Curating a regional, queer film festival


Author: Akkadia Ford

Abstract

Independent film festivals are politically potent public sites. The curated screen content and the interaction of the festival with the wider local community are avenues by which such festivals stimulate debate. The queer film festival in a regional area has a unique role in bringing about changes in attitudes within the general community through providing a publically accessible space for self-reflective, non-stereotypical and uncensored modes of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer(GLBTIQ) representation, usually denied in mainstream media. As Festival Director of Queer Fruits Film Festival, a regional GLBTIQ film festival in the Northern Rivers area of Australia, the curatorial processes were informed by films centred upon current GLBTIQ issues (such as marriage equality, transgender communities, queer identities, health and housing), with films from 36 countries around the world submitted for consideration. The selection panel and Festival Director previewing all the submitted films are the initial private spectators of media designed for the public arena. The  responsibility of these curatorial processes is to create a richly textual festival programme that engages a regional audience.

The article is an autoethnographic reflection upon the processes involved in sourcing, selecting and screening GLBTIQ films in a regional town.

Keywords

Regional, queer, film, festival, curator, programming.

Introduction

In establishing an independent, queer film festival in a regional location, there are creative, intellectual, economic, legal, ethical and social challenges that must be met to bring international GLBTIQ films to a regional town. Queer spaces operate according to their own logic. Creating a temporal queer space within which to present queer narratives is inherently filled with contradictions and convolutions whilst needing to meet linear government funding body key performance indicators (KPI’s). Due to the geographic distance between the city and the country, for queers there can also be the experience of what Judith Halberstam calls  “dislocatedness”: ‘rural over urban’, being ‘out of time and place’ (Halberstam 2005, p.16). As a Sydney-born queer the experience of dislocation in moving from the city to a regional area was very real. This led to a profound shift in thinking and to the uncanny experience of establishing the only independently produced queer film festival in Australia.

Background

Queer Fruits Film Festival (QFFF) www.queerfruitsfilmfestival.org was established in the regional area of Lismore, which is a mixed urban and rural community inland at the heart of the Northern Rivers, around nine hours’ drive (approximately 818 kilometres) from Sydney and two hours’ drive (197 kilometres) from Brisbane, which is the nearest urban capital. The city of Lismore is situated on the Wilson River; with Lismore covering an area of 1,290 square kilometres in total. The area is known as the ‘Rainbow Region’ – which many people think is because of the very queer community dwelling here, but the name is due to a boat (the SS Rainbow) which sailed the river in the late 1800s.

The regional population at the 2006 census was 44,225. This increased by 1.89% between the 2001 and 2006 censuses. Of significance is that 61.2% of the population live in the urban area, 34.6% in rural areas and 4.2% in surrounding villages (Lismore Community Strategic Plan 2008-2018).

Significantly, Lismore has the highest GLBTIQ population in Australia outside urban areas ( Lismore City Council Social and Community Plan 2005-2009).

The regional location and limited opportunities have led to high levels of unemployment and poverty. The large GLBTIQ community, coupled with the lower socioeconomic position, makes the creation of queer spaces even more important in regional areas such as Lismore and created a unique opportunity for a regional queer film festival to fill the cultural gap that existed. The same could be said to be true of other cultural creations in such a place, limited by geographical isolation and the resultant constriction of services and social outlets. What makes Lismore unique is that there is a long-standing counterculture history to the area stemming back to the Aquarius Festival of 1973 and the many free-spirited and alternative people who settled here as a result. (Aquarius and beyond: 40 years,Conference 2013). This rich history also included the establishment of a gay male commune called ‘Freecloud’ at nearby Nimbin.

