What's queer at Hot Docs? A guide to everything LGBTQ at North America's biggest documentary event
There are 10 LGBTQ-themed films screening during the festival's 25th anniversary
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Over the past 25 years, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival has brought so many LGBTQ stories to Toronto screens. I vividly remember one of them being the first film I ever saw at the festival: The Cockettes. As a 17-year-old, Bill Weber and David Weissman's ultra-fabulous exploration of the gender-bending San Francisco performance group who became a 1970s phenomenon blew my mind — which is exactly what you want the best documentaries to do. And I can only imagine many minds (no matter their age) will find themselves in similar states over the next 11 days, as Hot Docs celebrates its anniversary by — among many other things — giving us another annual batch of docu-queerness. And in that regard, here's your guide!
Excuse my ignorance, but I don't know much about the band Imagine Dragons, save that they sing that song about being radioactive and that other song about being a believer. But turns out the band's singer Dan Reynolds is a devout Mormon who had a serious awakening when he found out about the suicide rates of LGBTQ youth in Mormon-heavy Utah. As documented in Don Argott's film Believer, Reynolds decided to do something about by teaming up with openly gay Mormon performer Tyler Glenn of the band Neon Trees to create a music festival designed to build bridges between the church and LGBTQ folks. Hot Docs calls it "a powerful story of standing up for what you believe in and using your voice to amplify those unheard" and I'm basically already crying. Check out screening times here.
Filmmaker PJ Raval made one of the most affecting LGBTQ documentaries in recent memory with 2014's Before You Know It, and now he's back with Call Her Ganda. The film looks at the murder of Filipina trans woman Jennifer Laude by visiting U.S. Marine Joseph Pemberton through the eyes of three women — activist attorney Virgie Suarez, transgender investigative journalist Meredith Talusan and Jennifer's mother, Julita — who came together to demand justice for Jennifer. Hot Docs says the film "forges a profoundly humanistic geopolitical investigative exposé from personal tragedy," which, given Raval's previous film, is not hard to believe. Check out screening times here.
It's not the sequel to Love, Simon but just randomly happens to 2018's second Love, Someone-titled LGBTQ film, and an powerful-sounding one at that. The National Film Board of Canada-produced film — with music by Sigur Rós, no less — gives us the story of musician Scott Jones, who was brutally stabbed outside a nightclub in New Glasglow, N.S. because he was gay. He was left paralyzed from the waste down, and we witness his journey into a new reality of limited mobility through the lens of his friend, filmmaker Laura Marie Wayne. "Moving compassionately between their shared past and present, the conversations between the filmmaker and her subject are honest and healing," Hot Docs says, and we can only imagine they'll be transforming audiences over the festival. Check out screening times here.
A late, great fashion designer once said that "when I'm dead and gone, people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen." Eight years after his tragic death, Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui's new film McQueen confirms just that through rare and extraordinary archival footage and intimate interviews with McQueen's inner circle that come together as — as Hot Docs notes — "an authentic celebration of the iconoclastic designer." Sure to be one of the hottest tickets at the festival, if you want to take in this story of a true queer icon, you should probably see if tickets are still available right now.
Though not as well-known as Mr. McQueen, another LGBTQ legend is getting the documentary treatment at the festival and his story is just as worth your time. In the late 1960s, Ellis Haizlip — openly gay and Black — produced and hosted SOUL!, the first nationally broadcast all-Black variety show on U.S. public television. Putting poetry and politics front and centre, he helped bring the likes of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Patti LaBelle and Ashford & Simpson into the mainstream. This documentary — directed by Sam Pollard and Melissa Haizlip, the latter being Ellis's niece — shines a light on "the complex man who was the SOUL! of it all." Check out screening times here.
Yasemin Samdereli's documentary is essentially a quarter queer: it looks at the evolution of four 50 year+ romantic relationships, one of which is a septuagenarian gay couple. And their story is pretty wild on paper. In 2000, over 30 years into their relationship, Norman MacArthur and Bill Novak found a loophole to get themselves legal rights when Novak legally adopted MacArthur as his "son". Then, when marriage was finally legalized in their state of Pennsylvania a few years ago, they couldn't get married because of their legal status as father and son. There's more to their story (plus three other couples, including a Japanese pair forced to marry and Indian inter-caste love marriage), but I've probably already said too much. Check out screening times here.
In Obscuro Barroco, the late Brazilian transgender icon Luana Muniz (who just passed away last year at the age of 56 — the film's final screening on May 6th will be on the one year anniversary of her death) narrates what Hot Docs calls "mesmerizing impressionist poem that takes us to the heart of Rio de Janeiro's festive nights." It's the second film from France-based, Greek-born artist Evangelia Kranioti, and if it's anything like the first — 2015's stunning Exotica, Erotica, Etc. — you should expect quite the visual ride. Check out screening times here.
This German-imported film takes on one of Canada's most radical exports: Bruce LaBruce, G.B. Jones and the Toronto queercore scene. As Hot Docs notes: "Challenging both mainstream gay and homophobic punk scenes, queercore became a self-fulfilling prophecy that circled the globe and changed the world in true DIY DGAF fashion, influencing everything from music to the riot grrrl movement to the Queer Nation zine." It's quite the story, and obviously one well-suited to engage with in the city at its centre. Hopefully it'll inspire a few locals to punk their own revolutions in LaBruce and Jones' honour. Check out screening times here.
Looking for some perspective? In The Silk and the Flame, we meet Yao Shou, a closeted gay man living in Beijing who supports his entire family financially — but is tortured by the fact that he cannot fulfill his father's dying wish to continue the family bloodline. This all intensifies when he goes to his visit his tiny hometown, where his mother has become deaf after an accident and his wheelchair-bound father is living his last days. "A confessional portrait that clearly displays the strained family dynamic," Hot Docs says, the film "captures the impossible conflict and pain that come from trying to please a family and culture that don't accept you as you are." Check out screening times here.
Canadian filmmaker Michael Del Monte introduces us to Janae in his new film Transformer. Janae was once Matt "Kroc" Kroczaleski, a U.S. Marine turned world record-holding weightlifter — and "a poster boy for masculine body image." But in the summer of 2015, "he was publicly outed as transgender," Hot Docs explains, "and quickly dropped by sponsors, banned from competing and renounced by his parents." From there, Janae rose up against odds, and if you're looking to feel inspired, her story is probably a very solid bet. Check out screening times here.
In addition to these films, Hot Docs — in association with moi, full disclaimer — holds an annual party to celebrate LGBTQ films at the festival that's open to anyone. It has a silly name, and takes place this Friday, April 27th at Milk Glass on Dundas West.
CBC Docs is a sponsor of Hot Docs; here's where you can find their films at the festival. There'll also be free ice cream throughout the festival in the CBC Docs Ice Cream Truck, which is all our favourite things in one place.
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. April 26-May 6. Toronto. www.hotdocs.ca