2017 Inside Out Film Festival Reviews

It’s time for the 27th edition of the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival and I’m back reviewing a selection of the films screening during this year’s event. This is always a highlight for me among the many film festivals that Toronto hosts throughout the year. It always promises to showcase some of the best offerings in LGBT cinema.

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Below is a collection of short reviews for the films I’ve seen for this year’s festival. This list will be continually updated as more are added.

REBELS ON POINTE
HANDSOME DEVIL
PROM KING, 2010
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
THE LAVENDER SCARE
EMO THE MUSICAL
THE RING THING

REBELS ON POINTE

Rating: 4/5
Stream: Spotlight on Canada | 90 Minutes | 2017 | Canada | English | Mon, May 29 5:15PM TIFF Lightbox 2

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We previously reviewed Rebels on Pointe as part of the 2017 Hot Docs Film Festival. That review is presented again here.

In the early days of the gay rights movement, many LGBT people were seeking out safe spaces where they could be themselves and connect to others in the community. In the 1970s in New York City, in response to this need, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was formed. It was formed by a group of gay male ballet dancers looking for a place where they could express their love for the dance and be themselves away from the traditional gender roles. Over the years it morphed into a welcoming family for these men and pushed the boundaries by taking the seriousness out of what has historically been seen as a very elitist art form. This comedic troupe has traveled the world bringing ballet to new audiences by making it more accessible. This film is a loving view into this warm and inviting family. The sincere passion these men have for the dance helps enliven the messages of diversity and gender non-conformity they bring to their shows. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been one of the many forces driving societal acceptance of the LGBT community. This is an inspiring and heart-warming story of love, acceptance, and community in the face adversity.

HANDSOME DEVIL

Rating: 4/5
Stream: International Showcase | 95 Minutes | 2016 | Ireland | English | Mon, May 29 7:30PM TIFF Lightbox 2

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When music-loving Ned Roche (Fionn O’Shea) is sent to a boarding school that is obsessed with rugby, he finds himself as a social outcast and the target of bullying. His experience worsens when he must begin rooming with Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), the handsome transfer student and new star player on the rugby team. What starts as clashing personalities, complete with a Berlin Wall-inspired division in their dorm room, ends up becoming an unlikely friendship as they begin to teach each other how to find their authentic voice. I first caught Handsome Devil back at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016 and it has stayed with me as one of the standouts of the many films I saw over the course of that festival. This is a coming-of-age and coming out drama, and we have seen this kind of film before, but it’s done in a really heart-warming and uplifting way. In a world filled with so much negativity right now, it’s a breath of fresh air. We grow to love the characters and we are reminded of messages about finding the courage to stop pretending to be something we’re not and instead standing up to be ourselves. This is a lovely film that will lift your spirit and leave you smiling.

PROM KING, 2010

Rating: 3/5
Stream: Premieres | 102 Minutes | 2017 | United States | English | Wed, May 31 9:45PM TIFF Lightbox 2

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Feeling lost and aimless is a common occurrence among people in their early 20s. It’s a time of great transition and it’s easy to become envious of your friends and the people around you as they move through life seemingly with ease. In Prom King, 2010, Charlie is a young man who finds himself in just such a position. He’s a hopeless romantic, looking to find not just his first boyfriend but that great love that others around him seem to have found. He’s wondering why things always must be a struggle for him to move through. He pushes himself into any opportunity he can find but still happiness does not find him. Life to him seems to be continually filled with heartache. Deeply inspired by Woody Allen’s Manhatten, in Charlie’s quests around the city, we are treated with several incredibly adorable and sweet moments that become the highlights of the film and make us believe in the possibility of romantic love. Given that this is director (and lead actor) Christopher Schaap’s first feature film, it’s certainly an admirable achievement. However, it is perhaps a bit too ambitious at times and the story does get away from him a bit, particularly in the passage of time sequences. It’s difficult to ascertain that a period of time has passed. That being said, it’s certainly an accurate portrayal of what the ups and downs in the search for love and companionship can be like for some. Everyone has felt unlovable and alone at some point in their life. The film is also teaching us to be patient with love and not force a relationship just because you fear you’re missing out on life. Ultimately it reminds us that through it all, it’s all just part of our journey through life and is usually worth it in the end.

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY

Rating: 4/5
Stream: Galas and Special Presentations | 104 Minutes | 2017 | United Kingdom | English | Thurs, May 25 8:00PM TIFF Lightbox 1, 8:15PM TIFF Lightbox 3

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Set against the rolling hills of Yorkshire, God’s Own Country follows Johnny Saxby, a young farmer burdened with running most of the farm after his father had a stroke. Just trying to get through the day in this isolated world, he spends his nights getting drunk and barely making it home. When lambing season comes along, the family hires a Romanian migrant worker named Gheorghe and he and Johnny are sent to the hills for the summer months. As the days pass and Johnny slowly lets his guard down, he and Gheorghe begin to develop an attraction to each other and a quiet and tender love blossoms.

This film has been drawing comparisons to Brokeback Mountain and it’s easy to see why. It is set in a very similar kind of premise but God’s Own Country is strong enough to stand on its own merits. It’s a quiet and slow paced film that has a very strong authentic voice to it. We are spared the typical coming out story that is all too common in gay cinema and instead are treated with a mature story of two blue collar farm worker men falling in love. It shows us how we can change for the better and build trust in each other when we allow ourselves to let down the defensive guards we inevitably build through life’s challenges allow ourselves to be filled with love. The cinematography beautifully captures the stunning locations this story is set in, almost to the point of becoming a character itself. I hope we continue to see gay cinema mature into this kind of work.

