When Lisa Daniel took over the reins of Australia’s biggest and longest-serving celebration of LGBTI cinema, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), 17 years ago, she was operating under very different circumstances. For one thing, the office didn’t have internet access, relying instead on fax machines. The office received around 100 submissions, with 25 films making the grade.
Skip forward to MQFF’s 25th anniversary, Daniel’s 16th and final year in the hot seat, she and her team sifted through a record-breaking 1200 submissions, locking in around 180 films: 45 features, 14 docos, and 17 shorts packages.
“Nowadays everything arrives on a USB stick or hard drive,” Daniel says. “The whole festival fits in a little box, whereas back then it came in on actual film, spread out 10 metres across the floor, and weighed a tonne.”
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Once full of fluffy US rom-coms, MQFF is packed full of international highlights these days. Opening night flick The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) is Brazilian, with closing night’s I Feel Like Disco (Ich Fuhl Mich Disco) a German comedy. “You don’t here those words together terribly often, but it’s fantastic,” Daniel says. “I did get a real shellacking a few year ago for screening a foreign language film on opening night—people don’t like to read—but I’ve just gone 'bugger it'. They can’t sack me now!”
Australian highlights include Melbourne-set drama The Dream Children, from film and theatre director Robert Chuter, and Louise Wadley’s Sydney-set All About E.
Daniel says when she started out, queer cinema was focused squarely on coming out stories with a lot of angst and a good deal of tragedy. “[We had] a lot of dead lesbians. Actually, there are still a lot of dead lesbians, to be honest, but we’ve seen a lot of progress in other areas, with trans films in particular. Last year’s 52 Tuesdays was such a good example of great Australian filmmaking.”
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With MQFF constantly struggling to fund itself, with no help from either Screen Australia or Film Victoria, and filmmakers fighting uphill battles to secure funding, too, is the future bleak for queer cinema?
“I suppose the aim of queer events is to make themselves irrelevant. It would be great if, in the future, we don’t need MQFF because there is complete equality and being queer is just like being left-handed. But we’re still so far from that, decades really. We’ve made a few leaps and bounds, but there are still a huge percentage of queer people killing themselves, we don’t have marriage equality, there’s lot’s of inequity still, certainly not just here, but across the world.”
While the future may be wobbly, Daniel has faith in the incredibly creative people creating queer movies and in the team behind the MQFF, wishing her successor, whoever they may be, all the best. But before she goes, we had one last question. What are her top five queer films of all times?
The Hunger (1983)
Daniel was in her first year of university when she saw her first ever queer movie, Tony Scott’s lesbian vampire horror romp that sees Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve get jiggy amongst billowing white curtains. It also stars a certain David Bowie, hardly shy of the queer eye.
“I saw it at the currently being pulled down Greater Union Cinemas, when the seats were still intact, the popcorn was fresh and I ended up [going] twice because I found it so enticing, like nothing I’d ever seen before, being a naïve girl from the suburbs. Having eventually completed a masters’ thesis on women in horror, it had the dual appeal of seeing the gals kiss on screen and the vampire element,” Daniel says. “I also loved the Bauhaus soundtrack.”
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011)
Over the years, Daniel has seen many outstanding short filmmakers struggle to get a feature off the ground, so she’s always particularly chuffed when one pulls it off, as with Madeline Olneck’s Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. (You can catch Olneck’s latest offering, The Foxy Merkins, at this year’s MQFF.)
“I really love Madeleine’s dry witted, slightly off kilter and pretty un-PC take on life. She’s not afraid to visit topics that other filmmakers shy away from and her low-fi style really speaks to me as a welcome break form slick Hollywood production values. This film reminds me of some great 1950s classics like Plan 9 From Outer Space. Olneck also makes features under 90 minutes, which appeals to my short attention span.”
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Scooping the Oscar for Best Director, Adapted Screenplay and Achievement in Music, but not for its stars Heath Ledger or Jake Gyllenhaal, Ang Lee’s huge international success, based on an Annie Proulx short story, attracted mainstream and queer audiences alike.
“I’m just a sucker for good-looking cowboys, romance and a teary ending,” Daniel says. “When it was released, it didn’t screen at a single queer film festival that I can recall, which pissed off a lot of us in the film fest world—we felt we were the core audience, or so we thought. In retrospect, it was just as well, as its reach was far more widespread. A lot of us thought it would usher in a slew of queer-themed films featuring big budgets and big stars. Didn’t happen!”
The debut feature of the indie duo then known as the Wachowski Brothers (before Lana gender transitioned), Bound starred Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon as kinky Bonnie and Clyde-style lovers Violet and Corky, plotting to rip off the mob.
“Nice looking ladies in a neo/noir thriller is right up my alley,” Daniel confesses. “Great performances in a classic film. “I’ve loved the work of Lana and Andy Wachowski ever since. Bound was one of the first where it felt like the crime thriller element was as important as the depiction of female sexuality, which was pretty rare at the time, and probably still is. One of my favourite lines in the film is when Corky says, ‘When you get tired of Cagney and Lacey, find me.’”
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Expanding on her own short, writer/director Kimberly Peirce dramatised the devastating true-life story of trans man Brandon Teena, who fell for small-town Nebraska girl Lana Tisdel. Hilary Swank claimed the Best Actress Oscar for her stunning turn as Brandon, with co-star Chloe Sevigny nominated in the Supporting Actress category.
“An incredibly well-made, trans-themed film, with great acting and writing,” Daniel says. “Ticks a lot of boxes. It really kicked off big careers for those Swank and Sevigny, but probably didn’t push Peirce into the stratosphere like it should have.”
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival takes place from 19-30 March. Visit the official website for more information.