With a little help from Netflix, Inside Out is opening major doors for the future of LGBTQ stories

The festival kicks off with the Elton John biopic Rocketman, but its plan to rocket talent to the next level is the real story.

The festival kicks off with Rocketman, but its plan to rocket talent to the next level is the real story

Rocketman is opening the festival this year. (Inside Out)

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

Inside Out — the largest LGBTQ film festival in Canada and third largest in the world — kicks off tonight with the immensely anticipated Elton John biopic Rocketman. And while the high-profile nature of that film (along with other titles at the festival, like an episode of Netflix's Tales of the City reboot and Nisha Ganatra-Mindy Kaling collab Late Night) is certainly impressive, what's intrigued me the most about Inside Out as of late is its aggressive new strategies to propel the future of LGBTQ storytelling in this country forward.

Alongside a short film pitch competition, Inside Out now has the world's only LGBTQ film financing forum, which brings together Canadian and international feature film projects with a bunch of industry folks who can help develop them. And earlier this month, Inside Out made headlines when they announced they are entering a four-year partnership with Netflix "in support of LGBTQ filmmakers in Canada."

It's a development that Andria Wilson — entering her third year as the festival's executive director — is clearly very thrilled about when we sit down a few days before Inside Out begins.

"When we heard the announcement last year about Netflix committing to $25 million dollars to film development in Canada, we really wanted to find a way to be a part of that," Wilson says. "Because when it comes to queer filmmakers and the development of features and the development of episodic content in Canada, this is the reason we started the financing event — because we want to fast track these projects and we want to give them more support and more connection and more funds out of the gate."

Wilson and her team thought it was a great opportunity to approach Netflix and put together a proposal that "really outlined how some of this fund could be used to really make an impact on the development of queer film in Canada."

"That's what we have worked toward to put together with this with this new program," she says. "So the basic idea of the support and the four year commitment from Netflix is that it's going to allow us to really develop those industry and professional development programs to not just the next level but the next level after that." 

An image from Justine Stevens' Soft Spot, one of the many Canadian short films screening at Inside Out. (Inside Out)

Currently Inside Out's financing forum accepts 10 projects, with this year's including six Canadian and four international. Wilson wants to increase that number "significantly."

"We really want to step that up," she says. "We also really want to support episodic creation. This year on the programming side, you saw us launch the episodic stream of content, so we want to be involved in several different ways in how episodic content can be developed for independent production in Canada. And with the support from Netflix, it makes it possible. So for us, it's creating that infrastructure for us to actually be able to deliver these programs, and then also funds to contribute to the projects themselves."

So what exactly does that support from Netflix ultimately look like? Inside Out will be rolling out some announcements in the near future to further explain. 

"The first step was announcing this partnership exists, and we really wanted to reach queer filmmakers in Canada," Wilson says. "We wanted people to know: this is happening, stay tuned. Hopefully it's going to create a lot of change and a lot of impact. So later this year, and then early next year as well, we're going to be announcing how the money is going to be distributed through our professional development platforms. So we really want folks to stay tuned and stay engaged. We'll be doing a lot of outreach specific to these particular programs."

A promotional image from Trevor Anderson's Docking , which is screening at the festival. Anderson will also be pitching a project in the forum. (Docking)

Wilson says hearing that folks have negative things to say about the position of a festival being "small or niche or anything like that" really pushes her to use that an advantage as opposed to a disadvantage. 

"I think in the current climate that we're in, with the shifting distribution picture and how that's impacting mainstream festivals, we're actually really uniquely positioned as a niche festival — you know, that thing that people have not seen as a strength in the past. I think it's totally a strength, owning that and being able to say to potential partners like Netflix that we really have these connections to the community and that's where we want to we want to grow from there. Because who knows what the film festival presentation picture is gonna look like in five years? But we know that on the content development side, there's something that we can be a part of. So that really excites me."

It should excite all of us, really. LGBTQ storytelling — particularly episodic — is having an extraordinary moment right now, from Special to Vida (the second season of which is screening at Inside Out) to Pose to our very own Schitt's Creek. To have Inside Out's initiatives available to help Canadians build on that surely brings a welcome dose of optimism to any struggling queer filmmaker still looking from the outside in.

Note: A previous version of this story said Netflix was committing $250 million in Canadian film and TV. The number is actually $25 million.

Inside Out 2019. May 23-June 2. Toronto.

About the Author

Peter Knegt 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 spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.