Inside Out, Toronto’s annual LGBT film festival, is set to electrify the city one year after its milestone 25th anniversary with a diverse slate of substantial, stylish and sexy cinematic offerings.
This year’s festival kicks off on Thursday, May 26 and runs until June 5. It’s comparable in size to programs of prior years but includes a special presentation not just on the debut weekend but on the second as well.
We spoke to Inside Out’s program director Andrew Murphy, who touched on some of this year’s highlights.
“This year was about ensuring we have excitement going through the whole festival. A lot of festivals tend to top-load over the opening weekend but then drift off. I wanted to keep the momentum going through all 11 days,” he said.
“We were able to add a second special presentation in our second weekend, so our first weekend is top-heavy with the opening gala, the women’s gala and one special presentation. But going into our closing weekend, we have Thursday night’s premiere of Local Heroes, our partnership with the AGO in First Thursdays, and then moving into Friday, we have the second special presentation with Hurricane Bianca…I hope we’ve created a nice book-end with a lot of great content.”
Aside from his excitement about this year’s stellar selection of films, Andrew is also looking forward to the moments between screenings.
“Once the festival is actually happening, it’s that tangible thing – that real thing – I enjoy. I like finally meeting the filmmakers who I’ve been talking to over six or eight months – having them here, giving them that Inside Out hospitality, going to dinner, doing the Q&As, setting up panels for filmmakers – that’s my biggest joy during the festival proper,” he said.
In advance of the festival, we were granted the privilege of previewing a handful of films. Check out our capsule reviews first, then our pick of five additional features you’ll want to catch:
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four – Saturday, May 28 at 2:45 p.m.
Deborah S. Esquenazi’s powerful documentary chronicles the cases of four Latina women in San Antonio who, during a period of satanic paranoia, were wrongfully convicted of heinous criminal acts due to the fact that they are lesbians. Partners Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera, as well as their friends Elizabeth Ramirez and Kristie Mayhugh, were accused of gang-raping Elizabeth’s two young nieces. The quartet’s sexuality was pointed to as proof of their guilt, perceived as something devilish, and leading conservative San Antonio to the conclusion that the women were part of a coven of gay witches. The innocent women all received a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The concoction of archival news footage, deteriorating home video recordings and newly shot interviews gives this compelling (and equally infuriating) story the platform it demands. An immersive experience not to be overlooked.
Burn Burn Burn – Sunday May 29 at 9 p.m.
In this endearing story that’s as much a love letter to the U.K. as it is a story of truth and acceptance, Seph and Alex (Laura Carmichael and Chloe Pirrie) are two friends who embark on a road trip to scatter the ashes of Dan, the recently deceased third part of their trio. Equipped with instructions about where to leave his remains via video recordings he made in the days preceding his death, the women visit four spots across England and Scotland to lay their friend to rest. Their journey over the lush, rolling hills of the U.K. also puts them face-to-face with long-suppressed secrets and hard realities they haven’t had the courage to confront. Seph struggles to recognize the emptiness in her relationship while Alex processes the infidelity of her partner Pandora.
Laura Carmichael shines in the layered role of Seph, fresh from her stint on Downton Abbey, while the rich storyline leaves the viewer wanting the women’s trek to last a few moments longer. The soundtrack is superb and the cinematography breathtaking.
Jonathon – Tuesday, May 31 at 7 p.m.
Writer-director Piotr J. Lewandowski’s German drama intersects a coming-of-age story with a coming out experience. Jonathon (Jannis Niewöhner) lives on a remote farm in Germany where he tends to his sick father Burghard (Andre Hennicke). When caregiver Anka (Julia Koschitz) arrives to relieve Jonathon of his duties, she prompts a sexual awakening that surfaces just as deep-rooted family secrets are unearthed.
The stunning landscape of rural Germany is expressed with beautiful cinematography (the fine physique of Jannis adds to the visual appeal of the film). The performances are raw, the writing takes risks and the narrative contains refreshing twists on the traditional tropes of gay tales.
The Intervention – Tuesday, May 31 at 9:30 p.m.
Clea DuVall‘s directorial debut is a sharp and charming picture that is reminiscent of the college buddy reunion classic The Big Chill. The film plays out like a couples therapy retreat, with three pairs gathering at a rural Georgia residence to encourage the split of a fourth and unsuspecting couple. There’s the insistent and utterly hilarious alcoholic Annie (Melanie Lynskey) and her subservient partner Matt (Jason Ritter), the genuine and likable lesbian duo of Jessie and Sarah (Clea and Natasha Lyonne), the laid-back, carefree Jack and Lola (Ben Schwartz and Alia Shawkat) and the couple about to be ambushed, Ruby and Peter (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza). Ultimately, everyone gets placed under the microscope.
The writing is witty and engaging, and the diverse dynamics portrayed are entertaining and moving. An absolute must-see.
Miles – Saturday, June 4 at 4:45 p.m.
Set in 1999 and based on an inspiring true story, director Nathan Adloff’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale is also a sports underdog film. Miles Walton (Tim Boardman) is a 17-year-old gay high school student in Pondley, Illinois with dreams of attending college in Chicago to study film. When his father Ron suddenly passes away, his mother Pam (Molly Shannon) discovers Miles’ college fund was spent on a young woman Ron was having an affair with. Devoid of the financial backing to break out of his conservative town, Miles tries out for his school’s volleyball team in an effort to win an athletic scholarship. The catch is his high school only offers a girls’ volleyball team.
Next to the courageous moves Miles makes to pursue his goals in the film, the performances of the actors who bring the story to the screen are compelling. Young Tim shows promise in a challenging role while Missi Pyle turns in a controlled and sincere performance as Leslie Wayne, Miles’ supportive and impassioned coach.
Other People (opening film) – Thursday, May 26 at 8 p.m.
As David (Jesse Plemons) travels home from New York to Sacramento to care for his ailing mother Joanne (Molly Shannon, in her second film of the festival), he’s forced to face many unaddressed struggles, including the inability of his father (Bradley Whitford) to accept his homosexuality.
Closet Monster – Wednesday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) is a sexually confused, artistically stifled high school student longing to escape the confines of small town Eastern Canada while trying to outrun the emotionally scarring impacts of a brutal hate crime he witnessed as a child. His talking hamster Buffy (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) acts as both his conscience and a source of comfort.
Little Men – Wednesday, June 1 at 9:45 p.m.
Jack is a reserved high school student with dreams of becoming an artist. When his parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, he quickly befriends Tony, a popular, athletic boy his age. Their flourishing friendship is tested when circumstances out of their control threaten to pit their families against each other.
Hurricane Bianca – Friday, June 3 at 7:45 p.m.
After New Yorker and gay teacher Richard is fired from the school he’s relocated to in small town Texas, he makes a sassy return by disguising himself as a sharp-tongued, hilarious lady. Bianca Del Rio stars alongside some of her RuPaul’s Drag Race castmates as well as Alan Cumming and Margaret Cho.
Kiki (closing film) – Sunday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m.
This documentary follows seven young members of New York’s LGBT community who confront their battles with homelessness, illness and prejudice via their performances at events called Kiki Balls.