Romance, politics and audacity collide in a bold celebration of film

When filming wrapped on long-running soap opera Neighbours, Georgie Stone felt honoured. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with revered returning stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, she could hold her head high after recording 500-plus episodes across the final three years. Her starring role was a beacon of empowered visibility for young trans people worldwide.

A scene from The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone.

“I’m keenly aware of how important and impactful storytelling is, and that it has real-world implications,” she says. “I had agency in creating the character and helping craft her story, and that really meant a lot to me.”

Her life story is presented in rousing documentary short The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone, a highlight of this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) and part of the Trans-Australiana shorts package. As well as being the subject, Stone contributed as writer and creative producer of Gayby Baby director Maya Newell’s latest film. “Through working with Maya, I’ve learned a lot about how well you can marry filmmaking and advocacy,” Stone says, “because you are reaching out to people’s compassion and empathy.”

The session will be followed by a trans and gender-diverse youth panel, plus the launch of The Dreamlife Zine. And while you can watch Dreamlife on Netflix, Stone says sharing the experience with other LGBTQ people is unbeatable. “There are a lot more laughs of understanding and seeing themselves in it.”

MQFF program director Spiro Economopoulos agrees. “It’s something that streamers just can’t replicate.”

Program director of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Spiro Economopoulos.

The 10-day festival opens with Private Desert, director Aly Muritiba’s transcendent take on the unexpected twists of internet romance, which kicks off a focus on Brazilian films during Economopoulos’ final hurrah in the gig. “While I was programming, President Jair Bolsonaro was still in power, and it was amazing to see how queer Brazilian filmmakers responded to his homophobic policies in films like Mars One and Follow the Protocol,” he says.

Observing the expanding voice of queer filmmakers from all corners of the globe has been a highlight of Economopoulos’ eight years in the role. “Queer cinema has expanded in a way that I never imagined,” he says. “Ironically, the rise of streaming services has probably contributed to that, in a way, by pumping money into capturing diverse audiences.”

MQFF’s solid Australian contingent includes features Lonesome and The Longest Weekend. Writer/director Lee Galea will premiere the complete first season of his new western suburbs-set show Single, Out, which follows Adam (Will Hutchins) as he navigates his emerging sexual identity. Galea first debuted short film Karmarama at MQFF in 2002, returning to the festival with audience award-winning feature Monster Pies 10 years later. “Maybe this is my thing, popping up at MQFF every 10 years,” he laughs. “I wrote [Single, Out] in lockdown when I was bored, and there were a lot of actors who were miserable and out of work with nothing to do. We were all worried about the future.”

Single, Out was a lifeline, and MQFF is all about these community connections. Adrian Chiarella’s film Black Lips, about a Chinese immigrant who finds direction after encountering an Australian gay man, won MQFF’s best short film award in 2020. His third short, Dwarf Planet, is presented in this year’s Australian shorts package. An intimate portrayal of a life-changing sex work encounter, it’s inspired by Andy Boreham’s short story Concealer. “I enjoy exploring themes of desire and sexuality,” Chiarella says. “It’s rich territory. You discover so much about your own sense of self through desire as a young person, and how that relates to the wider space of the world.”

Will Hutchins stars in Single, Out, which will screen at the 2022 MQFF

Though it can be hard to secure funding, Chiarella, an AFTRS alumni who got his first foot in the industry as an editor, says the limitations of short filmmaking encourage creative audacity. “A lot of filmmakers told me that if you’ve been given a couple of thousand, maybe $10,000, this short film could be the last chance you get to make bold choices without anyone looking over your shoulder.”

Bold filmmakers, particularly younger ones, have made Economopoulos’ time at MQFF memorable, with shorts opening doors that gatekeepers can’t hold closed. “It’s become a space to tell their own stories,” he says. “They are always the most fun to program, with so much to choose from and such inventive stories.”

Melbourne Queer Film Festival runs from November 10-21.

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