The Queer Screen Film Festival is in its second year in Sydney and runs from 17-21 September. We caught up with festival director Paul Struthers to talk about the aims of the fest and some of his picks for this year.
This is only the second year Queer Screen has run, but with many sessions sold out, it seems to be holding its own. How far have you come since last year?
Basically, the reason we started the Queer Screen Film Festival last year was because there is a lot of great queer cinema out there and we couldn’t fit it all into the Mardi Gras Film Festival, so we decided to start it last year. It was a success, six of the seven sessions sold out. So this year we decided to do it even bigger, so we have eleven sessions and five sessions have already sold out, so it’s going really well.
It is going really well! Do you think that is representative of the fact that Sydney is ready for more queer film and that their audience is growing?
I think because the standard of the cinema has become so much better, so people are more willing to come out and pay money. It’s not just people from the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Questioning). community, it’s the straight community as well. We saw an increase in the straight people coming to our festival in February. It’s not just for the gays, basically.
Is there a concerted effort made to make the festival seem accessible to straight people? Or is it just the films speaking for themselves?
It’s both. I think it’s principally that the films speak for themselves. But secondly, we make an effort to work with all the other arts organisations in Sydney and spread the word through marketing, and we do a lot of PR. For example, the film Pride – an article just came out saying that it’s not a gay film, it’s just a film about two groups of minorities coming together and joining a union, a union of people. A lot of the films cross over. Something like Appropriate Behavior is not necessarily a bisexual film, it’s a film about someone who was in love coming to terms with a break-up. Universal feelings, highlighting universal feeling to the audience.
I saw Appropriate Behavior at the Sydney Film Festival this year and loved it. Is there an effort made to be inclusive? Queer cinema can sometimes be quite male dominated, do you try to find more gender balanced films or is the quality of the film the main thing?
I try to find films that will appeal to a cross section of the LGBTIQ community. A film like Appropriate Behavior is very interesting. Usually, we wouldn’t play a film that the Sydney Film Festival has played already because we would try to have a Sydney premiere but that film is such a strong, bisexual – or I see it as a lesbian film, really – it’s about a lesbian relationship. It’s such a strong lesbian film that we just had to play it. We try to find films that everyone in the community can see themselves represented in.
Is there a stand out film for you at the festival?
I think the stand out film is Pride. It’s a really wonderful film about a group of gay activists in London in the 80’s during Thatcher’s reign who are wondering why the police aren’t on their backs, because usually they are. But instead, the police are on the backs of the miners. So they decide to help out the miners and go up to Wales to raise money for the miners, who are adverse to it because they don’t want to be associated with gays. But in the end, it’s about these two groups of minorities coming together. It’s a really beautiful story and it appeals to everyone. The great thing about that film is that it’s been getting 5 star reviews in the gay press but also 5 star reviews in the straight press, as well.
I think films like Pride really show how far queer cinema has come. A lot of queer cinema is difficult to fund, and so its quality is never as high as its straight counterparts. But films like Pride show how good queer cinema can be.
Without a doubt. The opening night film, The Way He Looks, is really wonderful. The two big awards for queer cinema are the Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival, and the second is the Queer Palm and it’s so fun to open with the Teddy Award winner and close with the Queer Palm. The Way He Looks is a charming film.
It is a really lovely film. Thanks for your time, Paul.