Arts·Queeries

From Bros to Bowie, 10 reasons this will be the queerest TIFF ever

TIFF 2022's many LGBTQ offerings include Billy Eichner's big studio rom-com, Harry Styles' turn as a closeted police officer, and Tegan and Sara's high school story.

TIFF 2022's many LGBTQ offerings include Billy Eichner's new rom-com and Tegan and Sara's high school story

Luke MacFarlane, left, and Billy Eichner in Bros. (TIFF)

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

In just a few days, the Toronto International Film Festival is kicking off what seems poised to be a major comeback after two editions hindered by you-know-what. And for the many among us desperate to watch some fresh queer cinema in an actual cinema, this is very good news indeed.

Because in addition to being the first full-blown (or close to it) TIFF since 2019, this year's festival is also looking like it could be the gayest on record.

The festival has 24 projects (22 films and TV series) listed under its 2SLGBTQ+ section, or roughly 1/8th of the total program. That's considerably more than back in 2019, when there were only a handful of queer films despite a much larger program (though that said, the films they had on offer were pretty extraordinary). And it honestly feels like more than I can ever recall in my many years covering the festival, at the very least in terms of actual queer voices being represented. Sure, the 2005 edition of TIFF had Brokeback Mountain, C.R.A.Z.Y. and Capote — but even though those are all great films, they're also all films that star straight people and tell the stories of white cis gays.

TIFF 2022 is about to show us we've maybe actually come a long way, baby (at least in this ultra-specific context!), and here are 10 reasons why: 

1. Bros and the second coming of the gay Hollywood rom-com

Arguably the most high-profile LGBTQ offering at the festival (though it has some competition, as you'll soon see), Bros is part of a far-too-long delayed return to Hollywood producing comedies about queer people. It has been 25 years since a mini-trend in the 1990s ended with 1997's In & Out (which, fun fact: also premiered at TIFF). Despite In & Out and its counterparts like The Birdcage and To Wong Foo all being financial hits, Hollywood basically went back in the closet.

But now — with both Bros and this past spring's fantastic Fire Island — mainstream gay laughs are back, and they are way gayer this time, with both films being written by and exclusively starring queer people (even in the straight roles).

In the case of Bros, Billy Eichner both co-wrote and stars in the film, with the likes of Luke MacFarlane, Ts Madison, Guillermo Diaz and Guy Branum joining him in the cast. And if the exceptionally hilarious trailer has anything to say about it, they are about to do us proud.

2. The other Harry Styles film: My Policeman 

Harry Styles' movie career is off to a bit of a messy start. Although the already legendarily chaotic lead-up to the Venice Film Festival premiere of Don't Worry Darling, his first film as a leading man, is now behind him (even though the memes from the premiere itself might live on for a while longer), Styles has a just few days off from the madness before heading to round two in Toronto.

This time, it's for My Policeman, an adaptation of Bethan Roberts' acclaimed 2012 novel. In it, Styles plays a closeted policeman in 1950s England who marries a school teacher (Emma Corrin) even though he's in a relationship with a man (David Dawson). Directed by queer British theatre director Michael Grandage, the film's production wasn't plagued with anywhere near Don't Worry Darling levels of drama, but Styles stirred up a bit himself when he fumbled too many questions about the film's LGBTQ content in a recent Rolling Stone interview.

Toronto may very well offer a redemptive conclusion to Styles' wild week on the film festival circuit, ideally with My Policeman being a really great film in the process (which early whispers suggest it will be).

3. The Inspection

The Toronto Film Festival is, of course, the unofficial kickoff to something very gay indeed: awards season. And the queer film with most buzz in that regard is The Inspection, which marks the first narrative film from director Elegance Bratton (though his 2020 documentary Pier Kids already showed his extraordinary capabilities).

Inspired by Bratton's own life story, The Inspection follows Ellis (Jeremy Pope), a young Black American who joins the Marine Corps in the era of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" after his mother (Gabrielle Union, due for an Oscar narrative) throws him out on the streets for being gay at the age of 16. Opening this year's Discovery program at TIFF, The Inspection already has the confidence of distributor A24 behind it — the same company that helped lead Moonlight to Oscar glory six years ago.

4. Documentaries on David Bowie and Nan Goldin 

David Bowie and Nan Goldin — two absolute legends of queer art and culture — are getting the documentaries they deserve at TIFF this year. And I can say this with confidence only because the reviews coming out of other festivals are absolutely glowing.

For Goldin, it's with Oscar-winning documentarian Laura Poitras' film All The Beauty and the Bloodshed, which premiered at Venice a few days ago (The Hollywood Reporter called it "a work of devastating power"). And for Bowie, it's with director Brett Morgan's Moonage Daydream, which debuted in Cannes earlier this summer (where The Guardian called it a "glorious, shapeshifting eulogy"). So whether you're a fan of either of the film's subjects — or just curious to know more about them — these are very pre-approved TIFF options.

