Right Now’s 2017 Melbourne Queer Film Festival picks

By Rachael Imam, Christie-Anna Ozorio and Pia White
Out of Iraq

The 27th Melbourne Queer Film Festival features more than 120 curated LGBTIQ-themed features, shorts and documentaries from Australia and the world. Right Now reviewers have reflected on three documentaries from the program that highlight important human rights issues. MQFF runs from 16 – 27 March 2017.

Out of Iraq | Chris McKim & Eva Orner

Review by Rachael Imam

Out of Iraq tells the moving story of Nayyef and Btoo, who met and fell in love during the first years of war in their home country of Iraq. As gay men in the Middle East, their love is forbidden in both law and culture, and they risk their lives and those of anyone who support them simply by being together. Add to this the outbreak of war and the constant threat of death that it brings, and the persistence of Nayyef and Btoo to keep their relationship alive becomes even more incredible to witness.

While the film is first and foremost a love story, the wider social and political context in which their relationship exists is deftly weaved through the narrative by directors Chris McKim and Academy Award-winner Eva Orner (Chasing Asylum). You feel the weight of everything that is happening around these two men begin to push against them, as you see the destructive effects that homophobia and war have on real people, with real dreams and desires, who simply want to be together in peace.

What is perhaps most unexpected about their story is how familiar and ordinary their relationship can seem, despite it forming in the middle of a war zone in a society that would wish them killed. The nervousness they feel before their first kiss, their playfulness together and the difficulty of being apart all feels so universal and relatable that you almost forget the powerful forces that they are up against. These men could be any of us, and as Out of Iraq so beautifully demonstrates, their love is as real, as powerful, and as worthy of celebration as anybody else’s.

Out of Iraq screens on Sunday 26 March at 1:45pm at ACMI.

View the trailer:

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four | Deborah Esquenazi

Review by Christie-Anna Ozorio

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four continues the recent cinematic trend of real-life stories about wrongful conviction and the work of Innocence Project.

The four lesbians at the heart of this documentary are wrongfully convicted for up to 35 years for gang-raping two girls. The homophobia underpinning their trial and convictions is palpable; jurors admit that they are uncomfortable with the women’s homosexuality in pre-trial selection and the prosecutor channels this conservatism and ignorance to win convictions, despite there being no physical evidence of the crimes. However, the film’s true strength is in showcasing the incredible fortitude and resilience of these women and their families.

While Southwest of Salem is a documentary about a flawed legal system, the true cost of societal homophobia, and the pursuit of justice, it is the documentary’s compelling narrative and relatable characters that give it mainstream appeal. It is well-worth viewing – bring tissues.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four screens on Saturday 18 March at 6:15pm at ACMI.

A related panel, Criminalising Queer, is on Tuesday 21 March at 6:00pm. The panel examines cases in which the (assumed) sexuality and personal proclivities of the accused created a fervor of queer panic in the eyes of the press and in turn the public.  

View the trailer:

I, Olga Hepnarova | Petr Kazda, Tomás Weinreb

Review by Pia White

I, Olga Hepnarova is a bleak and unflinching depiction of the final years in the short life of the titular Olga, the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia in 1975. She was hanged for mass murder.

Filmakers Petr Kazda and Tomás Weinreb chronicle Olga’s story in sombre black and white against the backdrop of communist Prague. There is little joy in the film and even less music. Olga’s loneliness and isolation is palpable in every interaction and every disjointed scene.

Olga was a lesbian, but as with the rest of her life, her sexuality is portrayed without judgement and largely without comment. Rather than her sexuality being presented as an explanation for, or a contributor to her alienation, Olga’s sexual encounters are some of the few moments she allows herself to be close to someone, at least physically if not emotionally.

Olga’s story is one that could very easily have been sensationalised, but here is treated with restraint and neutrality. Depictions of women in film are still too often one dimensional, and nuanced portrayals of disturbed and violent women are particularly uncommon. While the film is not exactly sympathetic towards Olga, she is allowed to be neither victim, nor monster, but someone more complex and certainly more compelling.

I, Olga Hepnarova screens on Tuesday 21 March at 8:45pm at Kino Cinemas.

View the trailer:

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