In Conversation with Queer Screen’s Lisa Rose

Elizabeth Green

Cover image: Erin Sutherland | @ezose.png


For Lisa Rose, Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival is more than just a collection of films. The festival is a celebration of queer diversity, and a reminder of the joy and heartbreak that comes with that queerness.


The festival is an institution in the Mardi Gras celebration, 2019 being the 26th year in its colourful history. From its beginnings as a small exhibition of gay and lesbian films, the Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival is now showing 120 films, in 27 languages, all while touching on every letter of the LGBTQ+ alphabet.


“We have the ability to put on those 120 films, and because it’s not just the one event, I can try to cater to as many parts of the community as I can. It’s important for two reasons. Firstly, because if we didn’t screen some of these films, they would never be shown in Australia.


“The other reason is the fact that there’s nothing like watching a queer film with a queer audience,” Ms Rose said.


Ms Rose has noticed a change even in the five years she’s worked with the festival. Diversity within the audience improved, with movie viewers taking advantage of the improved diversity onscreen.


“It used to be, when I first started, that it was very obvious that ‘this is a film about lesbians and this is a film about gay men’ because you’d look at the queues. One queue would be all men, and there would be all women in the other queue,” Ms Rose said.


The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Embrace Your Story’, a key driver in Ms Rose’s mission to see greater representation of identities, faces, and ages on screen. But beyond that, Ms Rose wants to see people embrace others’ stories, and learn about the variety within the queer experience.


“I think it’s good for people to be enlightened by stories that aren’t ‘them’.”


To combat this, a key focus of Ms Rose’s time as Festival Director has been to source films outside the trope of ‘cis gay white man’, particularly focusing on lesbian and trans content. This year sees a record of 22 films featuring trans, intersex, and non-binary characters of subject, as well as a wide variety of women-focused content, the outcome of sourcing hundreds of films for the show.  


Finding films that embody all members of the queer community is not an easy task. The issue of representation, especially for women and people of colour, is tough to tackle from the festival director’s chair.


“It was one of the first things I kept focusing on, saying, ‘This is too male focused, there’s not enough female stories.’ But it was coming from a naïve place. I can’t program something that doesn’t exist… I tell film-makers to make this stuff because we’re crying out for it. We want it to be made,” Ms Rose said.


In a world where representation is key, with more groups calling out the use harmful tropes and stereotypes over complex storytelling, film has been the slowest to change. Ms Rose attributes film’s delay in adopting twenty-first century values to high production costs, and where the money trail eventually leads.


“Film is the most expensive art form to make. We live in a patriarchal society, and money is generally controlled by cisgender white men,” Ms Rose said.


Not one to dwell on issues without striving for change, Ms Rose and Queer Screen have an answer to the challenge of underrepresentation. The Queer Screen’s Completion Fund gives Australian LGBTQ+ film makers the opportunity to see their projects reach completion, and for audience members to see films that they would otherwise be unable to see.


In 2019, Queer Screen gave a record of $25,000 to filmmakers across Australia, with over $60,000 given to projects since the fund was opened in 2015.


“The cool thing is that the projects that we’re giving that to are really diverse…which is great because having things like our fund means that it can hit on parts of the community that are underrepresented,” Ms Rose said.


Ms Rose acknowledges that the queer film industry has made strides in terms of combating under-representation on screen, but only wishes that change could come faster.


“I just want it to go quicker. I want there to be a more diverse range, and I want people to embrace that diversity. I want people to get excited about seeing different people on screen,” Ms Rose said.


Beyond diversity on-screen, the only thing Ms Rose can ask for is a queer superhero movie.