Queer Canadian filmmaking is exploding, with a plethora of artists making innovative, thought-provoking and humourous films. Luckily, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has picked up on the trend and is recognizing the range and quality of work out there by showcasing talent from across the country, from Kent Monkman in Toronto to Claudia Morgado Escanilla in Vancouver.
Short films are an art form unto themselves and these works, almost all of which are in the Short Cuts Canada programs, are great examples.
Local visual artist Luis Jacob and Winnipeg-based filmmaker Noam Gonick collaborate on the video installation Wildflowers of Manitoba opening at MOCCA on Fri, Sep 7 as part of TIFF’s inaugural Future Projections visual arts program. Longtime admirers of each other’s work, the pair created a geodesic dome, symbolic of 1960s environmental architecture, with four screen projections. Organized around the cycle of the seasons and reminiscent of Radical Faeries, men playfully frolic in the grass, perform rituals and wash in the stream, all to the accompaniment of Harmonium, an influential Montreal band popular in the 1970s. Keeping clear of irony, Jacob and Gonick were interested in connecting to the more romantic tradition of queer underground filmmaking. “It’s not about fitting in,” says Jacob, “but providing a more beautiful alternative.” Fresh from the Montreal Biennial, this installation is not to be missed.
Ontario filmmaker AJ Bond has been intrigued by the concept of time travel since he was a kid. “I’m particularly fascinated by the idea of meeting oneself at different ages and exploring how a person changes over time,” he says. “I began thinking about time travel as a means of breaking down identity and even body image.” His film, Hirsute, touches on the pressure in the gay community to be young, hip and hairless. It features a young time traveller who meets the arrogant and hairless version of himself in the future, forcing the young gay man to realize he has let success go to his head. For Bond, the film was an attempt to “illustrate the dangers of not understanding or accepting oneself.” Having produced and edited several shorts, this is Bond’s first film as a director, and successfully delivered, at that.
In Dada Dum, Toronto filmmaker Britt Randle borrows from silent film traditions to captivate an audience with a floating, surreal dance by a blind woman seeking escape from a confining and confusing mansion. Randle, who grew up feeling alienated from his fundamentalist Christian family, found relief in the world of fantasy and old black and white movies.
“Dada Dum started with a series of odd little drawings I made that connected together to create a visual narrative that expressed my feelings of alienation,” he says.
Bond made the intriguing choice of creating a dance film. “Dance, like music, can express deep emotion that words sometimes cannot,” says Randle. “I love old silent films and have always felt that because of the melodrama and fluctuating film speeds, the actors, intentionally or not, were creating a subtle form of dance in their performances. Dada Dum borrows from that silent film language as a starting point for its movement.”
In Claudia Morgado Escanilla’s lovely gender-bending tale No Bikini, a young girl finds herself mistaken for a boy when she decides to not wear a bikini top to her first swimming lesson. The piece is based on a short story by Ivan E Coyote. “The story is about a life-defining moment,” says Morgado Escanilla. “We all have those moments. In a split second one’s actions can alter one’s path forever.” Coyote’s voiceover adds a special tone to the film, making it a personal narrative about a young girl who decides that she is different from other little girls.
Kent Monkman’s latest short, Shooting Geronimo, came out of his frustration with mainstream museums, past and present, giving the “voice of authority” on First Nations to artists of European descent. In much of his painting and filmmaking Monkman playfully inverts that dynamic. In his latest film, he tackles early portrayals of Indians in silent films. “My work is to excavate the mis-sing narratives,” says Monkman, “and in this piece, to situate the mythology of First Nations people in old westerns.” He uses his drag alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle as the trickster, complicating the relationship between a white filmmaker and the two Indian boys he’s using to make a film about the “new frontier.” In all her sequined queerness, Miss Chief turns the tables again and again in this funny and affecting satire.
In Cassandra Nicolaou’s Congratulations Daisy Graham, Daisy is on the eve of a celebration honouring her life’s work. She is dying but Daisy is more worried about Emily, her partner of 40 years whose mind has been ruined by Alzheimer’s. Shifting from the past to the present, Nicolaou’s compelling new film about love and devotion takes us back to the life-altering day 40 years ago when Emily confessed her love for Daisy. With a personal connection to a friend who had Alzheimer’s, Nicolaou says she was personally attracted to the subjects of “the healthcare system, quality of life and euthanasia and the stresses and challenges of caregiving in the modern-age.”
Teenage Girl takes Torontonian Greg Atkins on his latest filmmaking journey. Isolated in his apartment, a man’s mind is slowly inhabited by a teenage girl. Day by day, as she becomes stronger, he fights to regain power. “I had been reading for a casting director, auditioning for an upcoming TV series,” says Atkins. “I was reading the part of various young girls opposite many young actresses. By the end of it I joked about waking up every morning feeling like a teenage girl.” The film poses the question: Does who I feel I am on the inside reflect what people see on the outside? Both humourous and melancholy in its approach, Teenage Girl successfully delves into the loneliness of our own minds.