For the past 23 years Inside Out has brought some of the best in LGBT made and themed films to the big screen in a friendly and inclusive environment. This year’s festival kicked off last night at their TIFF Bell Lightbox home base with the sold out Canadian premiere of the drama In the Name Of (which sold out and will see a repeat screening on the festival’s final day) and runs through Sunday, June 2nd.
Naturally, as with many festivals there’s so many more films, parties, events, shorts (including one by friend of the site and local PR maven Ryan Bruce Levey, making the jump to filmmaking for the first time), a free screening of Steven Soderbergh’s made for HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra (full review coming soon), and talks to go to that we couldn’t possibly cover it all, so for more information, a full list of goings-on, and for tickets, be sure to head on over to the official Inside Out website.
Here now, our writers look at eight of this year’s hottest selections.
Peaches Does Herself
Remounting her crazed psychosexual cabaret originally performed in Germany, the un-pigeonhole-able Canadian musical artist and queer icon Peaches makes a pretty assured jump to the big screen despite her film not being anything more than just the same show she’s performed before simply captured by a camera.
Her sexually explicit lyrics and swagger make the theatrical nature of the production a no-brainer and despite the entire thing essentially being a deeply Freudian look inside Peaches’ mind and thought process, there’s no denying her chops as a musical artist and consummate entertainer for those willing to push the envelope and follow her to the edge. Her blending of electro, hip-hop, new wave, and the occasional hardcore breakdown is like a history lesson set to lyrics so explicit that squares just might squirm so heavily they could develop rounded edges by the end of it.
It’s just a stage show (for the most part), but it makes for a captivating watch. After all, Peaches sums it up best herself: “I’m a stage whore/I command the floor.” (Andrew Parker)
Screens: Friday, May, 24th, 9:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Director: Marta Cunningham
Quite possibly the best film to come out of Hot Docs this year, Valentine Road is a gut punch along the lines of reopening the wounds left behind following the murder of Matthew Shepard. It’s a documentary about a case that’s just as shocking despite taking place ten years later and in a supposedly more enlightened part of the U.S.
In an Oxnard, California junior high school in 2008, Brandon McInerny shot Laurence “Larry” King point blank in the back of the head in the middle of class. Larry, a flamboyant and very openly gay cross dresser with a tragic past living in and out of foster homes, made it known to Brandon, a budding white supremacist and homophobe, that he had a crush on him. Following the horrific crime and year long delays in mounting an actual defence, Brandon’s lawyers counter with the ludicrous argument that Larry was actually the bully in the equation and their client was driven temporarily mad.
While Cunningham’s stunning and incredibly heavy film starts off on a depressing note, where the case ends up heading is even more infuriating and depressing. While the defence does rightfully get the best line in the film to sum up the whole tragic debacle in a nutshell (“Every adult fucked up every step of the way.”), their rationale and where it takes them is thoroughly sickening to watch. The evidence clearly points to a hate crime that was premeditated, but as Cunningham shows with remarkable dexterity and restraint on both sides, latent homophobia can lead people to do cartwheels and backflips to keep what fears them most at bay. This is extremely vital filmmaking and sure to be one of the year’s best and most talked about documentaries. (Andrew Parker)
Screens: Saturday, May 25th, 5:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Director: Yuichi Onuma
Sweet-natured Manami runs the broadcast club in her all-girl high school. The girls in the club practice elocution with a fervid dedication and take their daily school-announcing duties very seriously. So they aren’t happy when dour outcast Chiyuki is foisted upon them by school officials. The older Chiyuki is both aloof and awkward. Yet her mysterious aura attracts Manami, who makes the unpopular decision of choosing Chiyuki to read from the classic Japanese novella, Schoolgirl, at the annual Arts Festival. As the festival gets closer, things get more complicated as raw emotions and hormones come face to face with these girls desire to succeed.
While the slow pacing of Schoolgirl Complex is troublesome, it still manages to make its point rather effectively. With hardly a boy in sight, these girls struggle with their emotions, never knowing entirely which way turn. They’re entering womanhood and just don’t know how to deal with all these feelings that are rising up out of them. Director Yuichi Onuma keeps the film away from any North American platitudes and clichés that makes the climatic ending a little bit of a letdown, but a realistic one. The message of how we can’t help loving who we love comes through loud and clear, but a little more drama may have helped to make this film a little more entertaining. A beautiful idea, but it ultimately makes the film a little dull. (Dave Voigt)
Screens: Sunday May 26th, 7:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
The Rugby Player
Director: Scott Gracheff
When most people think of the events that took place on September 11, 2001, crimson visions and grand plumes of smoke eschewing from NYC’s demolished World Trade Center towers are the first things that come to mind. The most engrossing aspect of Scott Gracheff’s latest feature, The Rugby Player, is in the emotional retelling of an act of utter heroism. This documentary achieves an incredible duality, far removed from the grand shadow of the attacks that the story also tackles.
Using a seemingly endless supply of archive footage, Gracheff chronicles the life of Mark Bingham: an American rugby player, all around good guy and openly gay man who is believed to be at least partially responsible for diverting the ill-fated terrorist attack on United Flight 93. Gracheff gets Bingham’s mother Alice Hoagland to recount the wondrous years of her son’s transformation into a queer adult man while weaving this broad tale together with Mark’s final acts of bravery.
