Toronto
5 min

Full bloom

Sweet-smelling Canucks

Inside Out offers a great opportunity to see some of the best recent Canadian short films and videos, many of them by local artists. There is a large number of confessional or diary works, and the best of them go beyond simply communicating the director’s opinions or feelings. The most interesting work also seems to be the most humble and cheaply made, for example, recycling found footage to excavate personal history.



Two of the strongest works on offer are in the My So-Called Lives program about queer childhood (4:45pm on Sun, May 23). Allyson Mitchell’s work from 2000, the autobiographical music video My Life In Five Minutes avoids the pitfalls of the genre by refusing to take itself too seriously. On the soundtrack, an out of tune Mitchell sings the story of her life, from birth to “chubby little body and bad ’80s hair” to turning gay from Women’s Studies courses. Her narration is funny and sad and sounds like it was recorded on a tape deck in her bedroom; it feels very intimate. She sings: “This is not poetry, this is my life, nothing big, nothing small.” The video is composed of hundreds of images of Mitchell throughout her life, manipulated with playfully low-fi video effects. Anyone who is familiar with Mitchell’s work will recognize the big sad eyes she adds to images of herself throughout. Her photos are intercut with many similarly big-sad-eyed drawings of young girls labelled with the assorted traumas and inconveniences of life, from grandma getting cancer to “bad video rental choice.”



Then there’s the fine found footage collage (culled from the Toronto District School Board, no less) by Liz Singer called Flying Without Wings, Propellers Or Jets. The piece works the way our memory does, wistfully catching fleeting moments of pop music, bad jokes and mouldy educational films. It is a lovely bit of childhood nostalgia with a sinister side.



Also in the program is RM Vaughan’s Walnut Grove, Mon Amour. This riff on his father’s perpetual crying and his own incapacity to shed a tear could be tightened up a bit, but it makes a witty case against emotional overexposure. Through degraded and slowed footage of Little House On The Prairie, Vaughan suggests that the ability to emote, whether to add drama to a TV show or to express genuine emotion, is not as liberating as it might seem.



Near the end of the program comes an unforgettable tape that tries to make sense of childhood from a queer present, the heartfelt and painfully funny Starring Brian O’Neill As Himself by Vancouver’s Brian O’Neill. The video starts with a cute, lisping little boy acting as MC for a “Miss Stone-Age Pageant,” presumably a school play. O’Neill’s voice comes onto the soundtrack introducing himself to us the “gayest little thing you’d ever seen” through clips of his old home videos. Seeing young Brian’s exploits, his voguing around the living room as the Phantom Of The Opera (he claims to have reenacted his favourite play thousands of times) or his attempts to look occupied while everybody else roughhouses at a cub scout get-together were almost physically painful to watch, as I identified with his flaming-boy femmitude so fervently. When the video leaves the sissy boy behind to show us O’Neill after puberty, it loses its most interesting focus: the home movies. However, O’Neill’s sincerity, openness and his insight into a childhood that was obviously queer but couldn’t really be accounted for by “sexual orientation” (he thought boys were gross and preferred playing ponies and dolls with the girls – smart choice) make the tape a standout. He asks important questions about why the theatricality and effeminacy of queer boyhood get reduced to only being markers of same-sex attraction.



Another strong program of shorts is the Supertrannyfilmselection (7:30pm on Fri, May 21), curated by the Trans Consultant Committee. Jenny Bisch’s stunning The Arousing Adventures Of Sailor Boy is perhaps the most aesthetically impressive piece I screened, a must-see. Playfully mixing film and video, black and white and colour, recorded material and painting on film, Sailor Boy presents the romantic adventure of a hot, genderfucking sailor. This odd, dirt-encrusted piece of gutter glamour feels like it was discovered in an attic and is seeing the light of day for the first time. Words and images hand-scratched onto the film are used to narrate and interfere with the recorded images.



Also of interest is one of Alec Butler’s animated Misadventures Of Pussy Boy entitled First Period, dramatizing Alick’s experiences amidst the rockers and stoners at Rural Route High. The animation is crude, but it succeeds through its brutal honesty about trauma and survival, and the vivid way it brings to life a trans adolescence in a rural, working-class world. We see how Alick acquired the nickname “Pussy Boy” and how his secret love Kay teaches him that “sick” and “pussy” can be terms of endearment. I’m not sure why the whole Pussy Boy series is not being screened, as the memorable characters develop as the installments progress.



Another strong work is the no-frills documentary Meet My Breasts by Tera Mallette, where four local trans women with diverse bodies and identities candidly discuss their relationships to their breasts, including how they feel and how breasts affect their gender identity and their attitude to life. It is not so much about breasts as about the diversity of ways that people under the label “trans woman” think of and inhabit their bodies. Dana Baitz puts it best when she closes the piece by saying, “This is a woman’s body because this is me.” It is an empowering and necessary work.



Meet My Breasts also screens as part of the I Am What I Am series about bodies (5pm on Sun, May 30). The standouts in this program include Men On Fur On Men, a loving look at bear bodies and the men who lust after them by Clark Nikolai and Martin Borden. The up close and personal images of furry faces, bellies and everything in between are accompanied by a narration of bear body appreciation and opera music. It’s a simple and sweet piece that goes well with No Soy un Oso (I Am Not A Bear), a critical conversation piece by Eugenio Salas and Roy Mitchell about men’s desire for subcultural affiliations that uses film projection and playful footage of actual bears (at the zoo and in statue form) nicely. Also, Deirdre Logue’s That Beauty is a short, hiccupy piece that juxtaposes a flashing, reflected light on top of a woman’s spastic dance in her kitchen. She then adds a repeating sound sample (“It’s that beauty right there”) and typed statements about how the “beauty” we’re watching feels. It’s a striking piece. The program also includes a strange tape called Dear Chad by Bill Taylor. Structured as a letter to an ex-lover, it is an uncomfortable mix of overly earnest confession, romantic angst and ridiculously abject details about the narrator’s ass-related traumas, focussing on how their relationship failed because of his partner’s obsession with fucking him. You aren’t sure whether to groan in annoyance or laugh out loud – whether that is an incentive to see it is up to you and your own threshold for personal information, scatological and emotional.



Finally, accompanying the documentary on Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis (7:30 on Sun, May 23) is Sunflower by Michael Caines featuring a delightful dance routine by Keith Cole filmed in seamy black and white. Bookended with a languorously posed boy in a flower bed, the choreography features a large man dressed as a flower dancing his little heart out while two Genet-tinged hustlers ignore him. A nice mix of the sultry and the ridiculous.



* The free Local Heroes party on the main floor of The Barn (418 Church St) starts at 9:30pm on Thu, May 27.