Geographical distance can lead to a narrowing of perceptions and views as a result of isolation from current trends and contemporary changes in world-views. Regional or rural communities have historically had a tendency (or been viewed) as living in the same areas and mingling with the same folk, not taking easily to outsiders, or new ideas and with a certain old-fashioned mindset. Remote rural and regional locations have also been seen as places where odd and unwelcome things happen to outsiders. The image of ‘the bush’ as different to ‘the city’ has been perpetuated in Australian culture as a key narrative device, positioning Australian ‘identity’ outside the cities and in the landscape (Jacka 1998, p. 518). Australian literature, films and television series have alternately depicted the country as a masculine place of parochial larrikinism (Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, George Whaley, 1995); heroism (The Man From Snowy River, George Miller, 1982; adapted from the 1890 Banjo Patterson poem) and alienation (Wake in Fright, Ted Kotcheff, 1971). The enduring view of the Australian outback as a dangerous place of misfits was also continued in Welcome to Woop Woop (Stephan Elliot, 1997).There was not any room in the Australian construction of ‘identity’ to envision the country as a gay, or queer-friendly place. Elliot made one of the exceptions to these film depictions with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), a comedy-musical-road trip with drag queens alternately being subjected to a range of receptions by regional townsfolk, including harrassment and bashing by rural youths, acceptance (by the local indigenous community and resident sistergirl) and a cautious welcome into bars as temporary visitors to the remote areas, providing a diversionary entertainment to locals. Such culturally ingrained views of regional areas have led to the situation, where even in the Twenty-First Century, levels of ignorance and homophobia can be encountered on a daily basis by regional queer people in a way that is not experienced amidst the anonymity of the multi-cultured city.

However, this ‘othering’ of rural and regional Australia (McManus & Pritchard 2000) is increasingly becoming problematic. The view of the old-fashioned rural environment in comparison to the futuristic metropolis is now becoming transformed and in many places redundant. The emergence of high speed broadband, access to global Internet communications and opportunities for national and international travel have led to many regional areas now being seen as opportune environments in which to live and work, collapsing the long-held metropolitan/country divide. This accords with the ideas of Craig McGregor predicting the “deconstructed city” (as quoted in Henkel) and the potency of creative individuals to develop economically successful regions, where diversity and tolerance can support flourishing creative communities. In this contemporary view, the presence of gay people can be seen as a barometre of cultural and creative success, according to Richard Florida, who developed a new form of measurement called the ‘creativity index’ (Florida 2002), ranking populations against criteria such as the percentage of creative workers and ‘diversity’ (including gay inclusivity in a city) and a “3T’s” model of economic development : Talent, Tolerance and Technology (Florida 2013). San Franciso is number one on the list of the top ten cities in the USA in terms of the creativity index (Florida 2002, 2012). In Australia, Sydney (Australia’s highest profile GLBTIQ city), is similarly focused upon creative capital, with a Creative Spaces 2030 project (City of Sydney Council, 2013). These global creative and population demographic trends now find parallels in regional areas, such as the Lismore City Council Cultural Plan (Lismore City Council, Social and Cultural Plan, 2005-2009).

Regional areas now can be experienced as intellectual and cultural havens, where distance may be used as an advantage, providing space (physically and intellectually) to create new forms. The Northern Rivers’ area is especially noted in this regard for the highest concentration of non-urban screen industry practitioners in Australia and the creative industries has been recognised as one of ten priority areas for growth in the region over the next twenty-five years according to the Regional Industry and Economic Plan (RIEP), which was developed in 2004 by the Northern Rivers Regional Development Board (NRRDB) (Henkel 2006, p.3).

In the establishment of Queer Fruits Film Festival in 2009, distance was experienced in this beneficial way: as an advantage. Independent from any urban film festival, it was possible to create an international queer film festival handcrafted for the local regional audience. Programming was able to take place organically, with reference to the local GLBTIQ community and with a view to the festival programme’s playing a unique role in bridging the GLBTIQ and wider communities, without any adherence to “metronormativity”, the need to include normalising narratives of gay/lesbian subjectivities (Halberstam 2005, p. 36). The experience of the emergence of this regional film festival echoes the historical experiences of the rationale and motivation underpinning why GLBTIQ festivals begin:

early gay and Lesbian film festivals were started by filmmakers and gay activists as platforms for alternative representation. They created counterpublic spheres where non-stereotypical, non-negative images could be seen, images that the mainstream did not provide. Beyond the function of counter-representation, the festivals had a formative influence on the community, as people came together to see themselves on screen and support their own art and artists. (Loist 2012, p. 161)