THE LAVENDER SCARE

Rating: 3.5/5
Stream: International Showcase | 77 Minutes | 2016 | United States | English | Thurs, June 1 8:00PM TIFF Lightbox 2

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Based on a book of the same name, The Lavender Scare documents the often forgotten story of what life was like for LGBTQ people in America (and to a similar extent, Canada) in a pre-Stonewall world, and in the ensuing decades after. This time period was called The Lavender Scare as a spin-off of the much more commonly known Red Scare.  Running parallel to the McCarthyism era and the Cold War, many in the government and general society felt homosexual people were mentally ill so they were deemed security threats, often under the notion that they could be easily manipulated by Russian and communist spies. What resulted was a national and sometimes international witch hunt for government employees who were suspected of being LGBTQ. Thousands of people were fired from their jobs as the fear and hysteria swept across the country, often being even stronger than the fear of communism. It wasn’t until the 1990s when President Bill Clinton began to overturn laws meant to oppress these people within the government and attitudes began to slowly change.

I knew bits of this personally and I remember parts of what was happening with President Clinton at the time but as I sat watching this I couldn’t help but wonder why these events weren’t being taught in school history classes? Much emphasis was put on learning about the Cold War and Senator McCarthy’s hunt for Communists but once again LGBTQ history was ignored and dismissed in mainstream schooling because attitudes towards the community were still negative and it would have been seen as a “controversial” topic. I was really glad that I saw this documentary. It taught me many things about the history of my community that I had no idea about, in particular the life of Frank Kameny, often referred to as the Grandfather of the Gay Rights Movement. This is an important documentary to see for anyone who has an interest in learning about LGBTQ history. I can only hope now that social attitudes begin to improve that this be incorporated to American History lessons. It must not be forgotten.

EMO THE MUSICAL

Rating: 2/5
Stream: Premieres | 94 Minutes | 2016 | Australia | English | Tues, May 30 7:00PM TIFF Lightbox 1

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Ethan, a sullen and brooding teenager, is miserable at his high school. When he fakes his own suicide by pretending to hang himself, he is expelled and is forced to enrol in a new school. In this new environment he is surrounded by cheerful and religious people looking to make him part of their pack. He fears the worst until he finds a group of emo musicians looking for a new member for their band. He strives to prove to them that he’s actually a misunderstood emo kid and not just pretending. However, over the course of preparing and rehearsing for the battle of the bands he finds himself falling for the religious girl and is fighting his feelings. It sets him up for a showdown between his band mates and the girl he genuinely likes. He must ultimately choose what is true to him and spreads the message of being your authentic self to those around him, including a boy from a rival band who is being forced into gay conversion therapy.

This is a pretty standard coming of age story set in Australia, a tale of star-crossed lovers forced to make a choice. We’ve seen this kind of film before and this one, while sweet, charming, and a little cheesy, doesn’t really offer anything new. It’s your standard self acceptance, be yourself teen setting. I was surprised it was included in an LGBT film festival given the very miniscule amount of gay content in the story. The gay subplot is a very minor side narrative that does tie into the overall themes of the film but the primary focus is most certainly the heterosexual relationship that Ethan is pursuing. If you’re in the mood for a musical or a teen high school setting, stick with Handsome Devil instead, you won’t miss anything by skipping this one.

THE RING THING

Rating: 3/5
Stream: Premieres, World Premiere | 115 Minutes | 2018 | United States | English | Fri, Jun 2 7:00PM TIFF Lightbox 2

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When Sarah is going through a box of old things at her mother’s house, she discovers her father’s wedding ring. With it, and after a misunderstanding, she accidentally proposes to her girlfriend Kristen. A conflict is created in their relationship when the women have different ideas of how they want to express their commitment to each other. Being a child of divorce, Sarah is afraid that if she gets married she’ll end up the same way her parents did and Kristen is ready to be married and commit to a life together. This sends the two on different journeys exploring what they want out of this relationship. Kristen is forced into a career change with the possibility of a new life that doesn’t include her partner and Sarah throws herself into making a documentary film about what it means to be married in the LGBT community now that it’s a legal possibility. They both must work through their personal issues to decide whether or not they are still right for each other.

When I saw there was a new film from the creative team behind That’s Not Us, one of my favourites from the 2015 edition of Inside Out, I knew immediately I wanted to see this one. That film was such an incredibly strong debut I couldn’t wait to see if they continued to live up to the promise previously on display. As I was watching The Ring Thing I definitely felt that unfortunately it was not as strong as the director’s first film, it felt a bit incoherent and disjointed at times, but he took what I felt was an incredibly interesting creative approach to the story. The people that Sarah interviews for her documentary are real LGBT married and divorced couples who were talking about their real life experiences. The idea of LGBT people finally being able to legally marry is still a very new concept for many so it’s forcing the community to re-examine their ideas of commitment and approaches to relationships. This is a very interesting exploration of that, blended into a fictional film. While perhaps not quite as impressive as their previous film, this collaborative team continues to show great maturity despite this being only their second film. I look forward to continue seeing what they have in store and encourage them to now push past into their thematic preferences and creative styles, further exploring the complexities of relationships in the LGBT community. The naturalistic approach continues create highly relatable films.