By Penny Saunders
The Melbourne International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (at the National Theatre, St Kilda, until February 15) presents a challenging program of local and international film dealing with diverse subjects ranging from political to erotic to humorous. Sessions generally focus on works considering a certain theme or present the work of one film maker. All the films which I saw on February 6 were concerned with lesbian sexuality and power.
Bodies in Trouble, by Canadian director Marusia Bociukiw, was probably the most accessible, using humour and short vignettes to explore the day to day existence of lesbians in a hostile society. It expresses the difficulties lesbians face from a variety of power structures (the police, the medical profession) and links this struggle to other groups in Canadian society such as indigenous people.
The films of Leonie Knight, a young Australian director, and the films Manodestra (from Switzerland) and Compartment (Germany) focus on creating visions of lesbian sadomasochism. Knight's Nicotene Porn, The Father is Nothing and In Loving Memory are collections of surreal images conveying the world of the masochist and transsexuality. I found the last, Knight's most recent film, the best of the three, expressing the links between fetish and desire. Her two earlier films seemed rather distressingly like music video clips or cigarette advertisements. I look forward to seeing how her work develops in the future.
Manodestra, a 53-minute feature film, was billed as "considered highly controversial wherever it is screened", and I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in "sadomasochistic lesbiana" rush out and see it. Structured like an intimate torture session, it draws the viewer into the powerful realm of the dominatrix in her dungeon. Even if your interests don't extend to sadomasochism, this film will show you a thing or two about tying useful, if intricate, knots.
The night ended on a high note with Kali Frauenfilm (W. and B. Hein, Germany), a montage of images from violent B-grade movies. Surprisingly humorous, the film explored the primal and repressed desires portrayed in horror and women's prison films.
The exciting aspect of the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is that so many innovative and controversial films, many of which have never been shown in Australia previously, are being screened. A night out at the festival will be guaranteed to provoke conversation and controversy among your friends.
Coming festival highlights are Evenings, a film by Rudolph van den Burgh, voted "one of the best films in Berlin (film festival) in 1990" and showing on February 12 at 9 p.m.; an evening with Sadie Benning, a young film maker from Milwaukee, who will introduce her films which deal with being young and being gay, February 13 at 9 p.m.; and the Australian premiere of The Last Island by Marlene Gorris, February 15, 9 p.m.