With generally nonexistent representation in mainstream media and the long distances between people living in non-urban environments, regional GLBTIQ people, perhaps even more than their city peers, need to have public spaces which affirm the vitality of their lives. Pivotal to the success of the festival was the progressive and supportive Mayor of Lismore City Council, Jenny Dowell and the inclusive social policies of Lismore Council and the role that the regional media played in connecting the target audiences and the wider community with current queer thinking. With widespread pre-and-post festival newspaper, radio and television coverage, regional communities were exposed to GLBTIQ issues and film content in their daily newspapers and nightly news broadcasts.

Programming down a country lane: sourcing international queer films

At what can only be described as the end of a country lane, at least a 14 kilometre round trip to the nearest shops for milk and a day’s journey away from any major metropolitan centre, amidst rainforest and verdant paddocks, with birdsong, dragonfly and eastern water dragons would, from an outside perspective, seem to be the last place in the world that an international queer film festival would be born. Yet this is what happened in 2009 in response to an invitation from a local gay and lesbian community group at the end of 2008, to consider creating such an event. Having recently returned from Sydney (working as the Assistant Director on an established independent urban film festival) the invitation was intriguing: could a queer film festival be established here? Would there be an audience? How would this be funded? Would international filmmakers submit their films for screening to an unknown film festival in a regional location in Australia? Once the commitment to create the festival was made, all the above concerns needed to be addressed simultaneously and in real-time (that is, within the actual timeframe of having to produce a film festival for screening to a paying audience at the end of the same year). The enormous challenges in achieving this played out across the days and nights of 2009, but what became clear very early on was that GLBTIQ filmmakers would embrace and support the process and submit current films to screen.

The format of the festival was created after consideration of when the key demographic audience (GLBTIQ community) would be in the area, which for Lismore is New Year’s Eve. One of the major differences between the metropolitan and regional creative industries is access to sufficient paying attendees, or audiences, to make an endeavour viable. Whilst in the city, theoretically, there is enough population to supply audience to any venture, at any time of the year, in a regional area careful positioning of an event is required to ensure an adequate audience is available. The role of tourism is central in the production and sustainability of temporal creative industries (the prime example of which is a festival). In this regard, a regional queer film festival being attended by visitors from metropolitan areas must hold some unique characteristic to distinguish it from what is available in the city. This was achieved through careful programming of content, being aware of other queer film festivals nationally and consciously seeking to not duplicate the programming that has already been seen in capital cities around Australia. A further drawcard was linking the festival in with the local gay and lesbian event calendar as the first event of what local media affectionately called a “gay event week” at New Year in Lismore.

Figure 1. "Films launching gay event week". Example of regional press for QFFF 2010 in The Northern Star.

Figure 1. “Films launching gay event week”. Example of regional press for QFFF 2010 in The Northern Star.

When curating any film festival there may be some minor overlaps in programming (due to drawing from a limited pool of GLBTIQ filmmakers internationally), or because of the thematic value and interest of certain key films that may be around the festival circuit in a given year. There is always an uneven playing field between a regional and metropolitan film festival in regard to the availability of screening fees for filmmakers, and this can also impact upon what films will be shown. In many cases, fee waivers to screen can be negotiated with filmmakers (in exchange for marketing and other opportunities); however every festival director would  undoubtedly have experienced losing a film that they were committed to screen due to a breakdown in negotiations over fees or no fees being initially available to screen. In very rare instances, filmmakers may also withdraw films from a regional film festival after selection to premiere at a more prestigious international event, throwing a festival programme into disarray.

The economic value of festival tourism is widely recognised (Stringer 2001), but the impacts on local communities have also been questioned (O’Sullivan & Jackson 2002). Four specific festivals in the Northern Rivers’ region have been studied in a tourism context by Ros Derrett (2003, 2004), highlighting the significance of festival culture to the regional area in creating and sustaining communities. This research predates the  emergence of QFFF so does not include reference to the role that such a festival plays in regard to the GLBTIQ communities.

