Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival

Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival featured image

Review by Marc Glassman

Festival Dates: May 19-29, 2011
Box office info: 416-599-TIFF (84330
Screenings at: Bell Lightbox
350 King Street West (at John)

Springtime in Toronto is chockablock with film festivals but few are as popular as the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered), which is celebrating its 21st year this May. For a veteran Torontonian cineaste, it’s sobering to recall that a mere three decades ago, few gay and lesbian films were being made, let alone screened in a group. The Inside/Out collective deserves praise for building a festival that is more than just a set of screenings–it’s a community builder, renowned for its parties and listings of business sponsors, who openly identify with LGBT culture.

Over ten days and nights, the festival offers a potpourri of films ranging from shorts to features and from documentaries to art-house narratives. What holds it together, of course, is the subject matter and an air of marginalization that still sticks to anything but the most mainstream of LGBT cultural products.

Put it this way: Glee may attract millions of viewers but try to get that audience to see Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, an LGBT feature or the doc Florent: Queen of the Meat Market. No doubt things have changed for the better but try those titles out on Mum and Dad–I dare you.

I previewed four films before the festival began last night. They represent a smattering of the diverse and colourful work being screened over the next nine days.

The Sleeping Beauty of East Finchley is a British drama highlighted by great singing. A devoted daughter and Churchgoer, Joan discovers the joys in life when her mother’s nurse Pat gets her to join a woman’s choir, “The Friends of Dusty.” While parts of the story seem hackneyed–the naïve Joan didn’t apparently know that ’60s Brit pop icon Dusty Springfield was a lesbian–they’re more than made up by the spectacular voices of the choir singing devotional pieces as well as the Irish set-piece “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

We Were Here is a poignant documentary that looks back at the terrible times when AIDS first hit San Francisco. The fear of the “gay cancer” was palpable throughout the gay community in those early days–and straight society as well. No one understood what was happening. It took medicine a decade to catch up—and during that time, from the early ’80s to the early ’90s, over 15,000 people died in the Bay Area. Director David Weissman focuses on five survivors: an artist, a nurse, a florist and two activists to tell the tale. It’s a moving, old-fashioned doc feature.

Eric Drath has made a solidly constructed, formally conservative doc on the genuinely unique life of Renée Richards. Back in the ’70s, Richards made headlines by competing with female tennis players in the U.S. Open. Richards’ presence was controversial because she had been born Richard Raskin and only changed her gender in her early forties. Within a year, in 1976, the over six foot tall, muscular athlete decided to pursue tennis professionally. Renée covers the amazing story quite well–the prejudices, the media frenzy—before ultimately focusing on the transgendered woman’s efforts to help her genuinely disturbed son (now nearly forty himself) to find equilibrium.

A Few Days of Respite (Quelques jours de répit) is a French art house entry by auteur Amor Hakkar, who directed, wrote and starred in the film. Iranian gay lovers Mohsen and Hassan escape execution in their country, ending up illegally in France. There, Mohsen strikes up a beautiful friendship with Yolande (played by legendary ’60s Godard icon Marina Vlady), who will do anything to protect him from deportation and death. Ultimately, Hakkar’s film is about love: would you risk everything to be with the right person?

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