Right Now’s 2017 Mardi Gras Film Festival picks

By Alyssia Tennant, Rob Gilchrist, Jessica Pearce, Christie-Anna Ozorio and Samaya Borom
Mardi Gras Film Festival

We’ve reviewed a handful of must-see films from the Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival that inspire change, give hope, and provide insight into issues faced by the LGBTIQ community. Mardi Gras Film Festival takes place across Sydney, Canberra and regional NSW from 15 February to 2 March. It showcases LGBTIQ films from across the globe.

Political Animals | Jonah Markowitz, Tracy Wares

Review by Alyssia Tennant

Political Animals chronicles four pioneering American lesbian activists – Sheila Kuehl, Christine Kehoe, Jackie Goldberg, and Carole Migden – in their fight for equal rights for LGBT communities. The film highlights the societal shifts we have seen in recent years with regard to acceptance of sexual orientation, whilst demonstrating the real life impact of advocacy and being an agent of change.

The story begins in 1994 just after Kuehl is elected as the first openly gay member of the California State Assembly. Soon after, three others have joined her and are ready to make a difference. With immense determination, these women eventually paved the way for legal rights, including the first domestic partnership registry enacted by legislature and the first anti-bullying bill protecting queer students.

The film is strengthened by its ability to incorporate present-day insight while maintaining its historical focus. A combination of news clips, photographs and archived footage, as well as piece-to-camera interviews, Political Animals is a powerful reminder of attitudinal change, and how movements have historically been met with apprehensiveness and hostility before success.

Although there is still a way to go, the film’s formidable heroines are admirable for their ability to overcome the vitriol they experienced from the opposition, including comparisons between homosexuality and necrophilia or incest. Significant parts of the footage within the California assembly are both riveting and infuriating at the same time.

As Migden states during a public hearing on discrimination: “It isn’t about whether you approve or disapprove of lesbian or gay life … It exists. We exist. We have existed since the beginning of time.”

Political Animals is a film of great courage and resilience. It is an uplifting reminder of the change that we can make as individuals, but also of the barriers that can often get in the way.

Political Animals screens on 26 February in Sydney NSW, 12 March in Mount Victoria NSW and 9 April in Acton ACT.

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The Revival: Women and the Word | Sekiya Dorsett

Review by Jessica Pearce

Between the poet and the poem is the people. In 2012, poet Jade Foster led a group of queer women of colour on a salon-style poetry tour of eight North American cities – ‘The Revival’ tour.  The tour not only created safe spaces for black, female artists through the use of intimate, non-traditional venues that blurred the boundaries between public performance and the private, but also provided a platform for exploring the ways in which trauma both facilitates and is soothed by art.

The Revival: Women and the Word is a Kickstarter-funded documentary that follows the tour. It is a patchwork of black voices and experiences, not just those of the five women on the tour, but of the friends, family and audience members they connect with along the way. It allows the viewer to witness the creation of a community through conversation and the idea of performance as therapy, illustrating that poetry can indeed save lives in a rich and moving way.

The documentary seems particularly significant in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s disregard and constant undermining of what constitutes the ‘truth’, his blindspots when it comes to minority groups, and his expectations of how women should appear and behave make films such as The Revival: Women and the Word essential pieces of protest, telling an alternative story of life on the ground in American that would otherwise be ignored. It highlights the significance of storytelling in the face of injustice and the way in which women’s narratives have traditionally been silenced or corrupted. African American slaves were once punished for learning to read and write, so the black women’s spoken word movement can be seen as a rallying cry, originating from the transformative and political power of the word.

The Revival: Women and the Word is powerful and raw, and will embolden emerging artists, grassroots activists and minorities who continually find that mainstream spaces aren’t available to them.

The Revival: Women and the Word screens on 24 February in Casula NSW and 27 February in Sydney NSW.

View the trailer here.

The Freedom to Marry | Eddie Rosenstein

Review by Rob Gilchrist

“Justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

This is how President Obama described the Supreme Court decision to end bans on same-sex marriage across America in June 2015. After decades of campaigning by millions of volunteers, five of the nine Supreme Court Justices decided that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, deserved the right to marry the person they loved.

Directed by Eddie Rosenstein, The Freedom to Marry follows the journey of the movement and its key leaders as they strive for equality in marriage. Lawyers Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto tirelessly lead from the front as groups including ‘Freedom to Marry’ and ‘GLAD’ implement a nation-wide strategy that combats the heated vitriol from those seeking to deny their justice.

Through interviews, inside access to meetings and events as well as personal accounts, Rosenstein gives the machinery of change a human face. By doing so, I felt a great sense of compassion and at times embarrassment about our own national handling of the issue.

