Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Xtra writers contribute to Inside Out

Just Friends and Bully This debut at LGBT film festival

The Xtra short Bully This looks at students fighting for gay-straight alliances.

Not only is Xtra covering Inside Out this year; the festival will also feature two film debuts linked to Xtra staff and writers.

Ever since the Halton Catholic District School Board told Xtra writer Andrea Houston about its ban on gay-straight-alliance clubs (“We don’t have Nazi groups either,” one trustee said) in January 2011, she has tirelessly followed the story of GSAs in Ontario, often joined by Xtra video producer/director Frank Prendergast and videographers Scott Humphries and Simon Baker.

At the end of 2011, Xtra chose a group of out-and-proud high schoolers from across the GTA as “Newsmakers of the Year” and invited them to the Pink Triangle Press offices for a photo shoot by N Maxwell Lander. Prendergast saw an opportunity to capture the kids’ upbeat energy in a new way as they told their stories directly to the camera.

“Andrea’s been the lead on this story,” Prendergast says. “We were happy to piggyback on the work she’d done and the relationships we’d built.”

The result, edited down to a snappy three-and-a-half minutes, is Bully This, Prendergast’s entry in the Inside Out festival.

“Some of the students had stories that really encapsulated the whole issue,” Prendergast says. “Writers can paint beautiful pictures with words, but video can convey emotion very effectively.”

Houston says she’s thrilled to see the students’ stories continue. “I feel an emotional attachment to those first video interviews,” she says, “and any time there’s an opportunity to open up the GSA issue to a different audience, that’s amazing.”

As the story continues to unfold, with the ongoing provincial debate over anti-bullying Bill 13 and wider appeals from students, Houston says, “This could be a full-length documentary.”

Prendergast agrees but says the editing (by Humphries) was deliberate.

“There’s definitely enough material,” he says, “but we wanted to pack a lot of impact into a piece that would get the story across quickly.” In this case, he says, less is definitely more.

Artist and Xtra contributor Chris Dupuis says his Inside Out film could never have been a written article.

“It never occurred to me,” he says. “In Toronto, I’m primarily known as a writer, but I knew what to do with this idea immediately.”

In his video piece, Just Friends, four men face an off-screen friend who asks them if they’d be interested in turning their friendship into a sexual relationship. Dupuis recruited Cole J Alvis, James McLean, Matthew Romantini and Jordan Tannahill for his film. Two of the men are actors, the others aren’t; the short intercuts their various reactions in documentary style as Dupuis ponders, “How do we preserve a friendship once that bridge has been crossed?”

The thoughtful pauses and awkward silences give Just Friends an immediacy that a newspaper article couldn’t achieve, Dupuis says. “Writing is the most fluid way to have output, but doing this as a video piece came as a fully formed idea pretty quickly.”

That said, each of the four interviews ran from 30 to 45 minutes, for a final short of four-and-a-half minutes. “Our editing choices were very specific,” he says.

Dupuis is excited the piece was selected to screen at Inside Out. “Finding a home for this kind of work is surprisingly difficult,” he says. “Many film fests now prefer slickly produced narrative shorts. Inside Out is one of very few queer fests that runs experimental work.”

Dupuis says his work for Xtra is “driven by seeing other artists I want to talk about,” while his video work “taps into the universality of some life experience I carry around with me.” In his mind, the page and the screen happily coexist.