The army of pink t-shirt adorned volunteers are as integral to Queer Screen as the films themselves. Rita Bratovich profiles three of these selfless individuals to gain some insight into why they do it.
“Without our volunteers we wouldn’t have Queer Screen, and we wouldn’t have a sea of friendly faces when you come to watch a movie.”
That’s how important volunteers are, according to Cheryl Kavanagh, who has been a director on the Queer Screen board since 2012. Prior to that, she had often attended the film festivals, enthralled by the intersectional experiences of the global LGBTQI+ community. It was her love for that community and a desire to give back that prompted her to join Queer Screen’s board.
“Every year, someone will come up to us and tell us how seeing a film or a story or just sitting with community has helped them feel a part of something or accept a part of themselves,” says Kavanagh.
“I can empathise with that and it’s so powerful; it’s what makes Queer Screen so important. If even one person feels more confident or comfortable to be themselves – or sees themselves represented on screen – like, wow!”
With only a very small core team of paid employees, Queer Screen relies heavily on a contingent of around 195 volunteers each year to help run its festivals. The board directors and associates are all volunteers and everyone in the organisation is treated equally.
“We love our vollies!” says Kavanagh. “We are so lucky and grateful with how many wonderful people get together to make this little organisation what it is. It’s so lovely to see people coming back year after year with their smiles and new friendships.
“We are a bunch of passionate people who love our community; I feel that is the core value that keeps us all going … everyone is here for the greater good!”
Erick Jackaman is a 22-year old student living in London who identifies as trans and queer. He came to Sydney for a semester at UNSW in August 2019 when he was undertaking a BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences. After completing a module about film festivals, he decided to get some inside experience and volunteer – and, as luck would have it, the Queer Screen festival was coming up.
“I love queer and trans film festivals. They’ve been such an important part of my life ever since I first started transitioning, but it never occurred to me that I could be involved. They’re such amazing spaces for meeting other queer people and seeing yourself represented on screen in a way we don’t usually get in mainstream cinema,” says Jackaman.
Jackaman volunteered as an usher for the 2019 Queer Screen Film Fest, but had to leave Sydney before the 2020 Mardi Gras Film Festival. However, later that year an opportunity emerged for him to continue being involved.
“I saw an email asking for blurb writers, so I replied and offered my time (from abroad). After that, Queer Screen asked me if I’d like to become a pre-screener and of course I jumped at the opportunity! Pre-screening involves watching films which have been submitted to the film festival and writing a short review about them. I love watching queer films, so this position is such a joy for me!”
An indirect result of watching so many trans films for Queer Screen is that Jackaman will be writing his master’s dissertation about the development of a Transgender Media Portal: a database of all trans films and filmmakers being compiled by Transgender Media Lab in Canada.
“Had I not spent the last few months watching a plethora of trans films for Queer Screen, I may not have thought to reach out to the Transgender Media Lab in the first place!” Jackaman says.
It is, by far, not the only thing he gained from being a volunteer.
“I loved the experience of being an usher because it forced me to speak to people – both other volunteers and the attendees – whereas in the past when I’ve simply attended queer/trans film festivals, I’ve often stuck to myself as I’m quite shy. Putting on the pink Queer Screen shirt made me feel like I was part of something and helped me feel confident.”
Jude Gonzalez Lancaster is one of the long-haulers; he has been a Queer Screen volunteer since 2009. He was initially motivated to join “to assist, meet people, and just basically give back to the LGBTIQ community” of Sydney – who “have been very kind to me as a migrant of colour”.
“I never knew it would be so much fun!” he enthuses.
Lancaster met his partner through Queer Screen. They, and many other volunteers, describe the community as supportive and welcoming, and the experience as life changing.
“When you are doing something good for the community, it’s fulfilling. Developing good friendships that become your family – that draws you back every year, trying to see them again. All are busy working or have retired, still doing a lot with their lives. This is one time where you can escape and be colourful, paint your nails, and be who you are – that’s why I kept continuing.”
During his time with Queer Screen, Lancaster has performed a variety of tasks, but really found his purpose after being persuaded to dress up once for a meet and greet.
“It was an accident and now I like dressing up, and being in some press releases and sometimes being a mascot for some of our sponsors – also bringing big smiles to our patrons.”
There’s also the chance of meeting a famous actor, politician, celebrity or inspirational human who will change your life.
“I know some have found love or had fun volunteering during the festival,” he laughs.
Lancaster was a runner-up for the Frank Wells Volunteer Award in 2017, then won the title in 2018. In 2020, he earned the prestigious Queer Screen Dedication Award.
“I never knew having so much fun and being yourself, can earn you so much respect from the community,” says Lancaster. “They can’t get rid of me. Blessed and grateful!”
If you’re interested in volunteering for Queer Screen visit their website: https://queerscreen.org.au/support-us/volunteer/.
Queer Screen’s 28th annual Mardi Gras Film Festival is currently underway, with films screening both in cinema and online on-demand. For film info, screening times and tickets, visit queerscreen.org.au.