For Wolfson, Bonauto and millions of others, victory brought relief, and when asked why he gave so much to the cause, Wolfson replies that “you have to believe”. In Australia, believe we must. While The Freedom to Marry highlights the agonising highs and lows of the struggle, there is a constant progress towards justice that should give hope to all Australians. With perseverance and strong leadership, marriage equality can be achieved regardless of the hurdles placed in its way.

While the current government and many across all Australian parties seek to ignore the issue, the underlying movement cannot be denied and will eventually succeed. Through one conversation at a time, one step at a time, one changed mind at a time, justice and equality can be found.

The time has come for Australia to follow the lead of the developed world and allow for marriage equality, and The Freedom to Marry offers an insight into how this can be achieved.

The Freedom to Marry screens on 22 February in Sydney NSW.

View the trailer:

Girl on Girl | Jodi Savitz

Review by Christie-Anna Ozorio

Girl on Girl is an intimate look at the experience of feminine lesbians in the United States. The documentary follows four women and a female couple and their experiences of being invisible as lesbians due to their ‘girly’ physical appearance. All of the women use their own lives as examples of how appearing straight, being ‘lipstick’ or ‘femme’, is not a privilege, as many in the LGBTQ often assume. These women have to come out time and time again on a daily basis simply because they do not perpetuate a physical stereotype.

The film’s overarching purpose is to provide exposure for these women who challenge assumptions of what society imagines a lesbian to look like, and offers different narratives of how invisibility impacts their lives. One woman explains her frustration at having health professionals assume she is her own daughter’s aunt. Another reveals the intersectional issues she experienced coming out to her religious, Puerto Rican parents who are in the military. Another woman served in Iraq during ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and reveals how looking straight enabled her to hide her sexuality in the military but also made her feel like she was “lying every single day”. Director Jody Savitz excels in including a diorama of experiences, all tied together because of the way the women present themselves and how that conflicts with society’s perception of lesbianism. The film gives these women a platform to narrate their past, present and future.

Despite a two hour run-time, the film flies by thanks to its flow, good editing, and a relatable and varied cast. It is a thought-provoking insight into a world of lesbian sub-identity that is undervalued and disregarded by LGBTQ media, but it is also utterly human in perspective. Anyone can watch this, but LGBTQ people in particular should go and see it to gain a tangible insight into an overlooked slice of their own community.

Girl on Girl screens on 2 March in Sydney NSW.

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Irrawaddy Mon Amour | Valeria Testagrossa, Nicola Grignani & Andrea Zambelli

Review by Samaya Borom

What do you do if your love for your partner is illegal in your country?

The village of Kyauk Myaung, on the Irrawaddy River, sits outside of Mandalay – the largest city in Myanmar after Yangon. It has a unique acceptance of the LGBTIQ community, which is distinctly opposite to that of the previous ruling military Junta’s position on same-sex couplings. The Junta actively prosecuted gay relationships, often imprisoning ‘offenders’ for upwards of ten years. Despite recent elections of the National League for Democracy party led by Aung Sang Suui Kyi, many of the Junta’s policies and legislation are still in place with key seats in government still held by the former military leaders.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour offers an intimate glimpse into Kyauk Myaung and showcases the struggle of two lovers in their bid to marry each other against competing societal beliefs and brutal military rule. The directors, Nicola Grignani, Valeria Testagrossa, and Andrea Zambelli, deftly explore the relationship that exists between the community members, illustrating the underlying foundation of Buddhist and animist values at odds with the impact of rules of the Junta. Viewers are shown couples seeking the advice of revered Buddhist monks for auspicious dates to be married, as well as conversing with spirit mediums – nat kadaws – who are usually transgendered individuals whose practices bridge the gap between shamanic and Buddhist rituals in rural communities. The film focuses as much on the villagers, and their relationships to each other, as it does on Soe Ko and Siang Ko who are embarking on a journey to marry each other with assistance from the members of their communities.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour is important as it positions same sex couples as members of humankind, rather than deviants threatening Myanmar society, which is how the Junta sought to paint them, and which has changed very little even with the National League for Democracy in power. Myanmar’s constitution was written by the Army and is not likely to change to reference human rights. It offers an interesting glimpse into an unseen society within Myanmar that viewers can then extend to consider the LGBTIQ rights in other countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, where regimes and laws also seek to remove or limit the human rights of its citizens, resulting in the LGBTIQ community hiding from public view for fear of retribution.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour is a beautiful film that shows love can persevere even in the face of severe adversity – well worth watching.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour screens on 28 February in Sydney NSW.

View the trailer:

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