22 March 2023

NFSA brings award-winning Mardi Gras film festival to Canberra

| Sally Hopman
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Two men

The NFSA has remastered nine short films by Stephen Cummins, pictured here with collaborator Simon Hunt. Photo: Simon Hunt.

Award-winning films, last screened during Sydney’s Mardi Gras World Pride celebrations earlier this month, will go on show at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra from Friday, 24 March.

The films, many of which originated from the NFSA’s own collection and have been restored, present highlights from Queer Australia’s 30th anniversary of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. They track the history of the queer community from the first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978 to a retrospective work of one of its founders, Stephen Cummins.

NFSA curator Nick Henderson developed the Cummins retrospective, remastering the works with Simon Hunt (alias Pauline Pantsdown).

“There is some remarkable material here,” Mr Henderson said. “Stephen Cummins was an experimental filmmaker, so it’s quite rare to see the breadth of the work of someone like him.

“It goes from his student days right through to the 90s.”

Stephen Cummins, who died from an AIDS-related illness in 1984, was a “boundary-pushing” filmmaker, Mr Henderson said, whose work has a significant role in the legacy archives.

The NFSA is also showcasing its online collection of LGBTQIA material, with guest contributor Simon Hunt writing about how he collaborated with Stephen Cummins on his films and their impact on queer cinema, while one of the original 1978ers from the first Mardi Gras, co-festival chair Di Minnis, reflects on what it was like during that first parade and the subsequent arrests.

Uncovering such important pieces of Australian social history, be they film or sound recordings, are “part of what we do”, Mr Henderson said.

“The NFSA has had a longstanding commitment to the queer community, to represent their work as we represent all aspects of Australian life.

“Not many people know that we were set up in 1984 as a film and recording speaking library by the government.

“We have such important items in our collection. Many people know we have the first feature film, The Kelly Gang, which was made in 1906, but we also collect community radio recordings and Australian home movies.”

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He said during our film heyday, everything happened so quickly and Australia was in danger of losing its sense of identity and, with that, its film records.

“I suppose we were a little overwhelmed by how quickly the industry took off, of what happened in Hollywood, which is why now we continue to look to fill any gaps in our collection so we can fulfil our sense of identity.”

Mr Henderson said one of the most important roles of the NFSA was to find and restore the sights and sounds of our social history so it could preserve them for future generations.

He said with such a large and diverse collecting ambit, people who have collections of our visual and audio history were invited to contact the NFSA to see if it is interested in the collection.

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For the NFSA event, the first film on 24 March at 6 pm is the award-winning In from the Side, which looks at an affair between two members of a South London gay rugby club. It’s directed by former rugby player/coach/manager Matt Carter and co-producer by Australian Adam Silver. Other films on show at the weekend include The Venus Effect, a Danish romantic comedy at 6 pm on 25 March and the Best of Mardi Gras Shorts at 8:30 pm.

The festival will culminate with nine short films on 26 March made by feature artist Stephen Cummins, which premiered at the Mardi Gras Film Festival during Sydney’s World Pride. They have all been remastered by the NFSA.

A Q&A with Simon Hunt and Mathew Bergen, moderated by Nick Henderson, will follow.

For more information and bookings, go to the NFSA website.

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