5. Casa Susanna

Casa Susanna. (TIFF)

While the subjects of another LGBTQ-focused documentary at TIFF this year may not be as famous as David Bowie or Nan Goldin, that's all the more reason to find your way to them.

Sébastien Lifshitz's Casa Susanna explores a vibrant group of cross-dressing men and transgender women who would gather in the 1950s and 60s at a house in New York's Catskills known as "Casa Susanna." The legacy of this community was largely hidden until recent years, and Lifshitz's film gives it its most significant spotlight yet through both archival images and interviews with key figures from the group. It's likely to be the greatest LGBTQ history lesson to be taught at TIFF.

6. A Clea Duvall-directed TV series based on the youth of Tegan and Sara

While it may still be a film festival by name, TIFF has expanded into premiering TV series over the past several years, and among 2022's offerings is something very exciting: the story of everyone's favourite queer twin pop duo, Tegan and Sara.

Based on their joint 2019 memoir of the same name, High School explores their youth in suburbs of Calgary. The film is guided by co-showrunners Clea DuVall (who you may know as an actor in films like But I'm a Cheerleader and Girl, Interrupted or from her turn directing Kristen Stewart in Happiest Season) and Laura Kittrell (who wrote and executive produced several episodes of Insecure). Oh, and Cobie Smulders plays their mom!

7. LIDO TV

A very different TV show also centered on a queer musician, LIDO TV is described by TIFF as "a variety show unlike anything you've ever seen" that "dexterously explores themes of colonialism, beauty and feminism." Created and hosted by Polaris Prize-winning Lido Pimienta, the first three episodes of the CBC Gem series are being shown at TIFF, and are said to be "an eclectic combination" of animated spots, documentary segments, and comedy sketches. It also features appearances from Nelly Furtado, Shad, NorBlack NorWhite co-founder Mriga Kapadiya and artists jes sachse and Jessica Karuhanga. 

8. A truly extraordinary lineup of up-and-coming Canadian filmmakers exploring LGBTQ stories

This Place. (TIFF)

TIFF may be best known as a launching pad for Hollywood fare, but it's an also an incredible window into the state of Canadian cinema, and this year looks to mark a truly momentous moment for this country's LGBTQ-focused storytelling.

Mostly from first or second-time filmmakers, TIFF is offering seven films with queer subject matter: Mercedes Bryce Morgan's Fixation, Ashley McKenzie's Queens of the Qing Dynasty, Gail Maurice's Rosie, Joseph Amenta's Soft, Luis De Filippis' Something You Said Last Night, Sheila Pye's The Young Arsonists, and V.T. Nayani's This Place. All of them are worth your consideration as much as anything else at the fest (I've seen a few of them already and have nothing but good things to say). Also, hot tip: it might be slightly easier to get tickets to these films than, say, Bros or My Policeman

9. Incredible queer filmmaking from around the world

Will-o’-the-Wisp. (TIFF)

There's a whole world of LGBTQ filmmaking outside of Hollywood and Canada, and this queer TIFF of TIFFs is showcasing that too. The masterful Portuguese auteur João Pedro Rodrigues is bringing his Will-o'-the-Wisp to the festival, and TIFF is describing it as "near-unclassifiable" in its blending of historical tableau, musical comedy, queer romance and post-colonial provocation (it's also only 67 minutes long, which sometimes is just what you need when you're seeing three films a day).

Prolific French artist Christophe Honoré (who directs not only film but theatre and opera) is offering his most autobiographical film to date in Winter Boy, the story of a young man reeling from unexpected tragedy. And hot off wins for both the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and the Queer Palm for best LGBTQ film at Cannes, first-time Pakistani filmmaker Saim Sadiq is having the North American premiere of his film Joyland at TIFF. Following a Pakistani family as they come to terms with their son performing as a trans dancer, TIFF called the film a "staggering debut."

10. The Whale (yep, he's gay too!)

A heavy man sits in a room.
Brendan Fraser as Charlie in The Whale. (TIFF)

You may have caught the viral clip of Brendan Fraser tearing up through the standing ovation for his performance in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale got at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend. Well, that performance is now on its way to Toronto (and likely, an Oscar nomination) — and you may not have realized, but it's for playing a gay man.

Queer screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter has adapted his own play, which centres on an obese man (Fraser) trying to reconnect with his daughter (Sophie Sink) years after he abandoned his family for his gay lover, who has since died. (Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler — it's essentially the film's logline.)

Normally, we'd be annoyed at yet another straight actor gunning for an Oscar by playing a gay role. But we are so deeply rooting for Fraser's comeback that he gets a pass. It also helps that the vast majority of other queer roles on this list — and some straight ones! — are being played by actual queer actors.

This year's Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8–18. To buy tickets, click here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 hosting the video interview series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded 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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