By TILEAH DOBSON
The annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is drawing closer with each passing day and partygoers, culture vultures, LGBTQI+ community members and allies are counting down the moments to the celebrations and cultural offerings.
One of the key components of Mardi Gras is the annual Mardi Gras Film Festival put on by Queer Screen. But Queer Screen’s role goes far beyond simply screening films – the organisation also helps films get made through the Queer Screen Completion Fund, which was established in 2015 to help more LGBTQI+ works reach the big screen.
Since then, the Completion Fund has contributed a total of $102,000 to a dozen successful productions, including the documentaries Black Divaz (2018) and Becoming Colleen (2019). The former was shown on SBS, and the latter was selected by festivals across Europe and shown on ABC TV.
Last year, award-winning feature film The Greenhouse was also a recipient of the fund.
Explaining the importance of the Completion Fund, Queer Screen festival director Lisa Rose told the Sentinel: “Queer filmmakers reflect the diversity of our communities and tell stories that directly reflect our lives and struggles.”
Filmmakers who are working on either a feature, documentary or web series can apply. The project must be near complete, as the fund is designed to assist with costs to finish the project, post-production and marketing.
While Round 8 closed recently and the winners will be announced in early March, budding filmmakers interested in applying in future should keep an eye out for the next funding round.
Romping it in
One of the recent recipients of the Queer Screen’s Completion Fund is Romp, a punchy episodic follow-up to Australian LGBTQI+ web series Love Bytes.
While Love Bytes laid the groundwork and explored the captivating world of queer dating, Romp focuses more on the characters themselves.
The production will have its world premiere at Event Cinemas George Street during the Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Set in inner-city Newtown, Romp explores the lives of three housemates: Michael, Jade and Stacey. While Jade and Stacey have their own possible romance, Michael is struggling to come to terms with his parent’s divorce and his mother’s new paramour.
The film invites the audience in to witness amusing sides of queer life while maintaining the serious themes of friendship and connection between the three housemates.
Speaking with the Sentinel, Romp’s writer and director Tonnette Stanford said she hoped the episodic delivered much needed LGBTQI+ representation.
“It is evident that there is high demand and short supply of queer content, which is what allowed Romp’s predecessor Love Bytes to break through the noise of online content to reach millions of viewers,” she said.
“Based on their feedback, our audience [is] hungry for more episodes from the Love Bytes world, hence we created Romp.
“Our audience [is] enormously supportive, and they are a global community connected by a strong online presence,” she said.
When asked about her creative inspirations, Stanford namechecked the groundbreaking lesbian-themed television series The L Word, which ran from 2004 to 2009.
“It was the first time that I saw positive representations of lesbian characters that I could relate to and aspire to,” Stanford explained.
“Even though the show is considered a bit dated now, it actually had such a profound impact on me at the time that it gave me the courage to come out and live my life authentically. Ever since then I have been passionate about telling LGBTIQ stories for a queer audience.”
A producer on the show, Pete Ireland had his fair share of fun times and drama working on Romp.
Despite its low budget, Ireland is proud of the work and what Romp has become.
“While you often hear horror stories about low budget screen storytelling – particularly at the scale of our ambition for our series – Romp was and is joyous to work on,” Ireland said.
While the pandemic, low budget, Father Time and the humid summer weather were challenges, Ireland was beyond thankful for the Queer Screen’s Completion Fund.
“When Queer Screen awarded Romp completion funding, a very important line item – pickups and reshoots – was able to be expedited and completed to a much higher quality than we would have been able to deliver without their generous support,” he said.
“The results of this contribution to Romp are literally on-screen,” Ireland said.
“When you are creating something with limited resources out of a sense of fun and passion, every drop of energy is expended putting the best possible story on screen,” he told the Sentinel.
Often, that effort leads to some pretty ruthless prioritisation of what is essential, and what is not. In a pinch, some important elements become ‘luxuries’ … as a result, the entire finished project suffers.”
Thankfully, Queer Screen’s completion fund helped the project avoid that fate and both Ireland and Stanford encouraged the community to come and see the final result.
Romp will screen at 7pm Tuesday, 22 February at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney. To purchase your ticket to Romp or other screenings at the 2022 Mardi Gras Film Festival, visit https://queerscreen.org.au.
Tileah Dobson is the news and queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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