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Festival director’s “Yes” vote spray ignites backlash

Update Monday 20 November: Richard Wolstencroft announced this morning that he is stepping down from his post as the director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. He made the announcement in a post apologising for his comments. 

Words by Anders Furze
 

Artists and sponsors stampede away from the Melbourne Underground Film Festival in response to director Richard Wolstencroft’s “toxic” post on the same sex marriage survey result. Anders Furze reports.

A Facebook post by the director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF), Richard Wolstencroft, describing the success of the “Yes” campaign in the same sex marriage survey as “a horrible black day of infamy” has provoked a rapid backlash.

Artists, venues and sponsors associated with the festival moved quickly today to publicly severe ties with MUFF after actor Alanah Parkin tweeted her outrage at Wolstencroft’s remarks. Graham Espie, manager of screening venue Howler bar, said that staff were “horrified to see such views expressed … now that we are aware of this we certainly won’t be working with him again”.

But Wolstencroft defended his post, saying “this is all about free speech”. He told the The Citizen that while he accepted that the post was “certainly hyperbolic, it was certainly a bit over the top,” he stood by it.

“You’ve all turned into McCarthy from the  ’50s.”

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In the post, Wolstencroft wrote: “The Decadence and Degeneracy of the Bourgeois Elite has been normalized and they will use this to destroy us. The Family and The Nation will be under direct attack. Homosexuality is created often through child abuse and it has been embraced by the Majority of Australians as normal.

He went on to say that he suspected “some vote rigging from The Elite” contributed to the result, and that the “Yes” campaign’s win was “the beginning of the End of our Great Country.”

After seeing Wolstencroft’s “incredibly offensive and toxic” statement, actor Jackson Tozer said that he would return the Best Actor award he won at the festival in 2016, and the nomination he received in 2015.

“I have requested these awards be removed from my IMDb, and any other affiliation with this festival be deleted,” he posted on his official Facebook page. “This sort of attack on the LGBTQI+ community, or any community for that matter, is not to be tolerated.”

Actor Alanah Parkin, whose tweets first brought the offending post to wider attention, said that she found Wolstencroft’s statement personally upsetting. “As a queer actor who has attended the festival to see myself in a film it’s just … I was really disappointed,” she told The Citizen.

Parkin also shared a screenshot of a statement by Moon Dog Brewery and Bar, another screening venue, stating that it “won’t be having anything to do with MUFF in the future”. (A staff member would not comment when asked to confirm the post’s accuracy.)

A number of other organisations have since claimed that MUFF has lied about their involvement with the festival on its website. The film collective Cinemaniacs is listed as a media partner for the festival, but said that its logo was used without its permission or consultation. Queer radio station JOY FM is also listed as a sponsor, but this afternoon tweeted that it had not supported the festival in over three years.

In a follow-up post, Wolstencroft wrote that he was “not against the Gay Community” and asked for “Peace to all and the Peace beyond understanding”.

Alanah Parkin argued that his defence was hypocritical. “I don’t think he can come out and say that gayness is often the product of child abuse and then suggest that he’s not against the community. To suggest that we are the way we are because something bad happened in our life is an automatically queerphobic thing to say.”

Wolstencroft reiterated to The Citizen that he thought the “Yes” win was “a black day”.

“It’s fair to say that I’m the Australian Milo Yiannoppoulos,” he said.  “I will not be silenced by Social Justice Warriors.”

Wolstencroft has a history of courting controversy. He invited holocaust denier David Irving to speak to the 2003 version of MUFF, and his home was raided by police in 2010 after he screened the film LA Zombie, which had been refused classification at the time.

The program for this year’s MUFF featured a “Golden Age of Censorship” sidebar which included the anti-vaccination film Vaxxed and men’s rights documentary The Red Pill. Both were jointly awarded the festival’s Best Documentary prize.

Anders Furze is a Citizen journalist and film critic. He has previously filed opinion and commentary for this site in support of same sex marriage. 

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