Funding bodies (such as the national and state screen and arts funding agencies, and state tourism funding bodies) all utilise quantitative and qualitative data derived from festivals each year, such as audience attendance numbers, to set Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that a festival must reach. Regional festival producers are keenly aware of the tidal nature of tourism in the Northern Rivers area, with a resultant concentration of  regional festivals around major public holidays, traditionally times of high tourism influx (high profile examples of this include Bluesfest during the April long weekend). There is also a range of local festival initiatives centred on Yoga, Circus, and Indigenous Music and Arts (October and January long weekends).

Confidence in the timing of the Queer Fruits Film Festival in the lead-up to New Year was able to be clearly demonstrated to state government funding bodies and potential sponsors, and enhanced through support of the local gay and lesbian community group for ticketing during a startup phase (2009, 2010, 2011). Key to this was the lack of competing, or overlapping, screen culture events in the Northern Rivers’ region at New Year, and hence a freedom from competing for an audience. Beyond the annual date, there were no limitations or directions on what form or duration the festival should be, or what content should be screened. With complete artistic freedom – something that any cultural curator dreams of – and cognizant of the responsibility of being entrusted with community expectations and backing, the huge task of establishing Queer Fruits Film Festival started. This was a process I came to think of in future festival years, as running a marathon up a mountain, with the festival delivery at New Year always ahead as the finish line.

To source high quality films is ultimately the number one challenge for any festival, so the first step in 2009 was to approach and secure a Partnership with an international film submission company, approaching Without a Box (WAB) in the USA, which is utilised by the majority of independent filmmakers and film festivals internationally (including the major festivals such as Sundance (USA) and Raindance (UK). Though WAB generally does not partner with newly established film festivals (under three years’ operation), the company agreed to partner with the freshly emergent QFFF, as I had established a successful working relationship with WAB during my previous Assistant Director role in Sydney. In this experience, a beneficial relationship between the city and country for cultural creators and creative industries emerges and the transnational reality of creative industries in today’s world is illustrated. Without this partnership, sourcing films from around the world (and hence, the festival) would have been impossible.

Regional queer counterpublic space

There are currently 299 queer film festivals internationally (Loist 2013). Significantly of these, there are very few – such as Queer Fruits Film Festival – that are wholly regional and that exist outside the major cities and metropolitan areas. The phrase ‘wholly regionally’ highlights the difference between a queer film festival that is established and produced independently in a regional area and a film festival that is programmed by an urban festival curator and then presented as a ‘touring’ program to a region by an established city-based film festival. The difference is subtle but profound in terms of the planning strategies that need to be employed in understanding the regional audience demographics and, foremost, the needs of regional GLBTIQ audiences due to their lower socioeconomic environment. Recognising that there is a difference between programming for an urban and regional film festival audience is essential. It largely derives from the lower socio-economic situation that prevails, which leads to audience expectations for films that may have less demoralising content than that a metropolitan film audience may tolerate. The subtle difference in programming strategies required between a metropolitan and regional film festival is identified, as it may not otherwise be recognisable unless there is experience in selecting and curating films in both festival locations.

Early in the community consultation process around potential programming for the festival, it emerged that the local GLBTIQ community expressed a lack of interest in certain types of films being screened. In each case, these were films with themes centred around specific GLBTIQ health issues. It is understandable that a community living with recurrent and major illnesses may express a lack of interest in sitting in the dark for two hours, the night before New Year and being ‘entertained’ by films centred upon such content. This experience is not limited to QFFF: “programming and audience expectations influence one another” in the content screened at queer film festivals, something that has been recognised since the early 1980s and articulated in the writings of Ruby Rich who “finds the audiences remarkably conservative in taste” (Zielinski 2006, p. 5). During my four years as director of the festival, there were only two or three films that were not selected on the above thematic grounds and in each case, these films had narrative content that was highly questionable and contentious readings of complex community issues that would have generated much concern. It was a reasoned judgment after several preview viewings that selecting these films would potentially impact negatively upon the festival programming and perhaps even upon the health and well-being of the community. This is a call that a Festival Director ultimately must make. From an activist or theoretical perspective, it could be argued that there is a political imperative to screen reality GLBTIQ content from a range of points of view – and it is agreed that such films may need to be shown – but each film also needs to find the right audience and some films would be better screened in more mainstream urban contexts, to the broader community, to play a role in changing general community attitudes.

