Disclaimer, I identify as a straight, CISgender woman and an ally of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Queer Screen was founded in 1993 by a group of queer Sydney filmmakers, students, and supporters who wanted to focus on queer film and screen culture and since 2013 the Queer Screen Film Fest, has delivered the latest LGBTIQ+ movies to Sydney screens.
This year’s festival showcased work from 17 countries and encompassed more than 40 LGBTIQ+ documentaries, short films and feature length works. Due to COVID-19 it was the first time the festival hosted all films online and On Demand, attracting a record breaking number of viewers.
There were so many films I wanted to see but it seems, even in lock down, time is not my friend, so below are just two examples of what was on offer.
AIDS DIVA – The Legend of Connie Norman
Director: Dante Alencastre
Connie Norman was an activist, a radio and television talk show host and columnist. She was also a transgender woman who was HIV positive. The self-proclaimed ‘AIDS Diva’ was a member of the AIDS activism group ACT UP and became a formidable and powerful spokesperson for the gay community at a time when AIDS was a largely unknown illness and the American Government wasn’t prepared to spend time or resources to help those effected.
The documentary follows Connie’s life during her years as a strong voice on the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and 90s and the incredible work she did empowering others to act and take a stand. A combination of interviews with friends and ACT UP members, as well as archival footage, AIDS DIVA – The Legend of Connie Norman is an intensely moving tribute to an incredible human. Remembered by those who knew her as a natural leader, Connie’s greatest gift was her ability to relate to people, to be intensely passionate and strong, while also displaying empathy and humour.
What worked so well in this documentary was that the archival footage was given the space to speak for itself, with significant clips played in full. In particular, Connie’s final television interview before her death in 1996 moved me to tears. When asked what her biggest piece of advice was, she replied, “Absolutely, unequivocally let no one allow you not to be yourself. Be yourself. It’s the most important lesson we can learn, it’s the most important thing we can do. And we all know who our self is if we listen to the quiet, still voice inside – it exists in all of us and it will guide us through every path we take.”
Even now, more than 20 years later, her words still have the capacity to empower, to inspire and to ignite that fire inside you which pushes you to rise up, speak out and be your authentic self.
Wild Nights with Emily
Director: Madeleine Olnek
American poet Emily Dickinson has historically been portrayed as a recluse, a spinster and an oddball who always dressed in white and rarely left her room. Wild Nights with Emily turns what we think we know about the largely underappreciated (in her time) poet and turns it on its head, with hilarious results.
The films narrator is Mabel Loomis Todd (Amy Seimetz), who is most well known for being the first to have a book of Emily’s (Molly Shannon) poems published after her death. In the time she knew the Dickinson family and visited their home she never once met the poet, so describes her experiences from the perspective of others and here say.
We learn about Emily’s romantic relationship with Susan (Susan Ziegler), who would eventually become her sister-in-law, ensuring the two could maintain their relationship in a way that was socially acceptable. We see their love grow and blossom in secret, as Susan becomes her confidant and critic of her work. The film follows the poet’s life up to her death and the subsequent release of the first book of her poetry, edited / censored by Mabel who removed every mention of Susan.
Perhaps most clever are the ways in which the story illustrates potential explanations for the traits which Emily has become so known for. When Susan questions why she always wears the same white dress, the poet replies that she doesn’t wish to waste precious thoughts on what to wear when they could be spent on poems. We are presented with the idea that maybe she never left her room because Mabel and her brother Austin (Kevin Seal) were busy having an affair downstairs and she didn’t want to interrupt. These ideas aren’t entirely out of the realm of possibility, which is what makes them so brilliant.
Clever, witty and illuminated through a feminist lens, Wild Nights with Emily is subtle in its humour while presenting an alternate perspective on the poet’s life.
With her own words threaded throughout the narrative, the film showcases Emily’s talent and her love for Susan in a way that was not possible in her lifetime, and shines a light on the relationship that underpins so much of her work.
Queer Screen Film Fest ran between 16 – 26 September 2021. More information about Queer Screen Film Fest can be found on their website.