Film & Video
4 min

Gay at TIFF

A guide to the best queer cinema at the festival

With more than 300 films from 60 countries, navigating TIFF can be a daunting task. But we’ve scoured the program and nailed down the festival’s top queer content.

Stories of Our Lives
Directed by Anonymous

At first glance, the credits for Stories of Our Lives might indicate it’s a product of the international Guy Fawkes–masked hacktivist network. But the film, which profiles the lives of Kenyan LGBT citizens, is actually the work of a tiny Nairobi arts collective, presented without names to protect its makers from retaliation. It was initiated as a simple archive of testimonials about living in a country where gay sex carries a prison term of up to 14 years, but a team of social workers and entrepreneurs found the stories so inspiring they decided to adapt them into a series of short films. With not much more than a consumer-grade video camera and a pair of LED lights, the cast and crew spent eight secretive months shooting and editing. The five resulting black-and-white vig-nettes have a simplicity and charm belying the sometimes-terrifying circumstances under which they were made. Kenya’s socially conservative mindset has meant films exploring sexual and gender identity are nearly impossible to make. But Stories of Our Lives provides a rare glimpse into the lived experiences that provide a foundation for future human-rights battles. 

Fri, Sept 5, 9pm
Sun, Sept 7, 8:45am
Sun, Sept 14, 6pm

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Common foes make for unlikely bedfellows. In the case of Matthew Warchus’s Pride, the foe is Margaret Thatcher, and the bedfellows are Welsh coal miners and London queers. It’s 1984, and the Iron Lady’s conservative government is doing everything in its power to quash unions. Simultaneously, the gay and lesbian community is perfecting its unique brand of quirky yet effective activism. Though they’d seemingly rather party than protest, a group of queer people come together with the common understanding that one oppression shouldn’t outrank another. They form Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and hit the road in a jarringly painted bus to lend a hand. But when they arrive in small-town Wales, they find the miners not totally ready for what they have to offer. Hilarious and touching in equal parts, Pride offers an unconventional tale of two disparate communities warily joining hands. While the miners must overcome their homophobia, the activists have their own shit to deal with. Britain’s historically complex and multitiered class system has made its filmmakers great at the comedy of integration, and Pride is a shining example of this genre. Set against the backdrop of post-punk, new-wave Britain, the film provides a surprisingly smart and nuanced understanding of the struggle for queer liberation as it points to one of activism’s central tenants: united we stand, divided we fall.

Sat, Sept 6, 2:45pm
Sun, Sept 7, 12:30pm

Love in the Time of Civil War
Directed by Rodrigue Jean

With Love in the Time of Civil War, Québécois director Rodrigue Jean returns to the milieu of his 2008 documentary Men for Sale — a grim take on the lives of drug-addicted hustlers in Montreal’s gay village. This time, it’s a fictional look at the life of Alex, a rent-boy who bides his time alternately scoring drugs and amassing the money to buy them by selling sex and committing petty crimes (typically shakedowns of potential clients). As he floats from one dingy flat to the next, Alex’s eye is always on the next fix and whatever it takes to get it. But his ineptitude means he gets ripped off nearly as often as he scores. Operating without a complex backstory or in-depth psychoanalyzing, the film unflinchingly chronicles seemingly endless acts of betrayal with an intense emotional weight. A new work from a rising star of Canadian cinema (Jean’s last feature, Lost Song, captured the Best Canadian Feature prize at the 2008 festival), Love is a trenchant look inside the world of addiction and the sex that funds it.

Sun, Sept 7, 4:15pm
Tues, Sept 9, 1:45pm
Fri, Sept 12, 6:15pm

Directed by Abel Ferrara

In a country known for producing contentious figures, Italian Renaissance man Pier Paolo Pasolini was certainly near the top of the list. Though his creative output spanned cinema, painting, poetry, journalism, philosophy and theatre, he was known equally well as a communist, homosexual, political agitator and staunch Catholic. Since he’s probably most famous for the highly controversial film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (the last work he would complete before his death in 1975), it’s fitting that director Abel Ferrara’s biopic captures the artist in the midst of that process, simultaneously struggling to finish the work while fighting with censors. Starring Willem Dafoe (a near doppelganger for Pasolini), Ferrara’s jigsaw puzzle of a film follows the artist through his last day on Earth as he lunches with his mother, is interviewed by a journalist and cruises Rome’s streets for sex. Working partially from a screenplay Pasolini had started just before his death, Ferrara has built a sensitive, imaginative take on one of the 20th century’s most important and controversial voices.

Mon, Sept 8, 9pm
Wed, Sept 10, 9pm
Fri, Sept 12, 4:45pm

Directed by Mélanie Laurent

Breathe is already drawing comparisons to both Blue Is the Warmest Colour and Single White Female. But French actress-cum-director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore feature is uniquely her own. Based on the hit novel Respire (penned by then-17-year-old wunderkind Anne-Sophie Brasme), Breathe delves into a complex and possessive relationship between two high-school girls. Beautiful and upstanding Charlie is immediately drawn to Sarah, the school’s charming and dangerous newcomer. An intense and intimate friendship quickly develops, but then one day everything changes. Their claustrophobic codependency of over-sized heartbreak and jealousy feels vividly teenaged, no doubt helped by the fact that Laurent’s leading ladies, Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge, are barely out of high school themselves. Stories of teenaged life can easily fall into melodrama, but under Laurent’s careful gaze, Brasme’s novel becomes a film that’s multilayered and realistic.

Tues, Sept 9, 6:30pm
Thurs, Sept 11, 11:45am
Sat, Sept 13, 9:15am