Writer & director Monica Zanetti talks ‘Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)’

A new Australian film coming to a screen near you is both heartwarming and groundbreaking.

Ellie & Abbie & (Ellie’s Dead Aunt) is a queer, teenage romantic comedy that celebrates the freedoms LGBTIQ+ youth have today, and honours those who fought for those freedoms with humour and a full heart.

The film follows Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw), a young lesbian who is preparing herself to ask her crush, Abbie (Zoe Terakes), to the formal. As threads between Ellie, her mother (Marta Dusseldorp) and her blossoming relationship with Abbie begin to fray, the spirit of Ellie’s mysterious late aunt Tara (Julia Billington) appears to lend a helping hand – or at least try.

Leigh Andrew Hill sat down for a chat with writer and director Monica Zanetti for RTRFM’s All Things Queer and OUTinPerth, diving into what went into creating this film, the power of representation, and the queer films we loved growing up ahead of Ellie & Abbie’s Perth premiere at PrideFEST Film Festival.

Zanetti began by explaining that Ellie & Abbie is the kind of queer film she wished she had growing up.

“All the films I kind of looked to for inspiration to create this one were heterosexual romcoms!” Zanetti laughed, “The kind that I could watch with my mum, which I what I wanted this film to be.

“That was the main influence, but of course I have to mention films like But I’m A Cheerleader! that really were way ahead of their time, and it’s just devastating that a film like that could come out in the 90s and then there be nothing for so long.”

Certainly, Zanetti acknowledges there were many LGBTQIA+ films between the 1999 Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall romance and today, but we’re talking romcoms here.

Queer cinema saw a shift towards stories that shone a light on history, and the shared tragedies our community has fought to overcome, primarily through the eyes of men and male characters.

Ellie & Abbie tells a queer, female focused story, with an all female and non-binary cast.

“That is something to me that was also very important. I think as a society, and as filmmakers, as we’ve started to explore those stories more and started to feel more accepted and safer, there were more films coming out, but they were very male dominated. It was kind of like writing about queer men felt less scary than writing about queer women.

Holding The Man obviously is a very famous Australian story, and based on real events, but it’s so charming and sweet and lovely, and it has been around for years… and people really loved that story and embraced it, yet in this huge amount of time, no one’s really been saying ‘Oh, why don’t we look at telling stories like this about women?’

“It always had to be, when it came to stories about women, oversexualised, or ends in death, or had so much shame around it. I was trying to really subvert those stereotypes.”

Though the film is a joyful comedy at its heart, it still faces the realities of queer life head on, both from a contemporary perspective via Ellie and Abbie, and through a historical lens with Tara, the titular dead aunt.

“I couldn’t tell that story without acknowledging that people like Ellie, and people like myself can have a really happy ending, can have a really positive gay life right now, and that’s because of people that came first, and people who didn’t, and people who had to fight for that.

“It was really important for me to acknowledge that part of it whilst also celebrating Ellie’s story, and Ellie’s love.”

Now, we’re seeing a resurgence, or maybe the beginnings of an era of LGBTQIA+ films that celebrate joy and love; that can tackle the minutia of everyday life that had previously been overshadowed by narratives of injustice, loss and grief; that can show two teenage girls smooching at their school formal and having the time of their lives.

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) and Zanetti do exactly that, crafting a beautiful queer Australian story for a new generation, without forgetting where we came from.

Leigh Andrew Hill

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) premieres in Perth at PrideFEST Film Festival’s Opening Night Gala Event on Wednesday 18th November from 6pm. For more information, head to palacecinemas.com.au

You can listen to our full conversation below.

So Loquacious · On The Line: Monica Zanetti

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