It's another queer year for TIFF — here are your 13 essential films
Your guide to TIFF's LGBTQ offerings, from Kristen Stewart to Virginia Woolf to a double dose of Xavier Dolan
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
The Toronto International Film Festival has been on quite the roll the last few years when it comes to programming LGBTQ films. Last year alone brought us Call Me By Your Name, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Disobedience, A Fantastic Woman and Battle of the Sexes, which followed a year where Moonlight was rightfully the talk of the town. Next week, a lucky 13 feature films (by my count, at least — there could be more queer gems hidden in the festival's massive lineup of 300+ films) will aim to follow in their footsteps. Here's the rundown so you can decide which ones to add to your TIFF to-see lists (or, if you're not in Toronto, to look out for hopefully soon enough).
On the heels of Sundance's Grand Jury Prize-winning The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which is currently in theatres), 2018 cinema's deep dive into the darkness that is gay conversion therapy continues at TIFF with the star-studded Boy Erased. Adapted from Garrard Conley's extraordinary memoir by none other than actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton (who also directs and co-stars), the film stars Lucas Hedges (graduating from great supporting turns in Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at TIFF last year) who is sent to a "program" when his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, neither playing Australians) find out he's gay. Surely the most Oscar-friendly of TIFF's queer content, Boy Erased (which also stars Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Flea and Cherry Jones!) is going to be a hot ticket at the festival — so you'd better act fast and get tickets here.
Filmmaker Rima Das heads to TIFF for the third year in a row (following Man with the Binoculars and Village Rockstars, respectively) with this coming-of-age drama about a group of young teenagers tying to come to terms with their sexual identities in rural India. Certainly one of the more under the radar LGBTQ-related films playing at the festival, it's also one of the least likely to make it to theatres at a later date. And if Das's wonderful previous films are any indication, it would be a shame if you missed it. Get tickets here.
Melissa McCarthy will quickly make everyone forget she was in The Happytime Murders come TIFF time with a rare dramatic turn in Marielle Heller's biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?. McCarthy plays writer Lee Israel in the film, a woman who — after spending decades writing profiles of everyone from Katharine Hepburn to Tallulah Bankhead — teams up with an old friend (Richard E. Grant) to start forging letters from famous deceased authors so she can pay the bills. In real life, both the people McCarthy and Grant portray were queer, and though I have yet to see how the film tackles that, word it is that it does so explicitly — which should be the least we can expect in 2018. Get tickets here.
Another biopic of a queer female writer comes to us via Colette, which stars Keira Knightley as early 20th century French writer and feminist icon Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The film already debuted back in Sundance to rave reviews for Knightley and filmmaker Wash Westmoreland, to whom Colette must feel like a bittersweet success. It's the first film he's made without his directing and life partner Richard Glatzer, who passed away shortly after their last film Still Alice won Julianne Moore an Oscar. Get tickets here.
Xavier Dolan's role in Boy Erased is only the icing on the TIFF anticipation cake when it comes to the Quebec actor and filmmaker. His immensely anticipated English-language debut The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is having its world premiere at TIFF, nearly a decade after his debut J'ai tué ma mère made a splash at the 2009 festival. Starring Kit Harrington, Natalie Portman, Jacob Tremblay, Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates, among others (though not Jessica Chastain, whose role was cut from the film "with the utmost respect and love" earlier this year), curiosity is high for how Dolan tackles the story of a secretive movie and TV star (Harrington) who begins a telling correspondence with a young boy (Tremblay). Get tickets here.
Another homegrown option comes in the form of Giant Little Ones, shot (and vaguely set, at least if you pay attention to a few exterior shots) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The film brings Kyle MacLachlan back from Twin Peaks to star as a father who leaves his wife (Maria Bello) for another man. But the focus is on their son Franky (Josh Wiggins), who begins to struggle with his own sexuality in the wake of a wild night with his lifelong best friend. What happens from there is a dark exploration of the complexity of sexual identity for teens in 2018 that's at times uncomfortably authentic (in a good way — it's one of the few films of this list I got to screen pre-festival). And if that doesn't sell you, may I assure you there's a monologue given by MacLachlan toward the end that almost gives Michael Stuhlbarg's Call Me By Your Name moment a run for it's money (calm down: I said almost). Get tickets here.
