Arts & Entertainment
11 min

Five queer films you don’t want to miss at Toronto’s Inside Out 2017

From romantic comedies to gut-wrenching documentaries, there’s something for everyone

Free CeCe is screening at the Toronto Inside Out LGBT Film Festival 2017. Credit: Courtesy Inside Out
Free CeCe is one of the films showcased at this year’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. Jacqueline Gares/YouTube

Now in its 27th edition, Toronto’s Inside Out brings the world’s best queer films to movie-hungry localhomos each year. From romantic comedies to gut-wrenching documentaries, there’s a little something sprinkled in for everyone. Xtra has perused the program to highlight a few tasty morsels for your cinematic consumption.

Free CeCe

Jacqueline Gares/YouTube

Trans women of colour make up more than 50 percent of LGBT homicide victims. CeCe McDonald would have been one of those statistics, but when the Minneapolis resident was attacked on the street by a gang of four people late in the evening of June 5, 2011, she did the thing she wasn’t supposed to do. She fought back. The incident left one of her attackers dead and McDonald was charged with second-degree murder. A year later, she made headlines when she accepted a plea deal for a lesser charge, agreeing to 41 months in a men’s prison, rather than go to trial and risk a lifetime behind bars.

Jacqueline Gares’ debut feature recounts the story of McDonald’s attack, legal battles, incarceration and the countless protests to free her. If that were the entire story, it would make for a pretty depressing film. But Free CeCe doesn’t stop there. We follow McDonald’s release from prison, her process of being accepted by her family, and her journey to activism. Though it starts with a horrifically dark incident, the film succeeds in an unexpected feat; turning a story of almost unbelievable oppression into a tale of tear-jerking empowerment.

Handsome Devil

EclipsePicturesIE/YouTube

Cinematic portrayals of relationships between queer guys and straight dudes are frequently strained. Gays are often victims of violence (The Matthew Shepard Story, Milk) or aggressors themselves (Irreversible, Pulp Fiction). While we have plenty of examples of positive interactions between gay men and heterosexual women (Sex and the City, Mean Girls), stories of gay/straight friendships without sexual tension are a relatively new phenomenon. 

Set against the mega-macho and highly-homoerotic backdrop of a rugby-obsessed boys boarding school, Handsome Devil makes a much-needed contribution to this fledgling genre. Irish director John Butler’s second feature charts the development of an unlikely connection between a sports-hating outcast and his hunky jock roommate. Equal parts laugh-out-loud comedy and poignant coming of age story, the film offers the next generation of both queers and straights a new template for how they can interact with the world.

Sebastian 

Courtesy Inside Out

Each year, Inside Out selects a country to feature in its spotlight series. In 2017, the festival will turn that beam homeward to bathe the Great White North in its glow. Along with the documentaries Rebels on Pointe, about an all-male, all-gay ballet company and comedian Shawn Hitchins’ Ginger Nation, which follows his decision to donate sperm to a lesbian couple, the program includes Toronto-native James Fanizza’s debut feature Sebastian.

Adapted from a short that screened at the 2014 festival, the film follows a disgruntled artist-cum-barista (Fanizza) as he embarks on an unexpected weeklong romance with an Argentinean tourist (Alex House). The wrench in the works is that the hunky visitor happens to be his current boyfriend’s cousin. 

Set against a backdrop of familiar Toronto scenery (The Beaver and the intersection of Hallam Street and Dovercourt Road feature prominently), the film paints a nuanced portrait of 20-something queerness; that perpetual feeling of having what you want at the tip of your fingers, but not being sure if you really want to grab it.

Signature Move

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival/Facebook

On March 29, 2016, actress Fawzia Mirza did what many aspiring filmmakers before her have done. She launched a crowdfunding campaign extolling the virtues of a new project she wanted to make, complete with heartfelt video encouraging people to donate. Unlike most other artists who embark on this journey, Mirza raised the necessary cash within less than a month. A year later, the resulting film is making the rounds at festivals. 

Signature Move follows Zaynab (Mirza), a queer Pakistani woman working as an immigration lawyer and caring for her conservative Muslim mother (Shabana Azmi). When she meets Alma (Sari Sanchez), a half-Jewish half-Mexican free spirit, the tequila shots fly quickly and before long they’re hitting the sheets. While Alma is comfortable with her sexuality and open with her family, Zaynab is neither, and this clash of values proves an impediment to their budding romance. Full of subtly dry humour and genuinely touching moments, the film succeeds in re-envisioning the queer rom-com through a cross-cultural lens. Oh, and there’s lady wrestling.

Stumped

Courtesy Inside Out

Will Lautzenheiser, for all intents and purposes, had it made. The Boston-born writer and filmmaker was about to begin a tenured job at Montana State University. He had a loving partner, a close-knit family and a promising career. Then, almost overnight, an aggressive bacterial infection forced doctors to amputate all four of his limbs in order to save his life. Finding himself a quadruple amputee at the age of 37, Lautzenheiser suddenly had to renegotiate his career, his relationship, and, obviously, his ability to navigate the world. 

But that’s only half the story. In 2014, Lautzenheiser was selected as the second individual in US history to undergo a double arm transplant. Robin Berghaus’ debut feature film recounts Lautzenheiser’s story in all of its painful detail. Narratives of disability often aim to induce pity or create inspiration and Stumped, as much as it tries to avoid these tropes, ends up doing a little of both. But more than that, the film provides a touching portrait of a queer relationship and the power that comes with being able to laugh in the face of tragedy.