Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Homo programmers’ hottest TIFF picks

Pros share their picks from the film fest lineup

TO DIE LIKE A MAN. A "surreal, brutal" feature from director João Pedro Rodrigues.

With 335 Films from 64 Countries it’s a daunting task to wrap your mind around the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), running Thu, Sep 10 to 19. To give your head a hand (?) we asked five of TIFF’s homo honchos to share their top queer picks from this year’s richly bent slate.


Artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox

A Single Man (USA, director Tom Ford)
A gay professor contemplates suicide after his partner’s accidental death in the early 1960s; a hot boy in an angora sweater changes his mind. Directed by significant homosexualist fashion god Tom Ford, the cinematography riffs off every homoerotic magazine spread of the last dozen years or so. Colin Firth and Matthew Goode play the lovers. This is the gay gala, people.

To Die Like A Man (Portugal/France, director João Pedro Rodrigues)
A drag queen’s body rejects her chosen gender as she faces death; her hustler boyfriend tries to help; her military son runs off to get off with his squadron leader. Meanwhile a transsexual couple lives out their days in a forest in pursuit of magical “xnipes.” João Pedro Rodrigues combines the best of Fassbinder and Almodóvar in his surreal, brutal tableaux.
Trash Humpers (USA/UK, director Harmony Korine)
Sexual outlaws fuck garbage cans to show their contempt for society. No queer film this year will contain more homophobic expletives in it. I promise.
Whip It (USA, director Drew Barrymore)

Drew Barrymore’s sunny take on semi-pro roller derby has some of the best girl-on-girl (track) action anywhere in the festival this year plus some iconic tomboys for future deification. No actual lesbians, but it almost doesn’t matter.


Southeast Asian programmer

Adrift (Vietnam, director Bui Thac Chuyen)
Though the main narrative focuses on a straight newlywed couple, it is Cam, the lesbian friend of the bride, who is the catalyst for the sensual drama that unfolds. Vietnam is still a conservative communist country so to feature a lesbian character is very brave indeed. Plus the film pushes the boundary of eroticism with barely a glimpse of flesh.

To Die Like a Man (Portugal/France, director João Pedro Rodrigues)
Championed by critics after its Cannes premiere, this fatalistic camp drama is every bit as bold and unpredictable as its mesmerizing transsexual protagonist. Rodrigues, who previously pushed the queer envelope with O Fantasma and Odete, confidently traverses sexual identity and melodrama while remaining subversive and challenging.

J’ai Tué Ma Mère (Canada, director Xavier Dolan)
Some may find the screaming hysterics between mother and son too much to bear, but this compelling dramedy about the most dysfunctional parent-child relationship ever works because of the sharply written dialogue as well as the committed performances by the two leads (with the son played by the director himself). Queer yet sensitive, it will certainly prove a hit at this year’s TIFF.


Canadian feature programmer

High Life (Canada, director Gary Yates)
In Gary Yates’ hilarious movie about a heist gone terribly wrong (based on the screenplay by gay playwright Lee MacDougall) there’s some nice homoerotic tension between two of the crooks — totally unexpected and funny.

Reel Injun (Canada, director Neil Diamond)
Though this film isn’t at all about queer politics, it is about how natives have been represented on the big screen, and the filmmakers have acknowledged The Celluloid Closet as an inspiration. Fascinating to see how another marginalized group has been misrepresented in the media.

The Armoire (Canada, director Jamie Travis)
The latest short from Toronto filmmaker extraordinaire Jamie Travis is another revelation. This man can do no wrong.


Dialogues and Sprockets Family Zone programmer

Although I haven’t seen the films yet, there are three queer films at TIFF that I am really looking forward to seeing.

J’ai Tué Ma Mère (Canada, director Xavier Dolan)
Twenty-year-old director and actor Xavier Dolan was the toast of the town in Cannes for this funny/painful film about a love/hate relationship between a gay teen and his mother. Sounds like must-see viewing for anyone who has ever had a conflict with a parent or guardian (which is basically everyone). I’m sure Dolan will be the toast of the town here too, not just for what is by all accounts an outstanding debut feature, but also for his amazing hair.

The Topp Twins (New Zealand, director Leanne Pooley)
A hilarious and touching documentary about New Zealand’s — and the world’s — only comedic country singing, dancing and yodelling lesbian twin sisters. Need I say more? Filled with archival footage, home movies and interviews with their comedic alter egos including the Bowling Ladies and the Two Kens, this is not to be missed. Plus they will be giving a free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Google Baby (Israel, director Zippi Brand Frank)
This fascinating doc looks at gay male couples in Israel who, in order to get around the prohibition of using surrogate mothers in that country, pay US women to supply eggs that are implanted into surrogate mothers in India. As gay men in the developed world are increasingly embracing parenthood, this film raises highly important and relevant questions about the globalization of babymaking.


Short Cuts Canada programmer

Covered (Canada, director John Greyson)
John Greyson’s short documentary is an insightful and inspired analysis of the violent response to the opening of the first queer Sarajevo film festival. Employing the ideas of Susan Sontag, Greyson creates a humorous and pointed sociopolitical experimental documentary about the homophobia that still exists in our world.

The Island (Canada, director Trevor Anderson),
Five Dysfunctional People in a Car (Canada, director Pat Mills)

Both Trevor Anderson and Pat Mills use ironic dry wit; both their films are quirky social commentaries. Anderson’s response to a homophobic piece of “fan” mail is to create a colourful and safe space for queers. Mills gives the subject of aging a new twist with grandma being taken to a nursing home against her will.

The Armoire (Canada, director Jamie Travis)

Jamie Travis’s series of sad children trying to find their way in a difficult world continues with a haunting and beautifully art-directed film. Here the young boy has so many secrets that his inner psyche is put to the test, and his descent further into the armoire in his bedroom seems to be his only destiny.

Check out Bent Lineup, Xtra’s comprehensive list of queer films and filmmakers at TIFF.