Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Inside Out: She’s legal

Film fest turns 18

LIFE'S A BEACH. The surfer drama Newcastle, part of the fest's Australian focus, is one of many strong international offerings this year at Inside Out.

Toronto’s most popular queer event outside of Pride is fast approaching. The 18th Inside Out film fest, running Thu, May 15 to 25, is set to have a banner year with a strong program of Canadian and international works and plenty of new twists.

“In addition to presenting 250 works in the festival what excites me are a number of new initiatives this year,” says Jason St-Laurent, director of programming. The fest expands to include art shows at five galleries, the Queer Here! Queer Now! international symposium and the new offsite screening program called Video Village. “That’s something I think the community will really like,” says St-Laurent, “taking works to the people, screening shorts by Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay in Church St bars, storefronts and a special window projection at Church and Wellesley.

“We’re looking for ways to bring Church St into the fold.”

Programmers have nabbed some high-profile films. “I was desperate to bring fresh new works to Inside Out,” says St-Laurent, who came to Inside Out just prior to last year’s fest, “and we were able to grab a number of Canadian and North American premieres from Berlin, like the Toronto premiere of Savage Grace [Tom Kalin’s new feature starring Julianne Moore], the North American premiere of Drifting Flowers by Zero Chou [the groundbreaking lesbian Taiwanese filmmaker], the international premiere of Newcastle [the skin-filled Australian surfer boy drama] and we are the first queer festival to grab Like a Virgin [a quirky, heartfelt South Korean feature about a transsexual who wrestles to raise money for surgery].

“We have a greater selection of international work, more cinematic than ever.”

The schedule shows a shift in some programming priorities. In the past some gala screenings have been less than successful, often showcasing a mediocre US genre flick that got a coveted spot because it was a local premiere. St-Laurent promises that the three galas this year — Like A Virgin, Newcastle and XXY — are all “amazing.”

“We’ve done surprisingly well with repeats of films that have already shown at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival],” says St-Laurent. “That’s why we are closing with XXY.” The heralded Argentine feature by Lucia Puenzo screened last year at TIFF. It’s a searing portrait of family dysfunction seen through the story of Alex (Inés Efron), a tough intersex teen who has to carve out her own place in the world. “Normally we wouldn’t gala with a work that has been shown in Toronto before. But I have a comprehensive view of what films are out there and XXY comes out on top. It’s amazing.

“We should be celebrating these types of films.

“As a programmer, I really want to do stuff differently, to give a fresh perspective. So there are a few surprises this year, like at the Centrepiece gala [for the surfer flick Newcastle], there will be a surprise that I can’t talk about. It should be really fun.”

In addition to Newcastle, look for hot drama and high camp from down under as Australia is this year’s International Focus. One offering is Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance, a comedic romp through the cutthroat world of children’s dance competitions from the producers of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And speaking of Priscilla, Inside Out turns a screening of the much-loved comedy from 1994 into a drag-along, with local drag queens leading the audience in song. “You can’t do a spotlight on Australia without Priscilla, for Christ’s sake,” says St-Laurent. “We decided to do the drag show to give it some new relevance — should be a hoot.”

On the shorts front St-Laurent points to Montréal Mon Amour. “That’s a personal fave for obvious reasons,” says the Moncton native and past programmer with that city’s Francophone film fest, Ottawa’s Galerie SAW, Images and V Tape. “It’s a great way to promote Francophone artists. After last year’s Montreal program we were surprised to see how large the Francophone audience is in Toronto.

“And the Dykes in the City program is very strong. It’s the hippest program in the fest. Stylish and political.”

Inside Out’s catalogue launches Fri, Apr 25 at the Gladstone with sneak peeks, music, silent auction and a Priscilla-inspired performance by Donnarama. Festival tix go on sale beginning Fri, May 2 at 55 Bloor St W.