After 16 years at the helm, much-loved director of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), Lisa Daniel, took her final bow at the 25th anniversary last year, paving the way for a fresh look at one of the world’s longest-serving celebrations of LGBTQI movies.
Spiro Economopoulos was named her spiritual successor in the newly created role of program manager, working alongside Dillan Golightly’s executive director. His excitement at stepping into the role is palpable as we sit across a cafe table in one of Melbourne’s quirky laneways just around the corner from MQFF HQ.
“I’ve been going as a punter for almost 20 years and I’ve loved going to the movies since I was a kid.” Economopoulos beams.
Though he acknowledges we’ve seen some progress with films like Todd Haynes’ Carol accrue great critical acclaim and celebrated TV shows like Transparent, Economopoulos says we will always need a platform like MQFF, with countless queer stories struggling to be heard.
“The truth of it is there are hundreds and hundreds out there and what’s so great about this festival is that if you love cinema, this is the best place to see those stories represented with a great community aspect.”
With more than 50 features and 12 shorts packages, Economopoulos admits that his near-decade working in a record store as a young man influenced his debut line-up. A new 'Proud and Loud' stream celebrates queer pioneers in the music industry, including the Australian premiere of The Glamour and the Squalor, director Marq Evans’ doco spotlighting radio DJ Marco Collins.
Instrumental in introducing the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam during the '90s, it features archival interviews with Kurt Cobain as well as contributions from Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Garbage’s Shirley Manson.
“It’s very much about Collins’ struggle with addiction and coming out in that industry,” Economopoulos says. “He becomes a strong advocate for marriage equality, but more than anything it’s just a great movie about music.”
In a first for MQFF, there will also be a live, in-film music event during a special showcase of Canadian director Ingrid Veninger’s He Hated Pigeons. Recounting a young man’s journey across Chile to fulfill the wish of his dead lover, it’s a dreamy meditation on love and loss that’s accompanied by a different live score in every city.
“We’re really excited to have Vachel Spirason, the lead singer of Total Giovanni, performing for us,” Economopoulos says.
When My Sorrow Died – The Legend of Armen Ra & The Theremin stars the American Iranian-Armenian artist, club kid and drag queen of the title who took up the otherworldly, ground-breaking electronic instrument and made it his own.
“He’s a super-entertaining subject and his performances really have to be seen to be believed,” Economopoulos says.
Opening with American indie That’s Not Us from director William Sullivan, which Economopoulos describes as a queer take on The Big Chill, MQFF’s centrepiece is Australian directors Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe’s breathtaking doco Remembering the Man. Bursting with rare archival footage, it’s an incredible tribute to author, actor and activist Timothy Conigrave and his partner John Caleo, the lovers at the heart of seminal queer memoir, Holding the Man, adapted for the big screen last year.
“It’s a celebration not only of their lives, but this really supportive friend circle they had about them,” Economopoulos says.
“It’s really touching. I’m tearing up a little bit even talking about it.”
Another Australian highlight in a year bristling with strong documentary films is Poppy Stockell’s Scrum, shadowing gay rugby team the Sydney Convicts’ tilt at the 2014 Bingham Cup. Also in the doco field, first-time filmmaker Hillevi Loven’s Deep Run, produced by Susan Sarandon, follows one teenage trans man’s journey to acceptance in America’s Bible Belt while Chemsex dives headfirst into London’s drug-fuelled hook-up culture.
John Waters appearance in I Am Divine director Jeffrey Schwarz’ Tab Hunter Confidential is just one of many reasons to catch this compelling doco about the private life of the Hollywood heartthrob.
“He was kind of the Justin Bieber of the '50s and a closeted gay man, so it’s an interesting and super-fun documentary about living in the Hollywood system,” Economopoulos says.
MQFF will once again collaborate with Melbourne Cinémathèque to present the Pioneers stream, this year showcasing the work of German auteur Reiner Werner Fassbinder. Fassbinder – To Love Without Demands features unguarded archival footage of the man himself and there will also be screenings of his classic The Bitter Tear of Petra Von Kant as well final film Querelle, with a hairy-chested Brad Davis depicting the psychopathic and sexually voracious sailor of the title in the adaptation of Jean Genet’s scandalous novel.
Economopoulos' favourite lesbian features this year are French fancy La Belle Saison, set amidst the sexual liberation of the 70s feminist movement, Canadian comedy Portrait of a Serial Monogamist, which he hopes everyone catches for it’s fantastic ensemble performances, and Natalia Leite’s luminous Bare, starring Glee’s Dianna Agron and Enter the Void’s Paz de la Huerta. “It’s a visually hypnotic film.”
Night owls will gravitate towards the 'Out There' stream, a late-night showcase for weird and wonderful genre movies. Billing Mexican director Fernando Urdapilleta’s Lonely Stars as a, “drag punk version of All About Eve,” Economopoulos also recommends director Jim Hansen’s You’re Killing Me, starring Jeffery Self as an aspiring comedian seemingly oblivious to the fact his new beau (Matthew McKelligon) is a serial killer.
“It’s kind of like the comedic flip side to Strangers By The Lake. It’s a really funny film about gay narcissism.”
Jorge Torres-Torres’ eerie thriller Sisters of the Plague starring Josephine Decker as a New Orleans-based ghost tour guide stalked by an evil spirit, is another spooky fave.
“It recalls Under The Skin, one of my favourite films of recent years, with the same kind of strong, moody atmospherics and sound design.”
With elements of Cronenbergian body horror, troubled teen drama Closet Monster sounds brilliant enough, but once you factor in Italian legend Isabella Rossellini voicing a hamster called Buffy, who could say no? Economopoulos also tips British film Departure, which stars Juliet Stevenson as a mother who escapes to the South of France after a messy divorce only to end up competing with her young son for the attentions of a local teen.
Andrew Nackman’s bromantic Fourth Man Out, starring Evan Todd as a mechanic coming out to his best mates in a blue-collar town, wraps the festival.