The economics of producing the film festival present one of the major concurrent obstacles to overcome each festival year. This has been studied in the work of Julian Stringer (2011) and Ragan Rhyne (2007) in relation to the fundraising practises and administrative structures of queer film festivals (the majority of which are nonprofit organisations). In this regard QFFF was unique, as it was formed as a partnership with community  stakeholders, as a means of streamlining creative and administrative processes. There is also what can be called an anti-economic logic to producing an independent public queer film festival that is exacerbated in a regional locale, because the level of annual work involved could never be paid at an hourly rate and the costs of venue and festival materials exceeds what a regional film festival could access each season. All funds raised must be directed to what are anecdotally called ‘hard costs’ (actual production costs excluding human labour – the majority of which is volunteered). The choice to still go ahead and produce a regional queer film festival, despite inadequate funding and relying upon a highly skilled team who commit themselves to volunteering large amounts of labour and creativity annually, are also part of the non-normative, queer experience of “immersing…in non-lucrative practises” to achieve a result (Halberstam 2005, p. 10).

It may seem that curating a film festival is simply a matter of presenting a range of current independent films to a public, paying audience. Yet, as Festival Director, the multiple stakeholders which support the festival process (including but not limited to government/screen funding agencies, event partners, local and national sponsors) and particularly, the very intense bond of trust which exists between the festival and each filmmaker to ensure that their work will receive the best possible pre-festival marketing and festival screening experience is something always on your mind. It is also essential that the festival programme represents all sectors of the community. This requires curating films across genres (fiction, documentary, animation, music videos, comedies, short films and features) and with inclusive representation of GLBTIQ people, with awareness of  contemporary issues and trends in these communities. Loist has also highlighted the complexity of festival programming, writing that “Queer filmmaking and curating for LGBT film festivals is bound to representational and identity politics and loaded with rules and expectations” (Loist 2012, p. 162).

Behind the scenes and generally not recognised is a complex legal process and range of ethical issues that must be fully considered to bring the films to the public. Primary amongst these obligations is the annual legal requirement to have the full draft festival programme cleared by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), prior to any publicity or marketing so that the festival may receive an official Exemption to publically screen films that have not been formally classified for public viewing as ‘G’, ‘PG’, ‘M’, ‘M15+’, ‘R18+’ . This entails every film passing through rigorous preselection screening with close regard to the OFLC Guidelines: the festival “must also clearly demonstrate the levels of any classifiable elements (themes, violence, sex, nudity, coarse language and/or drug use) in the film with reference to the Guidelines for the Classification of Films” (OFLC 2012).

A significant point to highlight is that the OFLC publishes Guidelines that each festival and curator is expected to interpret and apply to the films that are submitted. By its very nature, film classification, even at the official level, may be interpreted as a subjective process. This observation is autoethnographic, based upon the experiences of having prepared four festival draft programmes for QFFF (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), with reference to the Guidelines and in close liasion and ongoing discussions with OFLC Exemptions Officers. Each festival programme received the official Exemption to screen in that year from the OFLC and subsequent Exemption to screen selected films on tour (Coffs Harbour 2011; Sydney, 2012). Community tastes and standards vary depending upon which community is addressed by the content and who is the intended audience. Even within a specific community there can be variations of standards. There are very subtle issues surrounding the application of the OFLC ‘impact tests’ of a film’s content because impact is lessened, or heightened, by an unlimited range of contextual, thematic, narrative and technical aspects (for example: hearing the sound of an event off camera generally contains less impact than watching the image of the same event; a ‘verbal reference’ to an event is generally also of ‘less impact than a visual depiction’) and the ‘literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the film in addition to the ‘cumulative effects’ of material must all be considered (OFLC Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012, pp. 1-2).

