In conversation with Queer Film Festival's Paul Struthers
As it returns for its third and biggest year, Screen NSW talks to festival director Paul Struthers about the festival's direction, the hotly anticipated films and networking events on offer.
What was it that inspired you to create the very first Queer Screen Film Fest in 2013?
QSFF was created when the Queer Screen team realised we had more quality queer cinema on our hands than one festival could possibly contain. More importantly, many of these films never get released, and we wanted to ensure they get the exposure they deserve. And, of course, our hungry members couldn’t be satisfied with just one opportunity in a year to see some queer films!
Now in its third year, how would you say the festival has developed?
Attendance has grown each year--this year it looks like we will be 30 percent higher in attendance than last year. We have also been able to increase the number of films we screen. In our first year we screened five, now this year we have been able to present more than double, with 12 screenings of all kinds of genres.
Our filmmaker networking event was a big hit last year, so we’ll be having another one this year! The event is a great place for local filmmakers to meet, and be informed by seasoned professionals.
How do you feel that your festival is able to attract a diverse audience?
I feel we are able to show a range of films that will appeal to the LGBTIQ audience, straight audiences, and also hardcore cinema fans. All the films we screen are of the best quality, and can speak for themselves. In addition we have had the extreme privilege to screen films from India, Chile and Saudi Arabia, promoting diversity to all.
What do you hope to achieve by providing a platform for queer film with this festival?
To highlight to the public just how great queer cinema is right now, and that it’s only getting better.
How do you choose the films, where do you find them? And it is it true that you view films in your pyjamas?
I am very fortunate, in that this year I attended Outfest in L.A. and Framline in San Francisco. Many of the films for Queer Screen Film Fest were discovered at these two major LGBTIQ film festivals. We keep tabs on all the biggest film festivals, searching for the best LGBTQI+ films for our audiences. We also receive submissions, and the rest come from scouring the internet for new films.
And to be honest, I don’t own pyjamas.
Over the last year there seems to have been a burst of homegrown LGBTIQ cinema in Australia, with Australian films such as Gayby Baby, Holding the Man and now with Aussie thriller Cut Snake screening at the festival. What are your thoughts on this?
Australia is a melting pot of LGBTIQ lives, and Sydney is the epicentre of this. For that reason, there are many stories to be told, and we are lucky to have many talented artists, who tell these stories with skill and heart.
The oldest LGBTIQ film festival started in San Francisco in 1977. In the early years, these film festivals served as safe havens for the LGBTIQ community. A lot has changed in queer cinema since then. Have we reached a post-gay era of global art cinema or has a New Wave Queer Cinema arrived?
When I’m programming a festival I focus equally on finding queer cinema that is representative of our diverse community, and on finding quality films made with artistry and nuance, so I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. I do think we are seeing a new renaissance of queer film, however. We’re seeing so many films, which are made by queer people, or feature queer characters, where identity is not made the focus of conflict. We’re not overloaded with characters whose whole lives are defined by being gay any more; we’re seeing characters who just happen to be queer.
I think we’re also going to start seeing oppressed queer individuals be played by people who share that experience of oppression--transgender people, for example. We’re not there yet, but we will be soon!
How do you see the festival developing over the next few years, and what are your hopes and plans for the future?
I can only hope the festival continues to get bigger as it has done over the past few years. We’d love to have more guests visit too, and continue to foster relationships between queer filmmakers and creators.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the festival?
I hope our audiences see that queer cinema just keeps getting better and better, and that queer films are relevant to all audiences, not only queer communities. I hope audiences will take queer cinema seriously, as it has many important things to say.
Did any specific films inspire you this year?
I would say Guidance. It’s darkly funny, it’s playful and irreverent, it manages to be both realistic and hopeful, and it reminds us that our mistakes don’t have to define our lives. It’s also an exceptional example of this new wave of queer cinema: it features queer characters, but their identities never define them and queer issues are never shoved down the audience’s collective throat. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but it’s a fantastic watch if you’re game!
Queer Screen Film Fest opens next Tuesday, 22nd September, and this will be the third outing for this festival. The festival closes with the much anticipated Freeheld, starring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore. There are several Australian Premiere screenings, an Australian showcase presentation of a new film, Cut Snake by Tony Ayres, star-studded Hollywood dramas and the best queer docos from around the world. Also returning is the festival's popular Mixed Shorts package led by Australian Tim Marshall's Iris Prize collaboration, Followers, which screened at Sundance earlier this year.