Premiering at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, Kids On Fire was due to screen as part of MQFF’s Australian Shorts package in March, but the festival closed after its opening weekend. This weekend it will feature in MQFF Online, a digital capsule festival.

The film stars Cali Van Dyke-Goodman as nine-year-old Em, pressured by her older sister to vandalise their small town’s LGBTIQ sex shop during the marriage equality debate to prove her evangelical faith.

Kids on Fire: Cali Van Dyke-Goodman

Kids on Fire: Cali Van Dyke-GoodmanCredit:Claire Summers

It was a very personal story for Hart, who struggled with growing up in an evangelical church.

“Since leaving the church, I’ve come out, I’m trans, and I really wanted to make something that explored that time in my life,” they says. “So it’s a bit of self-acceptance, but it also shows others that it can be really hard for people in those environments to feel welcomed.”

Passionate about inclusivity, Hart hopes MQFF Online will increase accessibility, including for people with disability. They recently enjoyed an online “pyjama party” screening hosted by transgender and gender diverse film festival Tilde.

“I’m hoping that, going forward, some festivals will include IRL (in real life) events and online options as well. I honestly feel like I’m ‘going’ to more things now we’re in lockdown because it’s easier when I don’t have to spend an hour on public transport.”

Casting the self-identifying “big, brown and beautiful” Bumpa Love, owner of Fitzroy’s Vau d’vile Drag Cabaret bar, as the sex shop owner was important to Hart, “for an authentic representation of gender non-conformity on the screen”.

Another filmmaker whose work features in the MQFF festival, 22 year-old Abbie ‘AP’ Pobjoy, also seeks to give often-ignored voices a platform.

Her short Backing up Bilitis, which debuted at last year’s St Kilda Film Festival, stars Jana Zvedeniuk as a teenage lesbian inspired to come out after reading about the women behind Australia’s first push for queer rights.

Dedicated to Phyllis Papps and Francesca Curtis, founders of the Australian arm of US activist group the Daughters of Bilitis (later renamed the Australasian Lesbian Movement), they came out on national television during an interview with Bill Peach on ABC TV show This Day Tonight in 1970, almost a decade before Sydney’s Mardi Gras protest of 1978.

Pobjoy says the couple, who just celebrated their 50th anniversary together, don’t get the credit they deserve. “That’s what Bilitis is trying to prove, that the gay rights movement is actually heavily linked to the women’s liberation movement,” she says.

A still from short film Back in Bilitis

A still from short film Back in Bilitis

Too often, films overlook lesbian contributions in favour of those by gay men. “It’s not someone fighting a bigger battle than anybody else,” Pobjoy says. “We’re all fighting the same fight. It’s just about sharing that spotlight.

“I’m trying to secure support systems for elderly queer women, because they do feel isolated from the community that they helped build.”

Papps and Curtis reached out to Pobjoy while she was making the short at Swinburne University in 2018 as her graduate film. The resulting friendship inspired Pobjoy to shoot a feature-length documentary about them, Why Did She Have to Tell the World?, which will debut on the ABC some 50 years after their first history-making appearance.

MQFF Online runs from July 17-19. For more info, go to mqff.com.au

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