The 22nd Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival runs from 19 February to 5 March 2015 at Event Cinema 505-525 George Street, Sydney (http://queerscreen.org.au/mgff/)
The 2014 Swiss docudrama Der Kreis (The Circle) opened the 22nd Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney last night. The film, which won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, is both a touching love story of a lifetime relationship and a poignant reminder of the life and death struggles that underpin any freedoms or acceptance that we might enjoy today.
The CIrcle follows the relationship of a young trainee teacher Ernst Ostertag and transvestite singer Röbi Rapp in post war Zürich. Their romance is set against the backdrop of The Circle, a gay magazine and movement which was founded in the 30‘s. As one of the few homosexual organizations to survived the Nazi period in Europe, it became a model for similar organizations in many other countries in Europe and even in the USA. Zürich in the 1950s was something of a haven for gay and lesbians, homosexuality was not illegal and, if not actually accepted, it was at least tolerated.
Using archival footage, dramatic recreations and contemporary interviews, The CIrcle traces the collapse of the limited freedoms that existed as a series of gay murders brings the gay community in Zürich, and the members of the Circle in particular, to the attention of the police. Same sex dancing is banned, known homosexuals are questioned and outed in public, destroying their careers and in some cases their lives.
Through this turmoil Ernst and Röbi’s relationship continues to develop. As a teacher Ernst has to hide his homosexuality to keep his job, he also feels that he can’t come out to his family, so he is forced to live a double life – only coming out after the death of his mother and his retirement from teaching. Röbi, on the other hand, embraces the lifestyle of the entertainer and has always been openly gay. Finally, after decades of struggle and hiding they become the first same sex couple to partnership legally recognised in Switzerland in 2003.
While The Circle at times feels like a thriller and at other times moves back to a more traditional documentary I was left with a little unsure as to whether the docudrama format really was the best format for the film. While the interviews with the elderly couple are touching and powerful and provide an anchor for the rest of the film, the recreated scenes from the 1950’s featuring the increasing drama as the police begin to move against the gay community suggests that perhaps there is still material here for a future feature film.
The buzz as the audience left the cinema after the opening screening suggested that much is expected of the festival over the next two weeks – and I suspect only some of that buzz was due to anticipation around the after party. This year’s festival boasts an impressive list of both local and international films and it a testament to the strength of the program that many screenings are already booked out.
Among local highlights will be a screening to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the cult Australian film The Set, directed by Frank Brittain.The Set was the first local production to have homosexuality as its central theme, and is the story of Paul (Sean McEuan) who is pursuing his dreams in the Sydney art world when he falls in love with his cousin’s handsome boyfriend, Tony.
Other local films to watch out for include All About E, directed by Louise Wadley (http://www.girlsown.com/), Skin Deep from director Jonnie Leahy (http://www.screenlaunch.com/film-category/skin-deep/) and Drown by Dean Francis (http://www.drownthemovie.com/).
A number of international films also leap out – She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry from US director Mary Dore resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement in the USA from 1966 to 1971. She’s Beautiful takes us from the founding of NOW, with ladies in hats and gloves, to the emergence of more radical factions of women’s liberation; from intellectuals like Kate Millett to the street theatrics of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!). (http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/).
A Girl at My Door from South Korean director July Jung looks well worth a look as does Anita’s Last Cha Cha, a Filipino coming-of-age movie. Then there are the documentaries and shorts to consider. A hectic fortnight awaits the seasoned festival goer!
A complete program and booking details are available from the Festival’s website http://queerscreen.org.au/mgff/.
– Mark Roberts
Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine. He also has a number of manuscripts looking for a publisher.
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