Student Life

Queer life: Five must-watch documentaries

By Jac Hope

Zoe Coombes Marr’s documentary series Queerstralia, which wrapped up on the ABC this week but can still be found on iview, explores the lives of queer Australians through the lenses of law, identity and community. The series has received rave reviews for its multifaceted representation of the queer experience. If you are interested in learning more here’s what you should watch next:

Paris is Burning (1990). Directed by Jennie Livingston

If you enjoyed Ryan Murphy’s television series chronicling 1980s ballroom culture, Pose, then Paris is Burning is for you. Paris is Burning examines the same ballroom scene Pose fictionalises. The film explores the concept of drag as gender performance far beyond the bounds of the kind drag seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race and voguing (definitely not invented by Madonna). Most importantly Paris is Burning focuses on the ways in which drag house culture allowed for the creation of found families at a time when stigma and rejection of queer people, fuelled by the HIV/AIDS crisis, was heightened. Paris is Burning has become a seminal document of the ballroom scene.

How to Survive a Plague (2012). Directed by David France

Advanced warning: How to Survive a Plague will make you angry. There is also a fair chance it will make you cry. How to Survive a Plague details the formation, struggles, and ultimate success of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) in pushing a government that could be charitably described as ambivalent to fund research into HIV/AIDS, make potential treatments accessible and affordable and generally assist those living with HIV/AIDS during the 1980s and early 1990s. Additionally it is an honest account of the tensions that can exist in grassroots organisations, especially when big egos are involved.

The Celluloid Closet (1995). Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman

The Celluloid Closet, as the name suggests, examines the history of how LGBT+ people have been portrayed in Hollywood film. From the heavily regulated Hays Code era, to the unflattering stereotypes of the 60s and 70s, through to the more nuanced portrayals of queer lives and experiences that emerged from the 1980s onwards, The Celluloid Closet is a must watch for film fans.

Silverlake Life: The View From Here (1993). Directed by Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin

There is no denying it, Silverlake Life: The View From Here is a difficult film to watch. The film documents the final months of the life of Tom Joslin and his partner Mark Massi as they both both face deteriorating health after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Silverlake Life is a startlingly personal document of an era that is often discussed in the abstract. All too often, history treats those affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a homogenous group, Silverlake Life serves to remind us that behind every life lost there is a unique story.

The Story of Yes (2016). Directed by Hugh Rodgers

First aired in 2016 by RTE2 (Ireland’s national broadcaster) on the first anniversary of the referendum which enabled the constitutional change necessary to allow marriage equality in Ireland; this documentary, largely through interviews with those on the frontline of the Yes campaign, examines how the campaign for marriage equality was won. The Irish yes campaign had a significant influence on the successful yes campaign in Australia and The Story of Yes is an important document.

Featured image: Movies that tell the stories behind this banner. Photo: 42 North/CC/Pexels

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