All you need is a library card to watch these 10 fantastic LGBTQ films

Libraries in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver Island are making it easy to catch up on some great queer cinema.

Cities across Canada are making it easy to catch up on some great queer cinema

Clockwise from top left: The Chambermaid, Sebastiane, The Times of Harvey Milk, Parting Glances, The Watermelon Woman and We Were Here. (Courtesy)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

A few weeks ago, Torontonians were given something they're generally not used to in late January: good news. The city's public library system announced that it would join the ranks of libraries in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver Island by offering films for free through the streaming service Kanopy. All you need is a library card. And even better news? The service is actually stacked with fantastic films that aren't always that easy to find — queer cinema included.

Armed with my own library card, I spent the last few weeks perusing that very selection. And while admittedly not everything in the LGBTQ section is worth your time (I won't name names, but definitely steer clear of half of the "LGBTQ Comedy" section), there were more than enough offerings to come up with this list of 10 recommendations:

The Chambermaid

If you haven't heard of Luxembourgish actress Vicky Krieps, you haven't seen Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread yet. That should probably be your first order of business, but your second should be Kanopying your way to Ingo Haeb's 2014 German import The Chambermaid, which stars Krieps as Lynn, an obsessive compulsive chambermaid who begins an S&M relationship with an androgynous dominatrix. But Fifty Shades Goes Gay In Germany this is not. The film is much more gentle (and funny) than you'd expect.

Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger

"Transgender-dyke. Reluctant-Polyamorist. Sadomasochist. Recovering-Scientologist. Pioneering Gender Outlaw. Meet Auntie Kate." That's the mighty, mighty tagline for this wonderful 2014 documentary, which gives epic multi-hyphenate Kate Bornstein a well-deserved spotlight as she takes us on a quest to dismantle gender and answer some of life's biggest questions. Kate Bornstein is queer and pleasant, indeed.

Keep The Lights On

If you've read Bill Clegg's astonishing memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, you only know half of the story. Clegg's ex-boyfriend Ira Sachs tells his side of the story in the semi-fictionalized 2012 film Keep The Lights On, which follows a decade in a relationship haunted by drug addiction. It's an astoundingly textured film that will stay with you long after you move on to your next Kanopy stream (which, unfortunately, right now does not include any of Sachs' other films — though definitely find a way to see Love is Strange and Little Men if you haven't yet).

Parting Glances

It's not easy to find Bill Sherwood's 1986 film Parting Glances, a pioneering exploration of urban gay life at the height of the AIDS crisis. Featuring Steve Buscemi's first major film role (and he's amazing in it), it follows a 24-hour period in the lives of gay men living in 1980s New York City with grace and frankness. Unfortunately, it was the first and only film the world would get from Sherwood — he died of complications from AIDS a few years after the film was released.

Pit Stop

One of the most underappreciated great LGBTQ films of the past decade, Yen Tan's 2013 film Pit Stop (co-written by David Lowery, who directed last year's similarly underappreciated A Ghost Story) is a subtle and poetic love story between two lost gay men in small town Texas. More optimistic than its setting would suggest, Pit Stop should be at the top of your Kanopy queue.


It always destroys me a little when someone hasn't heard of Derek Jarman, the English filmmaker stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author who, among many other things, is the reason we have Tilda Swinton (see #8 here). Quite a few of his films are on Kanopy, so while I suggest a full-on Jarman marathon, newcomers might want to start with his 1976 directorial debut Sebastiane, which portrays the events of the life of Saint Sebastian in a way only Jarman could. Just a warning though if you happen to actually turn this one on in the library: there's an extraordinary amount of full-frontal male nudity.

The Times of Harvey Milk

Speaking of people all LGBTQ people should be aware of, murdered American gay rights icon Harvey Milk is the subject of Rob Epstein's 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. While surely more people are aware of Milk through Gus Van Sant's starry 2008 biopic Milk, this film — which won an Oscar for best documentary, quite the feat considering the year it came out — is absolutely worth your time as well.

The Watermelon Woman

Widely considered to be the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman (a play on Melvin Van Peebles's 1970 film The Watermelon Man) stars Dunye herself as a young woman working a day job in a video store while trying to make a film about a Black actress from the 1930s. Hilarious and sexy while still saying so much about the invisibility of the characters it portrays, The Watermelon Woman deserves the classic status it's been attaining as of late — in 2016, the Museum of Modern Art added it to its film collection.

United in Anger and We Were Here

Back in December I made a plea in this column for everyone to give themselves a cinematic education when it comes to the history of HIV/AIDS. Kanopy offers plenty of opportunity in that regard, not least among them Jim Hubbard's 2012 documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP and David Weissman's 2011 doc We Were Here: The AIDS Years in San Francisco. Are they always easy to watch? No. Will you feel educated, empowered and enlightened after? Hell yes.

Check out all Kanopy has to offer here.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.


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