Winner of multiple awards at this summer's Cannes Film Festival (including the Camera d'Or for best first feature), Lukas Dhont's Girl is already Belgium's submission for next year's Academy Awards — and one of the most critically pre-approved films at TIFF. That said, the film — which follows a young girl assigned male at birth who is trying to realize her dreams of becoming a ballerina — does not come without controversy. Dhont's decision to cast a cisgender boy in the lead role rightfully drew backlash out of Cannes, though The Hollywood Reporter argued in its defence that it "might be next to impossible to find a transgender actor to play a pre-op girl who is the right age and who can also act and is a trained ballet dancer." Whether or not that's the case, you can choose whether to see for yourself whether Girl deserves its laurels when it screens at TIFF. Get tickets here.
The closing night gala of TIFF should be a very queer affair indeed when Justin Kelly (no stranger to LGBTQ-themed biopics after I Am Michael and King Cobra) brings his latest film Jeremiah Terminator Leroy to Roy Thomson Hall. Featuring a dreamy duo of actresses in Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, the film depicts the stranger than fiction story of writer Laura Albert (Dern) who adopted first a pseudonym and then an entire persona in JT LeRoy. But as LeRoy's career blew up writing books like The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Albert decided to cast her sister-in-law Savannah (Stewart) in the physical role of LeRoy. Just one thing: LeRoy is a teenage truck stop sex worker — and a boy. If that doesn't sound like a fun way to end off your TIFF, what does? Get tickets here.
Out actor Matt Bomer is about to have a big moment at TIFF, starring in both Viper Club and Papi Chulo. In the latter — directed by Irishman John Butler — he plays a gay Los Angeles TV weatherman who is forced to take a sabbatical after he has a meltdown live on air. Bored, he decides to do some home repair and in the process forms an unexpected bond with Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), the man he's hired to paint his deck. TIFF writes: "At once a heartwarming examination of empathy in action, a charming culture-clash comedy and a sharp critique of xenophobic stereotypes, Papi Chulo reminds us of the importance of truly seeing others...even while tending to our own internal wounds." Considering how dark most of the queer films on this list look, maybe some Papi Chulo will be just a nice break mid-festival. Get tickets here.
While audiences at Cannes earlier this year and now TIFF will have the pleasure of seeing Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki, audiences in the film's native Kenya will tragically not be so fortunate. The country's Film and Classification Board banned the film "due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law," warning that anyone caught in possession of the film — a love story between two young Kenyan women — could be punished with 14 years in prison. This only makes the film all the more imperative for audiences in less aggressively homophobic countries to experience the world depicted in Rafiki and become more aware of what's happening to LGBTQ people internationally. Get tickets here.
21 years after his debut film The Hanging Garden became the only film — LGBTQ-themed or otherwise — to ever win both the People's Choice Award and Best Canadian Feature at the festival, Thom Fitzgerald is back at TIFF with a return to the same themes: sexual identity, family and how they interact in the context of small town Nova Scotia. Adapted from the play by Lee-Ann Poole, Splinters follows a young queer woman (Sofia Banzhaf) who returns to her hometown for her father's funeral only to rekindle conflicts with her conservative mother (Shelley Thompson). Get tickets here.
Winnipeg-born Academy Award winner Anna Paquin heads to postwar Britain and falls in love with Holliday Grainger in Annabel Jankel's Tell It To The Bees, adapted from the novel of the same name. But here's a fun fact for you: the novel was written by Fiona Shaw, the author not to be confused by actress Fiona Shaw, herself a lesbian who starred opposite Paquin as Marnie Stonebrook on True Blood. Actress Shaw is also heading to TIFF: she co-stars in the previously mentioned Colette. Hopefully she and author Shaw can meet up for a drink and discuss all of the above. Get tickets here.
Joining Colette and Can You Ever Forgive Me? in TIFF's queer female author trilogy, Vita & Virginia gives us the love story between Vita Sackville-West (played by Gemme Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). Their affair and friendship in the 1920s has been said to be what inspired Woolf to write Orlando. Co-written by Dame Eileen Atkins (who adapted Woolf's book Mrs. Dalloway for the screen in 1997) and directed by Chanya Button, TIFF calls the film a "sumptuous double portrait traces their fiery connection from the moment their paths cross to the publication of the work that would be their shared legacy." Get tickets here.
Toronto International Film Festival. September 6-16. www.tiff.net