Don’t just talk about going to the Brisbane Queer Film Festival this year; really go.
Go because you will be shocked, inspired, educated. Go because it’ll be a bloody good night out. Go because you love film. Go because you shouldn’t just be talking about the gay and lesbian community in Brisbane (and the world at large). Go to honour our right to have a queer film festival. GO!
Brisbane Queer Film Festival (BQFF) is Queensland’s largest festival to celebrate queer cinema, and the third largest in Australia, and as such, each year the BQFF promises to showcase films that are for, by and about the queer community. The 2013 BQFF, now in its 14th year, starts early April at its New Farm home, the Brisbane Powerhouse.
The films selected for BQFF rarely receive a mainstream theatrical or television release, something that makes BQFF an important exhibitor of shorts, features and documentaries from all over the globe. The festival this year is showcasing 58 films from Australia, the US, the UK, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Uganda, Iran, Chile, Denmark, Israel, Brazil, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia.
Celebrating diversity and encouraging a safe space for LGBTI discussion and alliance, the BQFF is a highlight of the Brisbane cultural calendar and is a forerunner in paving the way for a more inclusive city we should all strive for and defend.
‘Keep The Lights On’ (US) opens the festival with all of the internationally acclaimed, gritty, poignancy that one could hope for, but before you even have a chance to wallow in the poeticisms of the film you will be swinging along with drag queen impersonator Liza (On An E) at the New York themed opening party.
According to Festival Director Sarah Neal, the films truly represent the diversity of contemporary LGBTI life, with James Dean, ‘80s rockers, ballroom dancers, nannies, killers, fashionistas, doctors and cabbies all featured on the silver screen. The program will be exhibiting a range of film genres including, but not limited to, drama, comedy, shorts, and documentary. The only Australian documentary on the bill, ‘Ballroom Rules’, is a feature length film that explores the little known world of same-sex ballroom dancing and follows five couples as they prepare to compete at the 2010 Gay Games in Germany.
Nickolas Bird, one of the directors of the labour of love that is ‘Ballroom Rules’, detailed the two-year process that preceded the internationally celebrated documentary. Along with his directorial partner Eleanor Sharpe, Nickolas filmed, ate and danced their way across the globe to bring you their feature-length documentary debut.
“You go in with an idea and a story and it changes and evolves, you just have to go with the flow. We filmed a lot of material and I am pretty sure the dancers were sick of us by the end of it all! I wouldn’t blame them, we filmed them at least once a week for a year,” Nickolas reflected.
Filming a documentary has to be an organic process, something impossible to predict. A really good documentary has the ability to tell a story, to find a sensitive, charged and driving narrative through the droll of the day to day. This is something that ‘Ballroom Rules’ does with the graceful ease of the dancers that it features.
“My favourite thing that came out organically is the quality of the dance. I was really worried about the dancing itself, but it wasn’t long before I realised that we were not making a dancing film, and that we were making a film about the people. And that in some worlds all people are the same and their skill is all that speaks for them, but everyone in this film has their own obstacles and they are very different people, it was very important and lucky to find that.”
Anny Salerni is the owner of Melbourne’s only gay and lesbian ballroom dancing studio, and is a hurricane in same-sex ballroom dancing in Australia. Anny has been threatened in the past by the governing body, though will not abandon the duty to foster a safe dance space for her same-sex dance students.
Shunned from mainstream ballroom dancing and ostracised by DanceSport Australia, Anny and her students have limited opportunity to compete on Australian shores. Director Eleanor Sharpe is a star of the documentary and a longtime student of Anny’s studio, as well as a source of inspiration for the documentary.
Due to the lack of opportunities for competition in Australia, Nickolas was concerned about the “dancing looking ridiculous, but no one has ever laughed at the dancing. Yeah, sure — they aren’t perfect but they are up there, strutting their stuff. I do have to say that every time they fell or stuffed it, it's in the film. You want them to struggle and find it hard, otherwise why do we care?
“Anny is so protective of her students, I was concerned that she would think we made them look bad or embarrass them,” Nickolas explained.
There is always footage that must be cut, and Nickolas did lament that “in shorter versions critical decisions were made outside of our control and the big thing was that we couldn’t say the stuff about same-sex relationships that we wanted to say. The editing had to cut out sections that I, as a queer filmmaker, wanted to say. I never saw it as a short film but the ABC were headstrong about not making it longer and they had to cut things out. And at that moment I wish I hadn't done it; I wish I hadn't started, I was so gutted. Not many people will be able to watch the film I wanted to make.”
But Nickolas proudly explains that the 75-minute feature being shown at the BQFF will include, “everything! It is the film I wanted to make and I know it’s not perfect and yeah, I could have done a better job in parts but I am so happy.”
‘Ballroom Rules’ is everything that you should support the BQFF for, and Nickolas explains that, “if nothing else, look, it’s really hard to make a queer documentary and it’s really hard to get them up on a screen.”
Once again, in 2013, the BQFF will celebrate the luminous contribution that the LGBTI community bring to the cultural scene across the globe, and it will celebrate the voices of those who would otherwise remain unheard through homophobia, persecution, or lack of funding. It is an opportunity to reflect on simply being human, and being able to appreciate the inclusive country we live in: in the light of how far we’ve come, and on the path to how much further we have yet to go.BQFF runs April 5-14 at The Brisbane Powerhouse. bqff.com.au