Regarding GLBTIQ content, there are often specific thematic issues which must be considered in respect to each film in the draft programme; these may include films with depictions of homoerotic and transerotic nudity and sexual activities. Interestingly, violence seems to be very rarely depicted in any GLBTIQ film.

To understand the Classifications process, in year one of the festival, I engaged in a prolonged dialogue with OFLC Exemptions Officers around the film Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006), a text which would appear, by any of the definitions in the Guidelines, to be a film that could not be screened publically (due to depictions of ‘actual’ sex, the Guidelines permit only ‘simulations’ up to the R18+ rating). What emerged in the discussions proved to be the most instructive for a programmer/curator in understanding how Classifications processes are actually administered in Australia and the freedom of artistic expression that could be used to defend textual content. This proved very useful in curating the fourth season of QFFF (2012) when Sexing the Transman (Buck Angel, 2011) was selected, in what was only the second public screening in Australia to be granted (the first being in Melbourne) and I needed to rigorously analyse and defend the content in the draft programme submission to the OFLC. In this selection, and the subsequent successful screening and audience feedback to the 2012 festival, what was demonstrated is an apparent lack of difference between metropolitan and rural aesthetic tastes in the Twenty-First Century, demonstrating the informed, transnational sexual identities of contemporary queer festival audiences in a regional area. This is also despite the different affective needs of each group, as expressed in the comments on the early community consultation processes for festival programming. The lack of differences in responses to curated content observed over the four years, may also be due to the large number of post-metropolis inhabitants now living in the country.

Figure 2. "Rainbow region celebrates queer cinema". Example of GLBTIQ press for QFFF 2012 which highlighted the landmark screening of "Sexing the Transman"

Figure 2. “Rainbow region celebrates queer cinema”. Example of GLBTIQ press for QFFF 2012 which highlighted the landmark screening of “Sexing the Transman”

Satisfying the OFLC and gaining an exemption to screen requires that each film be viewed for the specific purpose of classification (over and above the previews for artistic and programming purposes) and the drafting of a comprehensive scene by scene analysis of the content with reference to the classification Guidelines and the ‘impact’ of each classifiable element (where present in the film – such as violence, sex, nudity, coarse language and/or drug use). A classification synopsis document is generated for each film, with a suggested ratings (G, PG, M, MA15+, R18+) to which the film most closely corresponds and this is submitted to the OFLC. As can be imagined, this is one of the major responsibilities of the Festival Director and requires a substantial level of carefully considered work. By the time the finalised programme is viewed by the public, the Festival Director has most likely previewed each film in full between three to five times, knows the annual programme back to front and is prepared to publically discuss, debate and defend the festival choices in the media and with the local community. While these may seem to be trivial, or sideline matters, the direct access all stakeholders have to the Festival Director and the direct responses that are received from the paying audiences who attend a regional film festival make it imperative that the programme is well-crafted.

The commitment to community representation in a regional film festival is maintained through members of the local GLBTIQ community being invited to be involved in the selection panel. There is equal representation of genders in the panel. This is a different strategy than adopted by larger, metropolitan film festivals, which have closed selection panel/s generally limited to those who are within the film industry, involved in the festival production, with degrees in screen, especially noted for film knowledge, or responsible for curatorial decisions. By including local, regional GLBTIQ people from a range of backgrounds (non-filmmaker, nonacademic, not actively involved in producing the festival), invaluable grassroots feedback about the impacts of films is obtained prior to public screening. Given that film festivals are permitted to screen material up to the ‘R 18+’ equivalent, themes which are included in GLBTIQ films may also require maturity and discretion, as well as specific GLBTIQ community knowledge to understand and adequately assess.

The selection panel comes together, views each film fade-in to fade-out, in real-time viewing (identical to how the audience would see the film), then utilises a comprehensive list of thematic and technical aspects to rank each film. At the conclusion of the selection process, the films which have been ranked the highest are shortlisted for selection.

It is at this stage that the curatorial processes intensify, as each film must be positioned in the draft program to create a coherent session, with mood and timing of films and transitions between each text carefully considered. With QFFF, each session duration ran for approximately two hours; this heightened the drama of the selection and programming processes, but also grounded the ability to program with an edge.

