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5 Brilliant Movies To Watch At This Year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival

By Tim Piccione
14th Feb 2021

A scene from the film Dating Amber.

If we needed a positive sign that life in Sydney is slowly returning to normality, it’s this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival going ahead with a physical event. Much to our delight, the iconic film festival which celebrates queer representation and LGBTQIA+ filmmakers and storytellers is entering its 28th year, and you can catch this year’s movies from February 18 – March 4.

Playing across a slate of Sydney cinemas like Randwick’s Ritz Cinema, the CBD’s Event Cinemas, Cremorne’s Hayden Orpheum, and Centennial Park’s Moonlight Cinema, the festival will showcase over 90 different films. And for the first time in MGFF’s history, viewers Australia-wide can watch films online and on-demand from their homes. At 7pm, February 18, audiences can stream more than half of the festival’s program.

The history of queer film screenings in Sydney dates back to 1978. It has evolved immensely in the decades since—to the now internationally renowned version playing across our cinema screens in the coming weeks. This is largely thanks to Queer Screen, which, in 1993, reclaimed Sydney’s LGBTIQA+ film festival to be owned and operated by the community.

2020’s opening night film, Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), a sweet and funny, Sydney-based high school love story, was the first Australian film to open the festival in its history. This year, the festival kicks off under the Moonlight Cinema stars with another coming-of-age film, Dating Amber, this time hailing from Ireland. Star power films taking the screen this year include the UK’s Supernova, featuring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, and Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Expect a great mix of Aussie-made films like the coming-of-age flick, My First Summer, or time-travelling drama The Greenhouse, and international movies making waves like critically acclaimed Hong Kong drama Suk Suk, about two elderly men and their secret relationship.

Besides showcasing great cinema, the festival is also hosting online education seminars and panels, on inclusive and authentic casting in film (February 20) and the importance and role of intimacy coordination on a film set (February 22). You can read more about these and other active initiatives at the festival’s full program here.

To get you excited about the movies on offer, here are the five films we’re most excited to see. 

The World To Come

This mid-19th Century drama may not carry the heavy celebrity star power as some of the movies mentioned above, but starring Katherine Waterson, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbot, and Casey Affleck, The World to Come is packed full of talent. In the American frontier’s harshness, two neighbouring couples fight against natural elements and isolation, as two unhappy and emotionally lost wives find solace and comfort in each other’s love. The film’s Australian premiere is taking place at the Ritz Cinema, 7pm, February 26.

Dating Amber

Dating Amber tells the story of surviving the awkward and sexually-charged world of high school in 1990s Ireland. To dispel rumours and suspicions around school, closeted gay Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and lesbian friend Amber (Lola Petticrew), pretend to be in a relationship. We’re expecting plenty of high school/coming-of-age charm, as well as some funny and moving performances from the breakout leads. The MGFF’s opening film premieres at Moonlight Cinema, 7pm, February 18.

I Carry You With Me

In a remarkable feature debut from director Heidi Ewing, I Carry You With Me follows the passionate love story (based on two of Ewing’s real friends) of two Mexican men, Ivan and Gerardo. In the hope of a better life away from his unaccepting, homophobic community, Ivan escapes Mexico for the American Dream. Keep an eye out for Fast & Furious’ Michelle Rodriguez, featuring as Ivan’s friend, Sandra. The Spanish-language film flashes back and forward, jumping from the couple’s early love to their eventual reuniting, as well as incorporating documentary footage from the real-life Ivan and Gerardo. The film’s Australian premiere will take place at the Ritz Cinema, 7.30pm, March 2.

Cowboys

After separating from his wife (Jillian Bell), a troubled but well-intentioned father (Steve Zahn) runs away with his trans son in the hope of letting him live as his authentic self. As the pair are chased down by authorities, their own relationship is tested. Filmed against the gorgeous Montana backdrop, this story has all the buddy-adventure feels of Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, with a few twists of family drama, gender acceptance, and the modern-day western. Cowboys' Australian premiere will take place at Event Cinemas, 7pm, February 27.

Rūrangi

One of the festival’s most anticipated movies and this year’s closing film, Rūrangi, was written, produced by, and stars members of New Zealand’s queer, Mãori, gender-diverse communities. After leaving his isolated community for over a decade, gay, transgender activist, Caz, returns home to confront the past, those who knew him, and his estranged father. The sudden reappearance may also reignite a new relationship but raise personal questions between Caz and his ex-boyfriend, Jem. Rūrangi won the Audience Award at San Francisco’s Frameline44, the world’s largest LGBTIQA+ film festival. The film’s Australian premiere will take place at the Ritz Cinemas, 7pm, March 4.

Grab tickets for these MGFF movies and more right here.

Staying in? Here are 25 of the best new movies to watch on Stan

Image credit: Dating Amber

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