinski as Adam sends a smouldering look across to John (Michael Medico) in 'Going Down in LA-LA Land.

As I said, it’s nothing new, but it’s the cast here that makes the difference. Matthew Ludwinski as Adam, the Bright Young Thing, is not only beautiful to behold, but he has a natural and confident screen presence that makes him more than just a pretty face. Playing against type, and with lovely restraint, is Jesse Archer as Matthew, an uptight office manager. Also playing against type is Andreas himself as Nick, the photographer-director with a drug habit who introduces Adam to the wonderful world of porn. He is also interesting to watch, even though his big confrontation scene goes a little over-the-top. But it’s Allison Lane as Candy, Adam’s fame-hungry flatmate who almost steals the show at the film’s climax.

Plenty of laughs, plenty of eye candy, and a cynical, darker tone makes Going Down in LA-LA Land Andreas’ best film yet.

A film closer to home is Kawa, a New Zealand feature about Kawa (Calvin Tuteao), a Maori man struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality and his familial responsibilities. Directed by Katie Wolf, it’s a handsome looking film that makes the most of the stunning North Island locations, but it’s also a tad too earnest, and there are a number of dramatic scenes that would have benefited from a lighter, more sensitive touch.

Kawa (Calvin Tuteao) takes a walk along the beach with his son in 'Kawa'.

Unfortunately, these overwrought scenes detract from the power that the film’s climax could have had. It’s an accomplished film, but it feels like this story has been done many times before, and often a lot more successfully. That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for these stories to still be told, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

The final film for my weekend was the Finnish-French co-production, Let My People Go!, a crazy and whimsical comedy that only the French can get away with. Ruben (Nicolas Maury) is a French Jewish gay man living in Finland with his gorgeous boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). He works as a postman, but when he tries to deliver a package to man who doesn’t want it – a package of cold, hard cash – the man collapses on his front lawn, and Ruben flees with the cash, and ends up back in Paris with his family for Passover.

Ruben (Nicolas Maury) finds himself in another fine mess in 'Let My People Go!'

As you’d expect, this comedy of errors gets more and more absurd and complicated, and zips along at a cracking pace. And it’s all done with a joyously bent twist to it. The quality of the screening copy wasn’t the best (the real one arrived unreadable), but the comedy was.

So that’s it thus far – there’ll be more from me in a couple of days. But if you’re really lucky, I might post about Kylie Minogue’s Anti-Tour in the next day too. And that’s worth a post all of its own…

An Unreel Out, Loud, Proud Cloudburst of an opening for MQFF

Sorry, it’s been a while since I posted a blog; life gets in the way sometimes, and will continue to do so for a little while yet.

I’ve been meaning to write about the demented Danger 5 on SBS1 Monday nights – an hilarious pastiche-spoof-tribute to cheap and cheesy TV from the 1960s – it’s a mad mix of Get Smart, Thunderbirds and classic Doctor Who among others. It’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but I love ‘deliberately bad’ satire.

Fra from bad though was the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) Opening Night film, Cloudburst. Rather, it’s the best festival opener in many a year, and for the first time, Opening Night was held at ACMI in Federation Square. I’m not sure yet if this new version of Opening Night worked – after so many years of being spoilt with the glorious Astor in St Kilda, it’ll take some getting used to. Waiting at the bar for a pre-show drink during the speeches was hard work, but we were rewarded with a heartfelt speech from special guest Magda Szubanski – and she was greeted with an incredibly appreciative and extended ovation.

I’ll talk about the party in a bit; but first, the film.

Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, who has directed other wonderful films, The Hanging Garden (1997) and Beefcake (1998), it stars Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Blethyn as an older lesbian couple, Stella and Dotty, who have been together for 31 years. Dotty’s blind, and Stella looks after here until a fall, and Dotty’s granddaughter decides that Dotty would be better off in an aged care facility – something that Stella won’t have a bar of.

The pair are soon on the run to Canada where they can legally marry, and they pick up pretty boy hitch-hiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette) along the way. On-the-road hijinks ensue.

Olympia Dukakis and Ryan Doucette in 'Cloudburst'

That’s not a bad thing – in many ways it’s a fitting vehicle for the story’s sensibilities and emotions. The three leads are all great; Dukakis and Blethyn are completely credible as two women still very much in love. There are some cracking one-liners, poignant insights and sharp observations, and you can’t help but reflect on your own relationship while watching – well, i did anyway. It’s not quite 31 years, but we’re well on the way; Kieran and I were deciding who corresponded to whom. It’s great to see such a mature and well-expressed queer film on the big screen.

It was certainly getting universal praise from everyone at the after-party – if you could hear the shouted conversations in the loud and echoing downstairs foyer at ACMI. Nevertheless, it was still fun to catch up with friends and people you only ever see at MQFF.

I did make it my mission to meet the magenta-dyed US actor-writer-director Jesse Archer, who now lives in Sydney, and is in Melbourne for the Festival with the short film he directed, Half Share, and the feature he appears in, Going Down in La La Land; both of which screen tonight, Friday night. And it was Mission: Accomplished too. He was a lot of fun to take to, quick and witty and very generous.

I’m seeing Going Down in La La Land, and shall report on that, and the many other films I’ll be seeing over then next ten days, so stay tuned. I might even make some sense, too.