When the Brisbane Queer Film Festival (BQFF) kicks off on Friday, March 10, co-director Shanon King says it will be “the biggest, queerest party of the year”. Finding its new home at New Farm Cinemas, it’ll be like any other 18-year-old – newly independent and looking to explore its identity. The idea of exploration, of discovering oneself at the festival, is what has defined BQFF throughout its adolescence, attracting audiences from diverse backgrounds to come together as a community and see their own stories on film, perhaps for the first time. To quote fellow co-director Justin Marshman, the wonder of the festival is as simple as seeing “the queer people that you can relate to on the big screen”.
For the past 18 years, the festival has been an integral part of the LGBTQIA+ community in both Brisbane and Queensland at large, particularly for those attracted to a lower-key vibe than Pride or Queens Ball. “Queensland has its parties, we just like to spread the fun,” Marshman tells SBS via email. “The challenge for all of our organisations is to maintain and grow the sense of community and to use this community to help to address the challenges and concerns of queers across the state.”
King has been involved in the festival since 2010, and responsible for programming since 2015, and says that community diversity and inclusivity are important themes when considering the BQFF program each year. Both King and Marshman’s aims for this year are to bring more awareness to the festival, as well as starting to grow and diversify the festival’s audience—including trying to attract ally audiences.
“[There’s] Rara, Real Boy, Out Run and The Lives of Therese that you could share with your mother for example, as well as films such as Below Her Mouth, Paris 05:59 and Taekwondo that you wouldn’t want her to see,” Marshman says.
While queer stories are more visible in mainstream media than ever, from films like Moonlight and Carol to TV series’ like Transparent and Looking, Marshman says the experience of discovery at the festival is still paramount: “it is now our job to find those other stories that can’t get their voices heard in a mainstream cinema context”.
This year, King’s personal highlights include Women Who Kill—a crime comedy from Ingrid Jungermann of the webseries Fto7th and The Slope, the documentary Real Boy—which King says “reinforces the family element of a queer community”, and opening film Kiki—a modern day look at the New York City ballroom scene that is often referred to as a younger sibling of the landmark 1990 documentary Paris is Burning.
While each of these films are stories of inclusion and discovery, King is especially excited about Kiki, as it sends “a clear message of independence with the 18th year of the festival” with its themes reflecting the ideals of living and thriving in the face of “the mainstream, dominant society”.
“To reflect every aspect of the community is challenging in itself, programming wise,” King says, noting that “what perhaps is more satisfying is seeing the community embrace a film for the simple enjoyment of queer cinema… and seeing films that are not so easily accessible to a mainstream audience or that would be considered to risqué or not profitable in a mainstream cinema complex.”
Marshman agrees: “Brisbane is so diverse that choosing films is difficult, but what is important is universal stories, and stories that look beyond the traditional queer film stock of coming out and AIDS”.
At times, Brisbane can feel detached from the camaraderie of the LGBTQIA+ hubs in Sydney and Melbourne, which boast large focal points for the queer community like Mardi Gras and Midsumma. King says that a festival like BQFF is integral to belonging in one’s own city, in addition to building a stronger community.
“Brisbane has always seemed to be shunned from the spotlight in favour of Melbourne and Sydney,” says King, “not just with the queer scene, but in the film scene in general”.
King goes on to note that if Brisbane didn’t have the BQFF, “it would leave a large part of the community having to travel to the more popular or populated, ‘culturally dominate’ city hubs of Sydney and Melbourne.”
It’s a sentiment that Marshman echoes: “I think it is important that we do everything we can to reach out into the community...I think if they can relate to the stories we’re sharing, then it is our responsibility to bring them out.”
For many in Brisbane, going to BQFF marks the first LGBTQIA+ community event they’ll attend—a memory that Marshman holds dear. As the festival explores its evolving identity its directors hope that first time attendees will remember this rite of passage fondly.
“There is something about a group of people coming together and sitting in the dark that evens everything out,” Marshman says. “When the lights are out we focus less on what makes us different and ignore all the external pressures and preconceptions that come along with it. In a cinema we are all equal sharing the same stories and feeling safe and unselfconscious enough to respond in our own way without fear of judgement.”
The Brisbane Queer Film Festival runs from March 10 to March 19 at new Farm Cinemas. For tickets and more information, click here.