For some time, Queer As Folk made plenty of Toronto gays wonder if we were secretly living in Pittsburgh. Beyond that stand-in role, an inordinately small amount of television or film attention has been given to the delightfully gay landscapes of Canada's largest city. Local director Eric Henry's debut film Seek, which premieres this month at the Reelout Queer Film and Video Festival in Kingston, finally gives the Village the spotlight it deserves.
Seek follows young journalist Evan Brisby, who is ready to move on to the big leagues after sharpening his teeth at a local gay magazine. His break comes in the form of an assignment from the daily Toronto Gazette, when he's asked to expose the exciting world of gay nightlife to bored commuter readers. The problem is, Evan hardly knows that world himself.
"Evan's really amateur in a way," says Henry, who admits that the protagonist's experiences in some way mirror his own early forays into the bars and clubs. "He has gone out, but he hasn't really gone out."
Evan thus begins to shadow his new acquaintance Hunter, a big-time party promoter, around the backstages of drag shows, DJ sets and club nights. Evan's assumptions, if not his ambitions, quickly prove to be less than fair. By the time he's finished writing his story, he finds that above all, everybody's doing the best they can.
"He's looking for validation, for acceptance. And that's what everybody's doing," Henry says.
The movie offers many familiar tropes of the sometimes confusing urban gay experience and, more specifically, sights that will be familiar to Toronto residents. Zipperz, the Woody's stairwell, Flash, Fly and even the legendary drag queen Michelle Ross make appearances — accompanied by, of course, one or two really good shots of the CN Tower.
"I wanted a feature that people from around the world would see," Henry says. "It's a Toronto gay film, which we haven't seen in a while."
Seek is an important love letter to the Church Wellesley Village in a time when condo plans and poster codes are threatening to change the neighbourhood's dynamic.
But it's also a story that takes an honest look at a subculture, and it does so successfully. Misguided straight girlfriends, internet hookups and awkward encounters with needy strangers charmingly punctuate the simmering tension between the leading characters. One of the surprising highlights of the film is the supporting performance of Jonathan Nathaniel as Aidan, Evan's seasoned gay pal and most valuable neglected resource.
Seek certainly feels like a personal film, an honest shot at portraying the complexities of being young, gay and hopeful. Even so, Henry hopes it will resonate with anyone who's looking for something more.
"It's mainstream-friendly," he says. "I don't believe that it's only in the gay community that people want to be accepted. It's all over the place."