Director Madeline Kelly doesn't mince words when talking about her award-winning short film, Nineteen. "It's about a young man being stifled and dealing with homosexuality," the Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production) graduate says.
"It's something that can make a lot of people feel trapped and I wanted to communicate that through the film."
Nineteen tells the story of a 19-year-old man experiencing intimacy for the first time. The camera stays unflinchingly close to him as he nervously fidgets, allowing the audience to put themselves in the place of the troubled character.
While the 10-minute film is sparse and almost music-free, it artfully explores the complexity of sex and love through a fleeting relationship between the young man and a male sex worker.
Its powerful and heartbreaking message about the challenges of being gay saw Kelly win the UTS Human Rights and Social Justice Award for 2014 and the UTS Golden Eye awards for Best Drama and Best Script in 2015.
The film has also been shown at the 2015 Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival, and the 2016 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, where it won Best Australian Short Film. Internationally, Nineteen has taken on a life of its own, making it to the Palm Springs International Shorts Fest and the prestigious Out Fest in Los Angeles, to name just a few.
Thanks to previous wins, Nineteen is now up for the Iris Prize (Cardiff’s international gay and lesbian short film prize) which could see Kelly win £30,000 – the largest prize for a gay and lesbian short film in the world.
And, says Kelly, "It's also being used as an educational DVD through Belgium and France and Germany".
But these impressive accolades are only one aspect of the film's success.
"It’s been amazing getting messages from queer people who have connected to my film, or someone coming up to me after the film and crying and telling me they are so touched and moved," she says. "To me that has been the most rewarding – knowing that my film has impacted people and the way they perceive gay issues."
Kelly’s script for Nineteen was based, in part, on the memory of her brother who died of brain cancer shortly after coming out as gay.
She describes her process of making the film for the final project of her UTS degree as an "investment".
"I thought, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it properly, and I’m going to make something that I'll be proud of'."
Kelly says her time studying at UTS was invaluable for learning about diverse film making practices and cultures.
"They gave us a really good understanding of the history of filmmaking,” she says. "It was so amazing to be able to see and study films from Africa, Iran, Afghanistan and European countries as well."
Now a producer and director at an independent production company, Kelly spends her time crafting commercial content and working on her next short film.
“I like getting inspiration from so many different sources like meeting new people or being involved in the arts culture that's going on in Sydney and around Australia,” she says.
“I’m continuing to build my portfolio as a young director and encouraging everyone to address gay rights as a human issue and not a political one.”