4 min

Bent roots; sequined wings

Toronto’s queer film- and videomakers have never been busier. “In recent years we have seen an increase in both the quality and quantity of submissions,” says Inside Out festival programmer Shane Smith. “There are a lot of smart people in this city making work.”

An impressive array of local gems will be screened at the gay and lesbian film and video fest from Thu, May 18 to 28 at the Cumberland Cinema. See them now; most won’t get a mainstream release.

Inside Out does more than just showcase home-grown talent, it also encourages a new generation of artists to get started. The program Queers To Watch Out For on Sat, May 27 at 4pm, screens works from the second annual Queer Youth Digital Video Project. Ten queer youth, all first-time videomakers, were taught how to shoot and edit a five minute piece through a series of workshops sponsored by Inside Out and Charles Street Video.

“The most important part of this project,” says facilitator Melissa Levin, “is telling queer youth that they are part of the festival and that it’s for them. It’s amazing to see them go from being too timid to walk in the door… to strutting around the festival with an artist pass.

“The response to this project has been overwhelming, everyone who was involved in last year’s program has continued working in film and video, either in school or on their own.”

This year’s crop of new work explores being bashed on the street, the uniqueness of transexual experience in the sex trade, a bi love triangle, coming out in suburbia, being caught as a boy/girl and more.

One of the highlights is a moving doc called What About Me? by Sarah and Elana Evans. It is a reply to a letter to the editor in Xtra and a powerful indictment of classism and indifference in the community by queer street youth, in their own voice.

To Be Young…, the program on Sun, May 21 at 2pm, is curated by Ryerson film student Bobby Nijjar. He took an inter-generational approach, so that queer youth can see what older filmmakers are thinking about them and as well as their own youthful experiences.

“I see the screening as an informal chat between older and younger filmmakers,” says Nijjar. “Personally, I think it’s healthy to see some interaction on issues that are important to youth.”

Helpless Maiden Makes An I Statement, by local girl Thorza Jean Cuthand, features a young lass discussing top-bottom relations with her older bewitching lover. I Am Rubber, by Canadians Jennifer McNelly and Megan Stanton, uses super-8 and scratch animation to tell a story of abuse, “an experience,” Nijjar says, “that many young people have experienced and can identify with.”

Throughout the 10-day fest there are collections of shorts, curated by queers about town, on topics like obsessions, fetishes, voyeurism and trannie life. Femme Frenzy, Fri, May 19 at 9:30pm, was curated by Anna Camilleri and Chloe Brushwood Rose. This program is one of the first to explore the femme experience in all its independent rosy glory (as opposed to being portrayed as an appendage of butch).

“We define femme as a gender identity not bound to orientation or biology,” says Camilleri, “that roots itself in, at the same time as defying, traditional femininity. There’s been a lot of work around female masculinity, but almost nothing around femme.

“Misogyny and fetishizing of the feminine are at the root of this invisibility within the community. Chloe and I are trying to challenge all that.”

Faggot, by local videographer Spencer Saunders, uses sensual still images to convey the pleasure and danger of wearing his mother’s make-up. In Chow Down, by TO queer and fat activist Allyson Mitchell, a femme tries to squeeze into outrageous outfits that just don’t fit until she finds a perfect sexy little number.

Shadow Boxers, a feature length doc about female boxing by US filmmaker Katya Bankowsky, is screened at noon on Sat, May 20, along with two local shorts that sizzle with athletic sensuality. First there’s Venga!, by Nila Gupta, a sassy look at a boxing babe. Then there’s Portrait Of A Fire Girl by Zena Bielewicz (whose voluptuous video What Is Sexy? is feature in the To Be Young… program). Fire Girl is a short documentary film, an intimate look at a dyke fire spinner who plays with danger and the elements in a stylized dance with flaming torches.

“Rika [the fire girl] has a lot of body image issues,” says Bielewicz. “But when I see her she is unbelievably sexy. I tried to capture that energy. Fire adds sexy danger to her mystique. When she spins she goes from social worker to bionic fire girl.”

Bielewicz, who is currently a Ryerson film student, names Patricia Rozema’s sensual fantasies as one of her primary influences. Rozema, herself, will be seen at Inside Out as part of a brand new program called the Directors Series, that highlights the contributions of renowned Canadian homo filmmakers.

On Sat, May 27 at 4pm Rozema will screen and discuss clips from her films I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing, When Night Is Falling and Mansfield Park. Other directors in the series include Jeremy Podeswa, Richard Fung and Midi Onodera.

Inside Out’s Shane Smith sees the series eventually expanding to include international directors. “What better way to start than by celebrating the abundance of queer talent we have here in Toronto,” says Smith. “When we sat down to make a list of possible guests for the series, it went on and on. It was difficult to narrow down.”

Many of the lesser known local heroes at Inside Out may soon be on the list of Toronto artists with international impact. Zena Bielewicz is confident that she will be among them, “I intend to make as many queer films as I can before I die,” she says, “so watch out for me.”