The Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) started life as an idea in the Prahran house of local filmmaker Lawrence Johnston, who co-directed the first festival with the late Pat Longmore in 1991.
“At that time in the media landscape there was an absolute need for films to show stories and characters depicting gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles, given the world was a far more homophobic and conservative place with regard to notions of difference,” Lawrence Johnston told us.
And so the festival was born. Then known as the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the event found an on-again off-again home in St Kilda’s National Theatre.
Throughout the nineties there would be significant change for the LGBTI community and the film industry – the festival would navigate both with finesse. The pink dollar, which started out at the value of monopoly money, skyrocketed to blue chip stocks. It would be increasingly more common for queer films to have theatrical releases and some would be massive successes at the box office such as The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Screening formats came and went. In 1992 the festival changed names to the Melbourne Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival to reflect that VHS had emerged as a popular and accessible format for gay and lesbian filmmakers.
The following year the festival would change names again, becoming the Melbourne Queer Film and Video Festival, prompted by the emergence of the New Queer Cinema movement and films like My Own Private Idaho and The Wedding Banquet, and the legitimising of queer as an all-encompassing term in academia for the wider LGBTI community. Ultimately, the festival would be renamed the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in 2001 as a sign of the times and the decline of VHS.
The physical space that the festival would occupy has also changed over the years. Starting off with a firm foot in the pink triangle, the festival was held in the State Film Theatre from 1993, which would one day evolve to be ACMI as we know it today. The Melbourne Queer Film Festival has adapted to the changing landscape and has grown to be the second largest film festival in Melbourne.
The festival really has become, as their tagline this year suggests, “For All Film Lovers”.
“The cultural landscape has changed into an amazing media circus of ways of seeing images and stories, as well as social networking, some for the better and some not. It is important as ever for our lives to be depicted along with others throughout all media and all platforms to engage, educate and most of all entertain and be present rather than absent or hidden as was this historic past,” Johnston explained.
So what’s in store for the festival’s future?
For MQFF’s 24th birthday this year, highlights include Stephan Lacant’s captivating coming out drama Free Fall, which gained critical acclaim at the 2013 Berlinale; Award-winning Israeli filmmaker Etyan Fox’s Cupcakes, an uplifting comedy about Tel Aviv friends who enter the Universong (Eurovision anyone?) contest; and Jack and Diane, writer and director Bradley Rust Gray’s unconventional NYC love story.
“There’s some amazing material on offer this year, from our opening night film Any Day Now, to our closing night film Reaching for the Moon. The 10 days in between offer incredible highlights such as a sneak preview of one of the best Australian queer films I’ve seen in many years, 52 Tuesdays, as well as Centrepiece films Bad Hair and Bruce LaBruce’s latest film Gerontophilia, co-presented by our Cultural Partner and main venue the Australian Centre for the Moving Image,” Festival Director Lisa Daniel said.
“And if you need a break from the endless film fun, be sure to look in on speed dating for guys & gals, gay bingo, and comedy night to name a few of the extra-curricular activities doing the rounds at the MQFF during the fest.”
The 24th Melbourne Queer Film Festival will run from Thursday 13 March – Monday 24 March.