Dallas Webster aka Nova Gina from Black Divaz. Photo: Joseph Mayers

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By Rita Bratovich.

The Mardi Gras Film Festival (MGFF) is one of the most popular features of the festival overall. It is run in collaboration with Queer Screen who this year celebrate 25 years as an entity. Since it was established in 1993 by a group of LGBTIQ+ film makers and friends-of-film, Queer Screen has showcased the best in LGBTIQ+ films and helped independent and emerging talent find a platform. The MGFF incorporates QueerDoc, a selection of documentaries that deal with LGBTIQ+ related subjects; and My Queer Career, a short film competition open only to locally produced work.

The program includes Australian and international premieres, mainstream releases, classics and a My Queer Career Retrospective.

With 55 features and 69 shorts, this year’s festival will be bigger and better than ever.

“I wouldn’t put in a turkey!” says Lisa Rose, about the selection.

Rose first joined Queer Screen in 2013 as Membership Director and moved quickly up through the ranks to her position today as Festival Director. She’s seen the festival evolve over its lifespan. Earlier films were “very queer”, quite esoteric with a narrow range of topics, whereas now films cover a broad content and genre spectrum, many with queerness being incidental to the plot. That said, she believes film festivals should provide a space for experimental, niche, political and independent films.

“What’s been really interesting over the 25 years has been the diversity that has grown, like there’s so many more people of colour that we see on screen now,” explains Rose. “One of the biggest things that has changed is the quantity of trans-films that are being made – there’s a lot more, which is great!”

Something she laments is the lack of parity between female and male films, something she means to rectify in future festivals.

One film that does have female producers is the feature, Black Divaz, which was recently awarded $2000 from the Queer Screen Completion Fund. Michaela Perske and Gillian Moody had to shoot quickly on a very low budget to complete their documentary and still need to raise money for ongoing costs, so the award is a welcome gift.

“I am so thrilled!” says Perske. “[Queer Screen] have been utterly supportive in every way.”

Black Divaz documents the inaugural Miss First Nation pageant, held in Darwin in 2017. Six indigenous drag queens from around Australia competed in the finals: Crystal Love, Isla Fukyah, Josie Baker, Nova Gina, Shaniqua, and Jo Jo. As Perske describes it, the film explores “what it actually means to be a queer indigenous person in Australia in the 21st Century.” Interestingly, one contestant, Isla Fukyah (aka Izaak Field) is actually straight but has discovered drag as a means to overcome anxiety and depression.

All six queens involved will see the movie for the first time when it premieres at MGFF. To help promote Black Divaz and raise funds, an exhibition by photographer Joseph Mayers featuring the queens is being held at The Bearded Tit in Redfern.

Meanwhile, here’s a tasting plate of films in the MGFF program.

The Rift (Iceland, subtitles)

The blue-hued sparse Icelandic landscape is beautiful yet ominous, setting the perfect mood for this slowly thawing thriller. Two ex-lovers are brought together in an isolated cottage and forced to try and understand each other, themselves and the sinister presence that haunts them. Gripping.

The Ring Thing (USA)

Although the protagonists are both women, this is a universal story about relationships and marriage. The making-a-movie within a movie device allows a wider exploration of the subject. It’s romantic, sad and real.

Rebels On Pointe (UK/ Italy/Canada/Japan/USA)

Men in tights and tu-tus being strong, graceful and charismatic. This is the famous and prestigious Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. You’ll meet the male-only dancers, hear their stories, watch their moves, marvel and cry.

Bar Bahar/In Between (Israel/France, subtitles)

Three unlikely flatmates: a party-girl lawyer; a lesbian bartender with conservative parents; a traditional betrothed Muslim woman studying computer science, discover that freedom and oppression are vague and overlapping concepts. Amusing, daring and starkly poignant.

The 34th (Ireland)

An extremely important and topical film given our own recent Marriage Equality debate. This documentary reveals the personal stories, political in-fighting and mixed social responses that were part of the Equality campaign in Ireland. Inspiring and moving.

The Cakemaker (Germany/Israel, subtitles)

A touching drama about Thomas, a young German pastry chef who enters into an affair with Oren, a visiting Israeli businessman who is married with a child. Oren’s sudden death compels Thomas to go to Israel and seek out his widow in an attempt to deal with his emotions – but it only complicates things.

Waffles (USA, short)

At just under four minutes long, this meme-ish little gem delivers a sweet punch. The morning after a one night stand a married (we’re told) woman lies in bed while her younger hook-up dresses briskly and answers questions petulantly. We ultimately learn why. Worth seeing just for the killer last line!

Mardi Gras Film Festival. Feb 15-Mar 1. www.queerscreen.org.au

My Queer Career awards. Feb 26. Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney. www.queerscreen.org.au

Black Divaz Photo Exhibition. Until Mar 3. Bearded Tit, 183 Redfern St, Redfern. www.thebeardedtit.com