When Jim Hamilton was asked to program a series of films highlighting his own personal taste for a Carte Blanche series at Cinematheque Ontario, his selection of films unconsciously revealed to him a taste deeply rooted in his personal life as a gay Scotsman.
“I just sat with a blank sheet of paper and I wrote out a list of films, and then only subsequently looked at them as a programmer,” he says. “I did this as a human being. This is me, Jim Hamilton, Scottish gay man.”
“There’s lots of gay-related themed issues films there; it’s a bit political, it’s a bit camp. There are three films about fishing villages in it, which is weird but understandable where I come from in Scotland,” he says.
Last year, the Toronto International Film Festival Group hired Hamilton as director of programming at the new Festival Centre now under construction at King and John streets. Hamilton comes to Toronto with 24 years of experience working in cinema, most recently as head of the National Film Theatre in London, UK.
His Carte Blanche series, which began Mar 23 and runs to Thu, May 3, presents an eclectic mix of lavish Hollywood golden age productions, powerful documentaries, independent films and international cinema.
While the series features two queer documentaries, the only overtly queer drama in the series is John Huston’s 1967 film Reflections In A Golden Eye, in which Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando are trapped in a loveless marriage, and Brando plays a repressed homosexual in love with a fellow soldier who rides naked through the woods near his base each day (screening at 8:45pm on Sat, Mar 31).
Still, many other films in the series deal with problematic sexualities. In the already-screened 1995 Todd Haynes film Safe, Julianne Moore plays a housewife who becomes increasingly allergic to her environment, perhaps beginning with her own unfulfilling sexual relationship with her husband, while Faat Kine (8:45pm, Wed, Apr 25) by Senegalese master Ousmane Sembène tells the story of a woman who refuses to let the stigma of having borne two children out of wedlock hold her back.
Hamilton says that although he didn’t consciously create a series of related films, recurring themes in the films reveal tastes rooted in his sexual identity. “Looking at that list as a gay man, and sort of interrogating myself, I ask why is it sort of miserable in bits, or problematic or difficult,” he says.
“In the end I’m 49, just turned. I came out in the ’70s,” he says. “I couldn’t be overtly gay when I first came out. In the town where I lived there were no gay bars, and I was persecuted as a person. That history of being gay does have that sort of resonance.”
Hamilton’s selection of Rob Epstein’s 1984 documentary The Times Of Harvey Milk, which tells the story of the first openly gay official elected in the US and who was assassinated shortly after taking office, reflects this history of persecution.
“People get killed for being gay. That’s part of my history, and there’s nothing I can do about that,” says Hamilton.
Harvey Milk and the upcoming screening of Edmund Coulthard and Nan Goldin’s 1996 documentary I’ll Be Your Mirror, about the early days of HIV/AIDS, represent Hamilton’s belief that only the independent media can truly capture the stories of marginalized communities (free, 8:45pm, Wed, May 2; screened with Sarah Morris’s doc Los Angeles).
“Independent thought is something that I think is really important. Making a small film honestly about a subject is much more interesting to me than [films like] Brokeback Mountain,” he says.
“Let’s celebrate the fact that mainstream media can produce a film like Brokeback Mountain, and mainstream audiences can go and see it. But it’s still a film about white men. It wasn’t a film about black lesbians. It wasn’t a film about disabled people. They were handsome hunks, cowboy hunks. There are all the other stories of all the different communities and those will never become mainstream.
“I sometimes think what are people going do 50 years from now, what will 50 years from now look like? And something like I’ll Be Your Mirror or The Times Of Harvey Milk, it’s really important that that’s been captured, that our history has been captured. That’s the importance of cinema to me.”
Even in a time when queer culture has become mainstream and accessible on queer television, radio and the Internet, cinema is important to queer audiences because of its social setting, says Hamilton. “Cinema is always not just about the film, but you’re talking about a social space,” says Hamilton.
“Cinema’s about sex and friendship. If you go to a film that you think you’ll like, the chance is that other people who are there might be interesting to you. And you might strike up a friendship, you might get some sex out of it, you might get a relationship out of it.”