Although Gracheff’s presentation of the facts often becomes overrun with the enormous amount of hand held camera footage Mark created during his unfortunately bereft lifetime and prolonged accounts of Mark’s stand up attitude, there is no denying the true essence of exemplary human greatness in The Rugby Player.
Through the use of intimate confessionals and testimonies, we come to see that Mark’s steadfast independence and confidence to identify himself as a homosexual male during a time of great uncertainty and queer disdain in North America is only what you could assume to be the natural effects of being raised by someone like Alice Hoagland. An ex-flight attendant, supporter of queer movements and advocate for better flight safety precautions, Gracheff’s film turns out to be about where true and honorable virtue comes from just as much as who it rubs off on. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Screens: Monday May 27th, 5:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Interior. Leather Bar
Directors: James Franco, Travis Matthews
Following the dreadfully botched debacle of his last documentary art experiment Francophrenia (a work of pure ego , excess, and boredom that rightfully never saw release and should never be viewed by anyone), James Franco bounces back surprisingly well with this look at the actor and artist teaming up with Travis Matthews to recreate the missing 40 minutes that was cut from William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 thriller Cruising.
While Cruising focused on Al Pacino as an undercover New York cop trying to infiltrate the gay S&M scene, Franco and Matthews aren’t as concerned about the film’s plot as they are about what the film says about the co-opting of LGBT culture today. It doesn’t work necessarily because of Franco, who’s as pompous and arrogantly flippant as he was in his last documentary. It works because there’s something of a strong thesis here about a largely straight cast being asked to do some things that they aren’t necessarily comfortable doing. It calls into question what actors do for a living in a way that’s more interesting that any of Franco and Matthews’ staged boundary pushing. How they are doing this seems pretty off, but what they are doing (and almost unwittingly saying) is pretty interesting. (Andrew Parker)
Screens: Friday, May 31st, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had with My Pants On
Director: Drew Denny
Based on a performance art piece created in tribute to her late father, Drew Denny’s semi-autobiographical female road-trip romp reunites old friends Andy (Denny, who also wrote and produced the film) and Liv (Sarah Hagan from Freaks and Geeks), on a journey across America’s Southwest to scatter the ashes of Andy’s late father.
The landscape sets the mood for the quietly grieving Andy, who laughs through tears while maintaining an unattached, free-spirit persona. Liv is on her own journey, fighting to break free from her usual uptight demeanour. Beneath the mini-funerals, the military cross-dressing, the gratuitous skinny dipping and a cool soundtrack is an honest, affecting tale of deep female friendship.
Writer/Director/Star Denny has crafted a very personal and likeable piece with her debut project, this is her first time on screen as well, and that is helped immensely by the charm of its two female leads. Hagan is her usual adorably awkward self on a voyage to confidence and self-belief all while managing to keep her friend intact, while Denny’s Andy is a time bomb of emotions that she hides under flights of fancy and whimsy. The film does suffer from some of the familiar road trip tropes in that it becomes dry and stale in parts, but our leads stay engaging throughout and direct the audience happily towards the film’s finale. (Kirk Haviland)
Screens: Saturday June 1st, 9:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
I Am Divine
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Three weeks after he earned critical and popular praise as Edna Turnblad in John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray, Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) was set to guest-star in a male role as ‘Uncle Otto’ in the season finale of Married…with Children. This was the sort of mainstream paying work that he had so desired. Sadly, the night before he was due on set, Divine died in his sleep of a massive heart attack.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary aims to be the definitive biography of Divine’s art, surveying not only her film work but her life onstage and as a recording artist. I Am Divine is filled with archival footage that includes rare home movies and extensive interviews with those who knew and loved him. Luminaries include Holly Woodlawn, Michael Musto, Mink Stole and Tab Hunter. And John Waters is front and centre, of course.
Schwarz has crafted a lively and fast paced documentary that is filled with happiness and sorrow. He succeeds in crafting the ultimate documentary on Divine with extremely rare vintage footage mixed with interviews who loved him the most. For those who knew little of the man or those who know a lot, I Am ievine will enlighten and educated all on the talents and skill of this versatile performer. Divine may have started as THE star of John Water’s trash cinema, but he grew to be so much more. (Kirk Haviland)
Screens: Sat June 1st, 7:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
I Stand Corrected
Director: Andrea Meyerson
Watch Jennifer Leitham perform and it’s obvious that the striking redhead is a unique original. When this world-famous jazz bassist takes center-stage her entire body dances with the bass at the blistering pace set by her fingers. She’s a special talent made all the more unique because Jennifer Leitham began her life and career as John Leitham. This film charts Leitham’s rise as a virtuoso of the upright bass and reveals how she risked everything with her decision to undergo sexual reassignment surgery and embrace her female identity.
An interesting film that tackles the issues of gender reassignment from a very unique perspective as audiences would never really perceive the jazz scene as a homophobic one. Meyerson does a fine job, not getting bogged down in the stereotypes or affronts that Jennifer faced when she transitioned but rather focusing on her stellar career as John to give us a real palpable sense of the risk she took when she decided that enough was enough and wanted to live on her own terms as a woman. A basic story from a filmmaking standpoint through the use of archival footage and talking heads, but even the story with happy endings need to be told sometimes. Jennifer’s story is a fascinating one not only for music aficionados but for those on a verge of a transition of their own it could be a very inspiring one. (Dave Voigt)
Screens: Sunday, June 2nd, 1:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2