Due to the time constraints of programming for a regional queer film festival, from inception a multi-gender, multi-themed programming strategy was chosen as the most equitable way of presenting the widest range of content to the local audience. This has involved films across genres and from all aspects of the GLBTIQ spectrum being programmed together. There is a conscious absence of single gender programming by Queer Fruits Film Festival. This is a recognisable “queer programming strategy” (Loist 2012, p.165), which creates a democratised and inclusive film counterpublic space.

Figure 3. Queer Fruits Film Festival 2012 programme.

Figure 3. Queer Fruits Film Festival 2012 programme.

There is always a focus to ensure that a range of films are selected each year that also challenge homonormative views. This requires a high energy level, careful consideration of programme construction and at times, a queer resistance to corporatisation. On more than one occasion, potentially lucrative partnership opportunities from metropolitan sources were avoided because of the ‘fine print’ in contracts that would have reduced (or removed) independence in programming, or had an impact upon relationships with grassroots regional sponsors, or perceived to conflict with GLBTIQ community interests. The potentially conflictual role of corporate sponsorship is not often publically acknowledged, yet, the negative results have been publicised over the years concerning nationally known festivals. In one highly public case, surrounding The Woodford and Dreaming Festivals and the Queensland Folk Federation, ideological conflicts between grassroots involvement and a major corporate sponsor emerged that were initially unknown to festival organisers, complicated by the fact the corporate dollar had already been received (and partially spent). This led to widespread protests across social media, print, radio and calls to boycott the festival that year (The Woodfordia Mail, 24/12/11; 06/08/12). The responses from the task force established to deal with this issue highlighted the economic problems all festival organisers face between limited funding sources and the ethical dilemmas that must be fully considered and resolved prior to receiving funding.

Protecting the intellectual and artistic freedom in programming QFFF led to creating truly outstanding queer film programmes each year. Feedback from audiences showed that these curatorial strategies were successful; that audiences, though initially surprised at being shown a range of films in the same session (gay & lesbian / bisexual / transgender & intersex / queer), enjoyed the variety of content and exposure to narratives of other lives. Over the four years, the only other feedback on the programming were requests for increased lesbian content – films which can be difficult to source for a range of reasons, including the limited number of exclusively lesbian filmmakers internationally and the socio-economics of independent film production (which often leads to less films produced and submitted by women). The expectations of the audience and what a program can deliver each year is a central and ongoing area of ethical consideration, perhaps heightened in a regional festival, where the local GLBTIQ community lives all around you, long after the box office has closed.

Acknowledgements

Continued thanks and respect is given to the QFFF team creative partners, who supported the process from the beginning : Virginia Barratt, Elka Kerkhofs, Zan Hammerton. Thank you to Tropical Fruits Inc. a Founding Partner of the festival. Thank you to Professor Baden Offord and to Dr. Erika Kerruish (Southern Cross University) for generous feedback on an early draft of this article.

Figures

1.“Films launching gay event week”. Example of regional press for QFFF 2010 in The Northern Star (29/12/10 print and online versions).

2. “Rainbow region celebrates queer cinema”. Example of GLBTIQ press for QFFF 2012 which highlighted the landmark screening of Sexing the Transman.
(Sydney Star Observer 10/01/13 print and online versions).

3. Queer Fruits Film Festival 2012 programme ©Queer Fruits Film Festival 2012.

Filmography

Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (George Whaley, 1995, Australia)

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliot, 1994, Australia)

Sexing the Transman  (Buck Angel, 2011, USA)

Shortbus  (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006, USA)

The Man From Snowy River  (George Miller, 1982, USA)

Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971, Australia)

Welcome to Woop Woop (Stephan Elliot, 1997, Australia)

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About the author

Akkadia Ford is a PhD Candidate (Cultural Studies, School of Arts & Social Sciences, Southern Cross University) and is a trained filmmaker, establishing and working as Festival Director of Queer Fruits Film Festival  (2009-2012). Current areas of interest are focused upon transgender representation in films, queer film, gender disruption, film festivals, audiences and issues of spectatorship.

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