Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Out at the Toronto International Film Festival

OutTV special captures queer buzz at annual film fest

“The film is, well, it’s about blowjobs.”

Jeff Garlin is speaking to television host Matt Thomas just before his film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last fall. Our television camera records as he elaborates. “John Waters gets six or seven blowjobs — they’re very long — and it’s really enjoyable for all young people who enjoy a good blowjob.”

Garlin, known for his roles on TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, directs Waters in This Filthy World, a film of the cult director’s stand-up comedy performance.

He’s kidding about the blowjobs. Garlin’s comments may be crude, even juvenile, but in the context of TV coverage of film festivals and celebrities in general, they are refreshing.

Out At TIFF, a one-hour TV special I coproduced for OutTV, is filled with such refreshments. Conceived as an antidote to the fawning, phoney-baloney celebrity worship of entertainment TV shows, Out At TIFF sparkles with candour.

We set out to capture the queer buzz at TIFF, choosing from dozens of gay films, filmmakers and parties.

As we liberate our interview subjects from reciting their prepackaged soundbytes, they jump at the chance to speak freely and have some fun. The results are both provocative and vulgar.

Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell, known for his first feature Hedwig And The Angry Inch, shares his thoughts on crystal meth and gay sex culture. He also tells us what he thought of eating pussy for the first time during one of Shortbus’s elaborate group sex scenes. “It was better than craft services,” he laughs.

The legendary indie producer Christine Vachon is on a quick break from the Quebec set of Todd Haynes’ new film I’m Not There, starring Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.

Vachon is at TIFF to present a screening of Haynes’ film Velvet Goldmine and to launch her new book, A Killer Life, about her incredible career. Vachon is articulate and considered as she discusses her work producing scalding hot films like Boys Don’t Cry, Happiness and I Shot Andy Warhol.

She is skeptical of filmmakers who complain that their projects are rejected because of queer content. “Most of the time I read the scripts, and that’s not the reason they’re not getting made,” she says with a knowing look.

She’s equally opinionated when it comes to Canada’s subsidized film industry. “There’s part of me that thinks subsidies breed lazy filmmaking,” she says, “although I know that people would cut my head off for saying that.”

John Waters is friendly, charming and as poised as one can be when speaking of deviancy, murder and singing assholes. He muses about the art and politics of shock value — about shocking liberal audiences and being genuinely funny.

Of being gay, he says wistfully, “It was fun when it was illegal. Let’s act illegal. Let’s not assimilate too much that we become square and have more rules than our parents.”

Our crew gets down and dirty on the party front, where there’s plenty of nudity — not just full frontal, but full dorsal, too. At the annual Gay Flambé party, DJ Shane MacKinnon sports a spray-painted bum that hogs our camera like a Leafs fan after a winning game. For the ladies, we’ve got more hooters than a barn full of owls.

Outside the Shortbus party, wild-eyed TV presenters coo over celebrities on the red carpet. It’s a frenzy of butt-kissing that outdoes even the film’s energetic analingus scene. These are the people who give rimming a bad name.

Eschewing metaphorical butts for the real deal, our host asks performance artist Keith Cole to show us his best feature. As Cole obliges, the symphony of clicking and flashing cameras comes to an abrupt halt. It’s as though Cole’s rump emits an invisible ray that makes cameras stop working.

Comedian Scott Thompson, displaying impeccable improv skills, tells us he was the cock double on Shortbus. “You don’t see Sook-Yin Lee like that on the radio!” he says of the Shortbus star, referring both to her explicit performance in the film and her gig as the host of CBC Radio’s Definitely Not The Opera.

After TIFF has ended and our crew reviews the footage, one question keeps coming up: “Can you put that on television?” Nico Stagias, our talented editor and director of photography, is most insistent that we not censor a thing. In the end, we just throw it all out there.

As director Garlin told us back at his premiere, “Most people don’t throw it all out there and go, ‘What the fuck.’ Everyone’s scared. Not John Waters. He throws it out there.” Ditto, I think you’ll agree, for Out At TIFF.