Kicking off tonight with the really lovely opening night gala film The Way He Looks, the 24th annual Inside Out Festival, devoted to the best in LGBT cinema certainly opens with a bang. A powerful story of teenage friendship and longing, this debut feature from Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro carries with it the festival’s themes of equality and acceptance brilliantly telling the story of a blind teenager (played by Ghilherme Lobo) caught in his first ever love triangle between his female best friend and a new male student who might be coming between them. It’s a wonderful film to start off with: it’s gorgeously shot, well acted, and Ribeiro has a keen understanding that being a teenager doesn’t mean wallowing in nostalgia.
Of course, there are plenty of other movies and shorts playing this year between now and the closing night on June 7th. A lot of them are quite good. How good are they? Well, in coming up with this list of five must see picks, the heavily hyped HBO biopic of early 80s AIDs activist Ned Weeks, The Normal Heart (from Glee creator Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Julia Roberts, and Matt Bomer) barely didn’t make the cut. (Truth be told, the film is pretty good for the performances alone, despite Ruffalo seeming a bit out of place among the rest of the players.)
So with that in mind, here are the five films you shouldn’t miss at this year’s festival. For a full list of films and events, check out the Inside Out website.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Saturday, May 24th, 1:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
It’s impossible not to hear the name Matthew Shepard and not be transported back to a darker time in US history that still remains hard to shake. In her powerful and deeply personal documentary, filmmaker and literal friend of Shepard and his family, Michele Josue, retraces the moments before and after Shepard’s tragic beating and murder in Laramie, Wyoming. It’s probably the most balanced look ever at the Shepard case, with Josue showing an even greater tragedy when she details what the young man’s life was like before his 1998 death. Divided almost perfectly into thirds that look at his early childhood and teen years (which found Shepard dealing with things no one ever really talked about in previous films), the period when he was fighting for his life in the hospital before passing away, and finally trying to move on and show acceptance for one of the most high profile hate crimes in American history, Josue’s film has the impact of an Earthquake. The tremors begin early, the impact hits hard, and the aftershocks continue long after the film ends.
Kidnapped for Christ
Sunday, May 25th, 2:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sometimes the best documentaries are made from people who can’t plan for what’s about to happen. Such is the case of Katie Logan’s work in this incendiary expose of teenage brainwashing. Herself an evangelical, Katie was allowed to film at Escuela Caribe, a Christian run and American owned behaviour modification camp in the Dominican Republic that’s designed to rid teens of “aberrant behaviours.” What she finds are humiliating living conditions, the most uncaring environment possible, and even one kid from Colorado who was forcibly removed from his home to go there. It’s a literal heart of darkness scenario, and it certainly isn’t an easy film to watch. But it just might be the most important film showing at the festival this year.
Monday, May 26th, 9:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Set on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, director Sydney Freeland looks at the Native American diaspora via three vastly different and exceptionally written characters that are designed to play against racial stereotyping. Nizhoni (Morning Star Wilson) was raised Christian, but now returns home to find out the truth about her birth parents. Sick Boy (Jeremiah Bitsui) has constant run-ins with the law (usually over dumb shit) while trying to get his act together before the birth of his son. The film’s LGBT component comes in the form of Felixia (Carmen Moore), a transwoman and daughter of a medicine man who’s trying to live out her dreams via a calendar shoot that’s looking for the best looking Navajo women. These are rich and sympathetic people who even when they manage to do things that might seem disagreeable (and they all will at some point) it’s made very clear that they are all survivors who are trying to use their instincts to live better lives. It’s brimming with wit and realistic levels of tragedy. It’s one of the best looks at native life in recent years, and considering how strong First Nations filmmaking has been as of late, that’s a very high compliment.
Thursday, May 29th, 10:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Not to be confused with the 1996 Winona Ryder drama of the same name, this exceptionally acted and shot made-for-Dutch-television drama might be the best openly gay sports drama ever made. A budding relay racer (Gijs Blom) falls for Marc (Ko Zandviliet, in an eye opening performance) over the summer, but once life and ambition start to take centre stage once again, their relationship and personal lives begin to feel the strain. A perfect blend of sports movie tropes and familial drama combined with a painfully real tale of love where one party is clearly more enamoured than the other, Boys packs a whole lot of emotion into a small 78 minute package.
Sunday, June 1st, 7:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
In a real case of saving the best for last, this gutsy, experimental work from director Sophie Hyde was created using a cast of non-actor who were given scripts only when their characters showed up for work over the course of a year’s worth of filming (hence the title). It helps to serve the film’s themes of teenage independence and sexual transitioning well, as a sixteen year old girl learns to cope with her mother’s transitioning from female to male and the emotional transitioning that goes hand in hand with such a major life decision. The results are raw, unpredictable, and quite moving. It’s quite easy to see how the film picked up a well deserved directing award in Berlin earlier this year.