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…

Kylie’s Anti-Tour no anticlimax

I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard more about Kylie Minogue’s Anti-Tour show in Sydney. Aside from a couple of delirious Facebook posts from some Sydney friends, I’ve heard around about nothing. That’s probably because I live in Melbourne and the majority of my Facebook friends do as well; which means last Sunday was the big Kylie Day on Facebook. And even though it’s a couple of days ago now, I thought I’d write about the concert anyway.

My partner Kieran is a HUGE Kylie fan, in the way I am about Doctor Who, so when the Anti-Tour was announced, there was no way we weren’t going to go. And being a good husband, I was online on the ticketing site from 11am the day the tickets went on sale and made sure that as soon as it hit midday, I was there, buying tickets – successfully, for the first show, which sold out in seven minutes (or ten, or fifteen, depending on who you believe).

So, on Sunday we got into the city around 1pm, and went to queue for our entry wristbands before heading off to the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. I have never seen the top end of Bourke Street so gay before! Of course, we ran into friends and plenty of other gay men (now there’s a surprise) who were doing the same, and the excitement was palpable.

Nothing, of course, compared to the barely-contained anticipation in the line later that night waiting for the doors to open at 7.30pm, a line that snaked down the laneway next to the Palace, around a corner, down another lane to Little Bourke Street, and then almost up to Spring Street. All devoted, die-hard Kylie lovers, and it was gayer than Mardi Gras.

Position sorted - good view of the stage!

It was even more excitable once we were inside, and soon Kieran and I had our position (just at the top of the stairs down to the dance floor) sorted. We were surrounded by more gay men, all posting photos pictures of themselves on facebook, and then it was 8.30, and – an hour before the advertised time – Kylie was on stage!

Starting with ‘Magnetic Electric’, an extra track from X (2007), Kylie, her band and the crowd were on fire. But it really reached fever pitch when Kylie’s first step back in time took us all to 1988’s ‘Made in heaven’. Looking back at the crowd behind us, there was something heartening to see so many gay men (and lots of straight girls too) in their 30s and 40s singing and dancing gleefully along, reliving more innocent times.

It was like that all night. As Kylie jumped around her extensive back catalogue of b-sides and album tracks – with incredible vocal skill, I must say, and not one mimed song at all – there were obvious highlights; more often than not the quieter songs, such as ‘Tightrope’, ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’ and ‘Paper Dolls’., and a number of Impossible Princess (1997) tracks, ‘Drunk’, ‘Say Hey’ and ‘I Don’t Need Anyone’. But everything she performed was greeted with delight and enthusiasm, and there was only two songs I wasn’t familiar with.

Despite the intimate, stripped-back nature of the show, and Kylie’s unguarded and obvious enjoyment, it had to end – with ‘Enjoy Yourself’ (1989), naturally enough, and a glitter explosion. Well, it wouldn’t be a Kylie concert with out a bit of glitter.

Kylie pumps it in the second show. Photo by Matthew Noonan

And then she turned around and did it again for the second show an hour later. I’d like to see Madonna do a show like this. Just sayin’…

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.