• Sydney Film Festival has a great lineup of queer films this year. (Sydney Film Festival)Source: Sydney Film Festival
The best queer highlights from Sydney Film Festival.
Stephen A. Russell

23 May 2019 - 8:09 AM  UPDATED 23 May 2019 - 8:09 AM

From treason to men in tights via a Drag Race champion, here’s a red hot dozen of the great LGBTIQ+ movies lighting up this year’s Sydney Film Festival program.

Pain and Glory

By all accounts from the Cannes buzz, beloved Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st feature is a return to fine form. It’s also his most personal missive yet, casting regular collaborator Antonio Banderas as an ageing gay filmmaker who’s stuck in a creative rut, in poor health and haunted by the past. Penélope Cruz also reunites with the director in a flashback role central to the theme of his movies, which are basically all about his mother.

Suburban Wildlife

From the crown king of Spanish cinema to a new Aussie champion, Imogen McCluskey’s have-a-go film was shot in and around Sydney’s sun-baked suburbs in a bracing two weeks on a crowdfunded micro budget. Embracing a queer awakening is on the cards as four friends face the uncertainty of life post-university, minus a tragic (or even neat) narrative.

XY Chelsea

US military intelligence analyst-turned-whistle blower Chelsea Manning became infamous when she shared some 750,000 classified files with Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks in 2010, revealing torture and the horrific collateral murder. Transitioning in a men-only, high-security prison, Tim Travers Hawkins’ doco follows her journey from the day outgoing President Obama commuted her sentence. It’s haunted by the knowledge she is now back in prison for refusing to give evidence against Assange.

The White Crow

Speaking of taking a stand, Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko embodies the otherworldly Lord of the Dance himself, Rudolf Nureyev, in Ralph Fiennes’ noble re-telling of his spirited defection from the Soviet Union. Transfixing audiences with his ethereal moves, Nureyev’s KGB handlers were less impressed by his frequenting of Parisian gay bars, leading to a fateful decision made at the height of the Cold War, paving the way to his helming of the Paris Opera Ballet. Fiennes also plays his tutor Pushkin.

Trixie Mattell: Moving Parts

Calling all Drag Race devotees, loser-turned All Stars winner and life-sized Malibu Barbie Trixie Mattell – aka cute Milwaukee-based country singer Brian Firkus – gives it his all in this hilarious but also deeply affecting doco taking an unflinching look at his childhood, the fireworks behind SBS On Demand cult hit Trixie And Katya Show, a global touring and recording her solo album, sashay this way please.

Sequin in a Blue Room

Australian filmmaker Samuel Van Grinsven came of age online, Googling his way into gay teen chat rooms and finding his first boyfriend on Myspace. He channels that queer digital revolution with his stylishly button-pushing debut feature, which stars Conor Leach as a 16-year-old whose hunger for anonymous sex parties gets derailed when he’s hung up on an older stranger, sparking an obsessive GPS-led search for him on ‘dating’ apps. 


Fashion-forward fanatics flock towards Dior and I director Frédéric Tcheng’s latest doco, cut from the camp cloth of outré designer Roy ‘Halston’ Frowick. Exploding across catwalks and red carpets, his meteoric rise put US fashion houses on the map in the ‘70s and saw him partying hard at Studio 54 with the likes of Liza Minelli. But some backstabbing and bad business decisions meant he was all but forgotten by the time of his death during the HIV/AIDs crisis, a tragedy this lovingly outrageous account seeks to correct.

I Am No Bird

Melbourne director Em Baker sets a very different pace from her special effects work on Mad Max: Fury Road with her heart-swollen debut doco examining what getting married means for four very different women. Anna, a local, is deeply religious and has only ever kissed her fiancé. Luthanlu in North-East India must navigate tribal expectation, and Turkish kindergarten teacher Benay grieves for her dead mother. In Mexico City, Dalia is estranged from her conservative catholic family because she plans to marry her girlfriend. 

Papi Chulo

Irish director John Butler follows up his sweet fairy tale of queer friendship Handsome Devil with this touching, LA-set musing on things past. Magic Mike’s Matt Bomer plays emotionally unmoored weatherman Sean, forced to take leave from his local TV station and figure out a new way to live without his long-term partner. When he hires a cash-in-hand Latino handyman Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), a deep bond is forged across their language barrier.

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream

Speaking of broken hearts, if you didn’t get a chance to catch Christopher Marclay’s mesmerising movie megamix The Clock while it was in Australia, consider this your next best option. Devastated by the departure of his ex-boyfriend, French filmmaker Frank Beauvais retreated to the French countryside and crafted this elegiac confessional set to classic film clips.

This is Not Berlin

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Hari Sama’s 1986-set, semi-autobiographical celebration of gay abandon plays out in Mexico City. Xabiani Ponce de León is 17-year-old outsider Carlos, escaping testosterone-driven fights at school and falling into the New Wave and drug-fuelled pansexual discovery in nightclub Azteca, alongside best mate Gera (José Antonio Toledano). Look out for Sama as Carlos’ biker uncle.

Vison Portraits

Queer African-American filmmaker Rodney Evans, who won the Special Jury Prize for his Anthony Mackie-starring hit Brother to Brother in 2004, wryly muses that his industry was already stacked against him before he started losing his eyesight in this candid doco. Determined to continue creating, he interviews a trio of visually impaired artists who share his drive: dancer Kayla Hamilton, photographer John Dugdale and writer Ryan Knighton.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 5-16. For more info, click here.

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