Mardi Gras Film Festival announces special youth event 

A frame from "Hetero", which will receive its Australian premiere in Queer Screen's 2022 Mardi Gras Film Festival. Photo: Third Charm Films/supplied.

Queer Screen’s 29th Mardi Gras Film Festival is offering a range of youth-oriented films this year, headlined by the Australian premiere of Hetero, a film created by queer teenagers for queer teenagers. Youth editor Corin Shearston investigates.

The global LGBTQI+ youth community is continuing to receive its rightful recognition at Sydney’s 29th Mardi Gras Film Festival, presented by Queer Screen. The festival will take place from 17 February to 3 March, 2022, with 119 films being screened in Sydney cinemas and via on-demand streaming across Australia.

Presenting a diverse collection of seven new youth-oriented films, the festival team is excited to be offering a range of stories for the under-25 crowd, from tales of young lesbian love to two-spirit teenagers to As We Like It – a Taiwanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Theatrical poster for Hetero. Photo: IMDB.

A main attraction, guaranteed to draw a young and vocal crowd, is a special youth event: the Australian premiere of teen-drama episodic Hetero, created by the teen team of American film company Third Charm Films. Hetero will have its Down Under debut at Event Cinemas George Street at 11am on 26 February, followed by a Q&A panel of young screen media guests. 

The core story of Hetero hinges on the plight of a queer high school club who must recruit more straight people to their Gay-Straight Alliance in order to save their club from disbandment. The challenge is posed to the group by their principal, who is a straight white male. 

“It’s [subverting] the ideas of diversity and inclusion,” states 21-year-old Queer Screen intern Kena Mallender, who chose the film and picked the panel.

After volunteering to try something “extra cool” and youth-oriented for their internship, Mallender remembers scrolling through similar film submissions before finding and watching Hetero. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this one’s cool, this one’s cool,’ and then I saw Hetero and I was just falling off my chair [with laughter] in the office, which was really professional. I was like, ‘I want this one!’” 

A still from Hetero. Photo: Third Charm Films/supplied.

Despite its weighty premise, a lightheartedness is maintained in Hetero through its hilarious script, which is filled with impeccably accurate youth vernacular, peppered with razor-sharp one liners.

Indeed, the humour of the show may be its finest quality, and it’s something Mallender celebrates, stating, “I think some of the one liners that they throw out [are] just stupidly funny, especially to someone of my age.

“Some teen shows we watch nowadays are full of drugs, sex and dangerous situations but these guys [in Hetero] are just having fun,” Mallender explains. “That was really nice to watch.”

Queer Screen’s festival director Lisa Rose supports the hype for Hetero, praising the film as one of her favourite works in the whole program.

“It’s just fabulous,” Rose proclaims. “I was really stoked [discovering it had been mostly made by teenagers]. In retrospect, I realised that’s why it felt so authentic and I’m really excited for people to see it.”

The theatrical trailer for Hetero. Video: queerscreen/YouTube.
Hetero‘s lead creators,
KJ Kieras (top),
and Bentley Eldridge (bottom).
Photo: Third Charm Films/supplied.

Despite the hilarity, serious issues about institutionalised prejudice, peer pressure, and familial and religious rejection are present in the script, prompting audiences to re-examine their viewpoints on these topics.

It’s an impressive feat, considering the film was written, directed and created by a group of queer teens in Seattle before achieving international distribution. 

“The subversion and absurdity of the premise would be engaging and funny for anybody, maybe also for older generations,” Mallender explains, “because they probably had nowhere near an experience like that.”

Indeed, Hetero is pioneering modern cinema, from a female-based production team that employed seventeen-year-old set designers, makeup artists, wardrobe designers and sound mixers, alongside eighteen-year-old production managers, art directors and more. The production is led by two nineteen year-old co-directors and producers: show creator KJ Kieras and Bentley Eldridge. 

Important conversations are sure to arise during the post-screening Q&A led by a panel of three. A trio handpicked by Mallender, the panel consists of non-binary TikTok influencer Kath Ebbs; Olivia Deeble, co-creator of Paramount+ teen series More Than This; and cutting-edge playwright/actor/director Laneikka Denne.

A promotional shot for More Than This, premiering soon on Paramount+. Photo: mediaweek.com.au.

After the screening and panel discussion, attendees are invited to hang out at Event Cinemas to chat, network and meet new friends, fostering social mingling after the disconnection caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Presented in association with LGBTQI+ youth organisation Twenty10, Hetero’s Australian premiere and the Q&A panel discussion will be an all-ages event, although specifically targeted to young people aged 15-plus.

“I don’t want to deter the old people from coming,” Mallender says, “but this is for the kids.” 

For further information or to purchase tickets to Hetero, visit https://tix.queerscreen.org.au/Sessions/Hetero-In-Cinema-. For details of other youth-oriented films at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival, visit https://queerscreen.org.au/youth-focused-films-at-the-mardi-gras-film-festival.

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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