Aside from big-budget Hollywood fare and buzz-worthy art-house pictures, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has a long tradition of programming important and innovative queer films. This year is no exception.
Leave it on the Floor, a musical by Canadian-born director Sheldon Larry, tells the story of Brad (Ephraim Sykes), a 22-year-old African-American who is thrown out of his house for being gay and stumbles upon the Los Angeles vogue ball. There he discovers a whole new kind of family and a wild and competitive form of self-expression.
Touted as one of the first Vietnamese films to depict homosexuality both explicitly and positively, Ngoc Dang Vu’s Lost in Paradise is a contemporary tale of living on the margins of Vietnamese society. Khoi is a fresh-faced 20-year-old who makes his way to Ho Chi Minh City, where he befriends Dong and his boyfriend, Lam. They take the first opportunity to make off with Khoi’s cash and belongings. But when Dong is abandoned by his boyfriend and winds up on the streets hustling for money, he runs into Khoi again, and they strike up an unlikely romance.
Oliver Hermanus’s Beauty deals with the pain of sexual repression. Set in South Africa, the film follows Francois (Deon Lotz), a successful family man who finds himself magnetically drawn to his son’s close friend Christian (Charlie Keegan). As desire spirals, it takes a toll on Francois’s health and on the sustainability of the closeted life he’s tried so hard to build.
Fresh from its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it received rave reviews, Dee Rees’s Pariah, adapted from her 2007 short film, tells the story of Alike (expertly played by actress Adepero Oduye) a young middle-class African-American girl who lives a double life. Alike’s two worlds collide in a dramatic confrontation that mirrors the struggle many of us face in being honest with our parents about our sexuality.
British filmmaker Terence Davies, known for his autobiographical films, returns to TIFF after the success of his self-reflective 2008 documentary Of Time and the City with The Deep Blue Sea, a 1950s period drama based on the play by Terence Rattigan. Dealing with the pressures of social expectations and secret love affairs, Rattigan’s play is said to have been inspired by the suicide of a young male actor with whom he once had a relationship.
Heavyweight gay director Gus Van Sant teams up with ambiguously gay-curious actor James Franco for the video installation Memories of Idaho. It consists of two films: My Own Private River, which blends cut scenes and alternate takes from Van Sant’s seminal My Own Private Idaho to put the focus on the late River Phoenix; and Idaho, another dreamlike riff on the film that includes photographs, taken by Van Sant, of the Portland street hustlers who inspired him. One of the hottest tickets at this year’s festival is free; Van Sant and Franco will discuss their installation at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, Sept 10 at 5pm. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the theatre’s box office two hours before the talk, but the installation runs on a loop throughout the festival in the Lightbox lobby.