Over the last 22 years, Hot Docs has grown from a small industry gathering to one of Toronto’s preeminent film events. Below are four of the fest’s queer best.
Whether its criminalizing sodomy or battling marriage equality, conservative activists have long begged society to, “think of the children!” And yet when it comes to kids being raised by same sex couples, no one seems much interested in what they have to say. It’s a dynamic that’s irked director Maya Newell. Having grown up in a two-mom household, she set out to record the day-to-day lives of four preteens with queer parents.
She takes a detached approach, allowing the stories to unfold without interference. Gus clashes with his moms about his love of WWE wrestling. Ebony is prepping to audition for a performing arts high school; a place she hopes will help her realize her dream of becoming a singer. Graham struggles with getting his reading skills up to par as he enters a new school. Matt is making a turn towards agnosticism, which puts him at odds with his mom who’s not only queer, but also a devout Christian.
Though it’s set against the backdrop of Australia’s marriage equality debate, Gayby is really about four kids figuring out their identities as they enter teendom. Ultimately, Newell’s film is less about the complexities of same sex parenting, than a glimpse inside four families who just happen to be queer.
Director Matt Wolf’s look inside the world of Hilary Knight began with a chance encounter between the celebrated illustrator and Lena Dunham’s ass. Though his work has appeared in over fifty books and hundreds of magazines, Knight is best known for Eloise; a children’s series about a precocious six-year-old who lives on the top floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel. Co-created with actress Kay Thompson during the 1950s, the mop-headed youngster who says and does as she pleases, has appeared in print across the globe for six decades, including the tattoo Dunham has on her lower back.
With her often baring all for her hit show Girls, word of the sketch of Eloise she’d inked above her bum made its way to Knight. He promptly had a box of signed books delivered to her, which led to a friendship and the creation of the film. While Eloise is its jumping off point, It’s Me Hilary forms a mini-survey of a quirky artist’s lifetime of ups and downs, fuelled by a constant drive to recreate the world as he wants it to be.
Tara Fallaux has a penchant for lives in transition. Her 2014 film Louis The Ferris Wheel Kid followed a teen who’s spent his life travelling with his family from one carnival to the next as he prepares to depart the fold, settling in one place for high school.
Over the Rainbow tackles a subject at the opposite end of life: 82-year-old Lenny Wiggers. After her mother passes away, the then 68-year-old Wiggers pursues her dream of cycling around the world. But when she hits the trails of New Zealand, she discovers more than breathtaking scenery, having her first affair with a woman.
Bent on making up for lost time, she returns to the Netherlands, ready to throw herself headfirst into gay life. Finding a community of older queer women, we follow Wiggers and her pals camping, kayaking, and cutting a rug at their local disco. As they share their stories, we begin to realize her late-life coming out is anything but conventional. Craving independence, Wiggers opted out of marriage and child-rearing in her 20s, intent on pursuing her passions for mountain climbing and bike racing. Though she came to loving women late, as Rainbow demonstrates, Wiggers has lived an undeniably queer life.
It’s hard to say much about The Amina Profile without falling into full-on spoiler mode. But audiences who followed the events surrounding the saga of Syrian-American writer and activist Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari will already know one major plot-twist from Canadian director Sophie Deraspe’s latest film. Author of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus, Arraf al Omari emerged as voice on queer and political issues in the Middle East, after contributing articles to American news site Lez Get Real. But when her writings caught the attention of the Syrian government in 2011, she was purportedly abducted and an online campaign for her release was launched.
Amina retells the strange story of the lesbian blogger who shot to international fame. But its main focus is actually Sandra Bagaria; the Montreal woman who carried on a lengthy online affair with Amina before she disappeared. Using interviews with Bagaria, online chats and emails the pair exchanged, as well as a combination of real and staged footage, the film defies classification. Part documentary, part mystery and part erotic thriller, it also becomes a sort of cautionary tale for the Internet age, reminding us that in a time of anonymous avatars and curated identities, no one is really who they seem.
Check out our interview with the director of programming at Hot Docs for more queer content at this year’s fest.