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Words by Matthew Wade

Queer films are more than a simple source of entertainment. The navigation of one’s sexual identity as it first begins to develop is often a difficult and solitary exercise, particularly if that identity doesn’t fit within a heteronormative framework. Sex education may be a significant stepping-stone, but let’s be real—using fruit as a makeshift penis to practice using condoms won’t expose you to the complexities of interpersonal relationships and sexuality. For young and queer individuals, knowledge of such matters is often scarce, and so exposure to media and art that contain subtle or overt queer subtexts provides one of the primary insights into queer lifestyles. Cinema is a striking example of this.

The annual Melbourne Queer Film Festival will run from the 13th to the 24th of March, showcasing a diverse range of both national and international films that include subject matter relevant to the LGBTI community. For those in the liminal periods of their sexuality, somewhere between awareness and comfort, these films are invaluable. They range from B-grade guilty pleasures to intimate and understated art house, and allow for a more open-minded and expansive view towards the sexual identities of oneself and others. Gender and sexuality are not as rigidly defined here as they are widely throughout society. Rather, the festival embraces the fluidity of these labels. It can also increase younger viewers’ awareness of the queer community at large, and the network of support they have around the world.

Volunteering at the festival last year, I can recall sitting in a cinema, wearing my baggy yet endearing festival tee, and transitioning from a somewhat poised young man to a shameless, emotional wreck after watching the festival’s screening of Call Me Kuchu. The film is a documentary on gay rights in Uganda, and the activists who continue to fight for them. Aside from my grief-stricken face and the necessity of an uplifting Mary J. Blige marathon immediately after, the film provided me with a greater awareness of the international queer community, and the inspiring efforts of those courageous enough to resist oppression. This is the power of queer film—the festival’s program both entertains and educates.

Many young festival-goers also have a chance to bond afterwards, perhaps over a drink or two. On the opening night party in particular, some tend to get a little too faded and grind to their favourite music on the dance floor. The ability to connect not only with the fictional characters on screen with whom the audience can relate, but also to develop friendships with like-minded individuals and fellow patrons is furnished by the amiable atmosphere of the festival.

The MQFF is a staple of Melbourne culture, while younger, queer audiences who embrace the festival are exposed to films that grant them further insight into their developing sexuality, and so both film lovers and queer individuals alike will certainly find value in what the festival has to offer this year.