From relatively humble beginnings in 1979, the Sydney Mardi Gras – at first primarily a gay pride parade – has grown into a full series of events and parties, attracting numerous international visitors to Sydney – and not all of them gay and lesbian. Its Executive Director has estimated that the Mardi Gras is the second largest event in New South Wales, generating an annual income of about $30 million.
An outgrowth of the Mardi Gras, the Mardi Gras Film Festival is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary, but stems from a history of gay and lesbian film screenings running back to 1978. Like the Australian Jewish Film Festival, many of those early years were supported by the Australian Film Institute, although the ownership has long since moved on to Queer Screen, a non-profit membership-based organisation.
Each year, the Festival features at some films of Jewish interest, and increasingly they are films made by Israelis and set in Israel. This year is no exception, with two planned screenings of Eytan Fox’s new film “Yossi” (February 21 and 23), which originally screened in Australia last November as part of the Jewish International Film Festival. “Yossi” is a follow-up to the ground-breaking “Yossi and Jaeger” (2003), and features the same character and the same actor at Yossi (Ohad Knoller), now working as a cardiologist but still suffering from the loss of his lover.
The film opened in New York City cinemas on 25 January 2013, so this Australian preview is timely, with Australian theatrical release not yet confirmed. The (US) National Public Radio reviewer Ella Taylor calls the film “sublimely tender”. Stephen Holden in The New York Times describes the film as a “beautifully acted but overly sentimental story of a man’s emotional rebirth in a more sexually liberated era”. Holden also called the film “a pointed portrayal of the revolution in social attitudes inside the most liberal and secularized of Israeli cities”, even though he believes the film unrealistically portrays the acceptance of “gays in the Israeli military … (without) the slightest undercurrent of tension”. As of 28 January, the “Metacritic” website reported four fully positive and seven “mixed” English language reviews of the film – with no negatives.
The other Jewish-related film in this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival is Keep the Lights On, an autobiographical film co-written and directed by Ira Sachs, a gay American Jewish film-maker. Sachs is a frequent collaborator with Israeli film-maker Oren Moverman: they worked together on Married Life, starring Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams.