TIFF Gay Guide 2018
“Welcome to the stage, Tiffany Bell Lightbox!” (I totally stole that joke from someone on Facebook; I wish I could take the credit for it.) There are just so many damn film festivals that happen in this city it’s hard to keep track. I guess TIFF is kinda important … I mean, it’s one of the biggest film festivals in the world. I guess it’s, like, okay or whatever. It’s only littered with the who’s who and the what’s that of the film world’s elite …
Starting September 6, TIFF gives you 10 days of traffic, lines, celebs, and, most importantly, 4am last call! Oh, and of course, a giant selection of exclusive films. Compiling a list of LGBTQ+ films to scope out at this festival is very hard! Due to TIFF’s extremely high standards, all of them look amazing, but I’ve done my best to narrow it down to 10 of the most interesting (to me!).
It should be noted I didn't include Gaga's A Star is Born, and that's because it's not a queer film, it just stars a gay icon. Consider this an official nod.
(sidenote, the film synopses have been edited down to the good stuff and are courtesy of TIFF.)
Dir. Keith Behrman. Canada. 93min.
Adolescents face enormous pressure to make life-defining decisions every day, and they want to lock in their identities sooner than later. This pressure is exacerbated by physical and social changes. Franky is under more pressure than most: his life was altered when his father left his mother for a man. Franky is left confused and angry with his father for breaking up the family.
Things are further confused for Franky when his wild birthday party ends in a sexual encounter no one could have imagined, including his best friend and his girlfriend. As Franky’s world crumbles, he and his friends are forced to decide what kind of people they want to be.
A sensitive and touching look at that point in adolescence when freedom is both intoxicating and terrifying.
Dir. Thom Fitzgerald. Canada. 94min.
Splinters is a family drama about a young lesbian at odds with her traditional mother.
Belle has come home to rural Nova Scotia for her father’s funeral. She came out as a teenager but has never reconciled that fact with her conservative mother, Nancy. Amidst the family’s grief, Nancy’s disapproval of Belle hangs in the air like a dark cloud. Belle neglects to mention that she has been dating a man named Rob for the past two years. She is reluctant to rekindle her mother’s traditional expectations of her and backpedal on hard-won battles to assert her identity. But the secret becomes harder to hide when Rob shows up to be the supportive boyfriend. The constriction of small-town mores is offset by the spacious, rolling rural landscapes of Nova Scotia in this beautifully realized portrait of a young woman’s complicated relationship with her family, her past, and her home.
Dir. Wanuri Kahiu. Kenya, South Africa, France, Lebanon, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, USA. 82min.
A love story between two young women (played by newcomers Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva) in a society that still bans homosexuality, Rafiki is saturated with joy, heartbreak, and a richly effervescent cinematography that showcases Kahiu’s native Nairobi in all its vibrancy.
When Kena and Ziki first lock eyes, it’s a genuine coup de foudre despite the fact their families are political rivals. The young women grow close, but as they are not able to show their attraction in public — or even to their relatives and friends — they are forced to sneak small moments in private. Together they create their own world, vividly evoked through Kahiu’s filmic eye, where their love isn’t anything other than an expression of their commitment to each other. The space they create, however, isn’t immune to the biases of the outside world.
Dir. Joel Edgerton. USA. 114min.
Everyone wants to belong, but what good is belonging if you can’t be yourself? Starring Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges and Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, actor Joel Edgerton’s second feature as writer-director plunges us into the cloistered world of conversion therapy and tracks a young man’s uphill journey from ostracization toward self-acceptance.
Jared (Hedges) belongs to a loving middle-class Arkansas family, with his mother, Nancy (Kidman) and Baptist minister father Marshall (Crowe). Jared gets good grades, plays basketball, and is in a steady — but chaste — relationship with a girl from school. Everything in his life is going according to plan, until a college friend outs Jared as gay.
Surprised, but attempting to be supportive in their own way, Jared’s parents send him to Refuge, a church-supported program predicated on the notion that homosexuality is an affliction, curable through confession and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Overseen by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, in a superbly cagey performance), the program’s bullying and bigotry fosters an environment that is anything but a refuge. Though Jared begins the program desperate to be healed, he begins to wonder if it’s really others who need healing.
Dir. Lukas Dhont. Belgium. 106min.
Fifteen-year-old Lara dreams of becoming a ballerina. Assigned male at birth, Lara has to overcome more than blistered, bloody feet to realize her dream. With remarkable control and sensitivity, Belgian first-time helmer Lukas Dhont brings trans experiences to the fore with a coming-of-age story that explores the psychological and physical journey of transitioning from adolescent to adult.
Recently admitted on a probationary basis to one of Belgium’s most prestigious ballet academies, Lara approaches her dancing much as she does her life, with meticulous, relentless, even punishing discipline. Each day begins with stretching to improve her flexibility and taping down her penis to hide the one thing that, in her eyes, betrays her female identity. Those close to Lara already see a girl. Even in the heightened body-conscious world of ballet, her transition goes practically unnoticed. But, desperate for her outer body to reflect her inner self, Lara grows impatient — with hormone therapy that yields minimal results, with her psychotherapist’s constant need to assess her emotional state, and with her father’s awkward, if loving, reassurances. While Lara demonstrates bravery beyond her years, she’s not interested in being brave; she just wants to be.
Though conflict is ever present in Girl, Dhont’s mastery lies in his decision to focus on the internal rather than the external, making the moments when it escapes to the surface all the more affecting. His storytelling, featuring a deceptively modest script (co-written with Angelo Tijssens) inspired by a true story, favours the visual over dialogue, highlighting the incredibly expressive and physical principal performance of Victor Polster. Through Lara’s exquisite, diligent path to self-acceptance, Dhont questions the possibility of perfection; as a filmmaker, he is well on his way to achieving it.
Dir. Wash Westmoreland. UK. 112min.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, celebrated French writer and gay icon, was not your average early-20th-century woman. And Colette is not your average period drama. Like the subject herself, Wash Westmoreland’s film is energetic, fearless, and unapologetically feminist.
We meet Colette (Keira Knightley) as a teenage girl in the Burgundian countryside, infatuated with Willy (Dominic West), a charming but much older Parisian publisher. When she joins him in the city as his bride, Colette begins to turn heads. Ripe for adventure and unafraid of her desires, Colette challenges the social and gender conventions, and sexual taboos, of Belle Époque Paris. Willy is all in – at first. He even encourages Colette to write as one of his “factory” authors, and the fruits of her labour, the Claudine books, quickly become a literary sensation. There’s only one problem: though Claudine is Colette, she also belongs to Willy. Whether they’re having sex, arguing about who they’re having sex with, or debating Colette’s writing, Knightley and West’s chemistry leaps off the screen, capturing the attraction and the scandal at the heart of a tumultuous relationship. Colette’s battle to have her voice heard in a patriarchal society is as relevant today as it was more than 100 years ago. She didn’t let them win; neither should we
Dir. Justin Kelly. Canada, USA, UK. 108min.
In a stroke of dream casting, filmmaker Justin Kelly brings together Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern to tell a story that’s stranger than fiction, wilder than fact, and full of the drama we need right now. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy is a delicious dive into the hubris, risk taking, and jealousy that so often surrounds great talent.
Laura Albert (Dern) writes tough, insightful fiction under a pseudonym, JT LeRoy. Her JT is not just a pen name but a whole persona, a teenage boy from West Virginia living a dangerous life as a truck-stop sex worker. Laura was born in Brooklyn a generation earlier and grew up in New York’s punk scene. Writing books such as The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things as JT gives her complete freedom to explore the darker regions of human experience. Readers love it. The media loves it. They love it so much that they begin to demand JT in person. As journalists press for interviews with JT, turmoil mounts with Laura’s husband, Geoffrey (Jim Sturgess), and sister-in-law Savannah (Stewart). Partly out of desperation, partly for kicks, they conspire to have Savannah don a wig and sunglasses, adjust her voice, and become the teenage boy author.
Kelly invites his audience along on what may look like a very strange ride. Layers of artist masquerade? Yes. Gender-fluid everything? Naturally. Queer looks? Of course. Stewart and Dern,
Dir. Marielle Heller. USA. 107min.
Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, the late biographer and forger whose brilliant tale of deception speaks volumes about our obsessions with celebrity and authenticity.
It’s the 1980s. After decades spent composing respectful profiles of successful women such as Katharine Hepburn and Tallulah Bankhead, Lee finds herself out of step with the emergent trash-talk trend in biography. Her new book about Estée Lauder is a commercial failure, her agent has given up on her, and her finances have nose-dived.
Sliding into middle age with no other skills to fall back on, Lee lights upon a fresh method of capitalizing on the public’s fascination with fame. Teaming up with an old acquaintance (a furiously charming Richard E. Grant) freshly released from prison after serving time for armed robbery, Lee begins selling the stolen or forged correspondence of dead writers and actors. The gig is a success, but success has a way of drawing unwanted attention.
Dir. John Butler. Ireland. 98min.
Devastated by heartbreak, a Los Angeles TV weatherman, Sean (Matt Bomer), has an on-air meltdown in the midst of predicting a heat wave. The station insists he take a sabbatical, and his friends urge him to find someone to talk to, but Sean opts to swap self-care for home improvement. From a huddle of men seeking day labour outside the hardware store, Sean hires Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) to paint his deck.
Their initially straightforward business arrangement rapidly extends to strolling and boating excursions during which Sean tells Ernesto all about himself, despite the fact the two don’t share a common language. In fact, this affluent, white, gay celebrity and this working-class, Mexican father of five don’t appear to have much in common at all. Does Sean want a tradesman or a sounding board? And just how much immersion in Sean’s emotional mire can Ernesto be expected to bear?
Dir. Chanya Button. UK, Ireland. 110min.
The affair and the friendship of authors Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West constitutes one of the most fascinating relationships in literary history.
The year is 1922. Though happily married, Vita (Gemma Arterton) is as notorious for her dalliances with women and iconoclastic attitudes toward gender as she is famous for her aristocratic ancestry and writerly success. Virginia (Elizabeth Debicki), meanwhile, is a celebrated writer, publisher, and member of the Bloomsbury Group, those innovative moderns already revolutionizing literature. When Vita receives an invitation to Bloomsbury, she is elated at the thought of meeting the enigmatic Woolf and, not surprisingly perhaps, becomes obsessed with the notion of seducing her.
Between Virginia’s mental health struggles and Vita’s impulsiveness – not to mention the concern of their husbands, families, and mutual friends – their romance is bound to be tumultuous. Yet tumult can fuel creativity: Vita’s singular persona will eventually be channelled into one of Virginia’s greatest works.