The Most Inclusive Film Festival in Australia

January 27, 2019
We spoke with Mardi Gras Film Festival Director Lisa Rose about the 2019 edition.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I was always interested in film and filmmaking,” says Lisa Rose, not unlike Henry Hill’s iconic narration in Goodfellas. “I discovered that the older I got, I didn’t necessarily have that many stories inside me, I was just a consumer of them. It’s my favourite form of entertainment, it’s my favourite form of art really.”

Lisa started volunteering with Queer Screen (an organisation established in Sydney in 1993, which runs the Mardi Gras Film Festival) in 2012. She soon joined the board, and a couple of years ago applied for the top job when her predecessor Paul Struthers took the coveted role of Director of Exhibition & Programming with Frameline in the US.

The queer community has led the charge when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness, and during Lisa’s tenure these issues have never been as topical. How does she go about addressing these concerns?

“We show a very diverse range of films, not only in style and genre, but also across films about gay men, lesbians, the trans, intersex and bisexual communities; and also, just making sure that we’re getting films from multiple cultures and different parts across the world and having people of colour on screen.

“If I only had a festival where I could play five films, it would be really challenging to do that. But because I’m playing 120 films, it means that I can show a really diverse range of films and stories. Which means that hopefully, most of the community is feeling that they’re being represented, that there’s things for everybody to be able to come and watch.”

This extends to the artwork for this year’s festival.

“We try to be as inclusive as possible, we’re trying to be as gender ambiguous as possible with it,” Lisa tells us. “Which is why there are no eyes on the artwork. Eyes would make it too … too gender specific. We’re trying to be ambiguous, so that if you just glance at it you’re like, ‘I don’t actually know… is that two men? Is that two women? Is that a man and a woman?’”

One film that Lisa chose not curate this year is the controversial Girl, the story of a young transgender woman, which was directed by a cis man, and stars a cis man in the leading role. The Belgian/Dutch production had won the Camera d’Or at Cannes and received a Golden Globe nomination.

“It had played Sydney Film Festival [last year] and there are so many amazing trans films being made at the moment,” Lisa tells us. “We have 22 films out of 120 that feature trans, or non-binary, or intersex characters or subjects.

“I have close connections with the trans community, and I had people watch that film and they found it problematic,” she says about Girl. “I made the decision that there were other trans films that would be getting premieres, which are less controversial and have a more positive portrayal of the trans experience.”

There is no shortage of amazing content on offer at the 2019 edition of the Mardi Gras Film Festival, and ironically for every film that Lisa knocks back, there are a number of presentations that she is unable to secure.

One project that Lisa was particularly keen on but was unable to screen was Gregg Araki’s 10-part series Now Apocalypse, which will premiere at Sundance. “It’s a highly competitive market nowadays,” she comments referring to the explosion in streaming services. “Going back a number of years, we were the only place to see this content, but now there are so many more options for filmmakers, which is great.

“There are a lot of LGBTIQ films making it to the mainstream now. Sydney Film Festival played over 20 films that had LGTBIQ characters in them last year. We’re getting more films that are getting distribution in Australia, which is great. That’s fantastic for the filmmakers and fantastic for visibility for our community.

“There are so many more films getting made, and they’re getting made by queer people for queer people. I think that’s something that is never going to go away and something that is going to mean that our festival will exist for many years to come. People want to see these films, and want to see them in the safe space of watching them with a queer audience.

“I mean, we’re playing The Favourite,” she ends, referring to the Oscar frontrunner that has been a hit since it opened in cinemas on Boxing Day. “We want people to come and see that in a room full of people who are going to get all the jokes. There are a lot of very witty in-jokes for the queer community in that film.”

The Mardi Gras Film Festival is on February 13 – 28, 2019.

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