Queer Screen Film Festival 2023 Review: Equal The Contest ★★★★

Sport has always been a battlefield, especially in recent years when it comes to gender and sexuality. Nonbinary filmmaker Mitch Nivalis gives us a clear step by step examination of the structural issues involved in opening sports up to women and gender-diverse people in their new documentary, Equal The Contest, which sees a group of passionate women and supporters fight to start an open and accepting AFL club in Victoria, Australia.

In 2021 Nivalis saw a local advertisement about a new community AFL club for women and gender-diverse people: Mount Alexander Falcons Football Club, and was intrigued. The world of AFL (the Australian Football League, also known as Aussie Rules) is a traditionally masculine, heteronormative space but this club sought to broaden it out to people of all ages and genders. In doing so, it did more than provide a safe space to exercise, it unravelled stories of past trauma and discrimination.

Equal The Contest. Courtesy of Queer Screen.

When people talk about sport they often focus on the action on the field, but Equal The Contest looks at the other side of the equation, the sense of community it fosters. Friendships are made, bonds are formed, and a sense of unity is created. 

Government body VicHealth identifies two key barriers impacting women’s participation in sports, limited opportunities and unwelcoming environments, and both are clearly illustrated here as the Falcons struggle to become registered as a team and get access to facilities to practice in. The hurdles are clearly explained—without a load of sports jargon—as the Falcons jump through hoop after hoop.

Equal The Contest. Courtesy of Queer Screen.

The biggest star of the film, however, isn’t one of the players or organisers. It is Mavis, a 92 year old who played in the Castlemaine women’s team in 1948. An unexpected pioneer whose story becomes one of the most inspirational as Nivalis unearths news articles that wrote off these early players as a sporting novelty and detailed religious groups protesting because they were practicing on Sundays (which they only did because the men’s teams occupied all the grounds on Saturdays). Many of the same hurdles existed in 1948 that were still there in 2021.

Filmmaker Mitch Nivalis. Equal The Contest. Courtesy of Queer Screen.

Clearly shot on a tight budget, Equal The Contest is a vibrant documentary with some shocking twists and big emotional turns. It succeeds in communicating the joy, passion and the frustration faced by the Falcons, while showing us a gateway to creating a more equal space for all.

By Chad Armstrong

Equal The Contest screens at the 10th Queer Screen Film Festival in Sydney, Australia on August 27th, 2023 followed by an in person panel discussion with filmmaker Mitch Nivalis and Pride in Sport. Click here for tickets and more information.

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