Coming out in force

Colin Firth, with Julianne Moore, earned an Academy Award  nomination for his performance as a gay professor in Tom ...

Colin Firth, with Julianne Moore, earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as a gay professor in Tom Ford's 2009 film A Single Man.

In half a century, the international movie world has progressed from rendering gay people invisible to embracing arguably a post-gay world of centre-frame queer characters whose sexuality is often a side concern.

Now the evolution broadens its reach: the World Movies channel will screen a week of same-sex-themed feature films from the US, Canada, Italy, Britain and Lebanon (standing in for Iran) before Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade on March 2.

The programming follows World Movies signing a partnership deal with Sydney Mardi Gras.

Since 1978, the year of the first Mardi Gras - when revellers were arrested and homosexuality was illegal across most of Australia - there has been a gay and lesbian film festival in Sydney. So it might be said TV has come a little late to the party. But then, studio-driven Hollywood moves at a glacial pace despite the town's liberalism.


Early depictions of gay characters were straight from the script of psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In Rope (1948), for instance, Alfred Hitchcock had two brilliant young ''aesthetes'' - code for homosexuals - commit murder capriciously and stuff the body in a trunk, then carry on being debonair.

In The Children's Hour (1961), an accused lesbian played by Shirley MacLaine hangs herself in the final reel.

By the time Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain was a hit in 2005, Hollywood had progressed to an entire film dealing tenderly with a cowboy-on-cowboy romance, even if Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist met a grisly end. The fact that mainstream audiences now watch gay stories in cinemas however made Jodie Foster's 2013 Golden Globes ''coming out'' speech, past her cinema prime at age 50, almost beside the point.

World Movies general manager Chris Keely sees Mala Noche, the 1986 black-and-white feature debut of US director Gus Van Sant (which features on February 27 as part of the channel's week of same-sex-themed films), as a watershed that helped ''create the genre of queer cinema''.

''He [Van Sant] was depicting the love affair between two guys and it wasn't stigmatising gayness by showing a gay story,'' Keely says.

This writer, however, found Mala Noche the weakest of the six mardi gras-week films, given its Jean-Luc Godard-style affectations. It's probably best seen as a formative work of the director who went on to make My Own Private Idaho (1991), starring River Phoenix, and Milk (2008), starring Sean Penn as murdered gay activist Harvey Milk.

Circumstance (2011), directed by Maryam Keshavarz, opens the World Movies series on February 25. The film, set in Iran but made in Lebanon, depicts young characters struggling to articulate human rights - including two teenage girls dangerously experimenting with their same-sex attraction. ''What they were doing to the gays 30 years ago, they're doing to you now,'' a young, earnest American-educated Iranian man tells the girls.

Keely's pick of the series is the 2011 British film Weekend, in which two characters form a fleeting relationship despite mismatched levels of commitment. ''It shows in a modern urban environment, a different aspect of gay experience where the issue is not about dealing with the sexuality principally, but the struggles of connecting with people,'' he says.

Much deserved praise has already been heaped on Colin Firth's performance as a grieving gay man in Tom Ford's adaptation of A Single Man (2009), to be shown on February 28.

That is followed on March 1 by the remarkable Canadian film I Killed My Mother (2009), written and directed by and starring Xavier Dolan as a character battling issues with his divorced mother and where sexuality, again, is a given and not a central point.

The final film of the series, on March 2, is Loose Cannons (2010), from Italy, a light-hearted tale of two gay brothers' thwarted coming out.

The week should leave the audience wanting more - and Keely promises next year the series will be longer, broadening its reach and possibly including stories with transgender characters.