Canada's oldest queer film fest embraces universal stories

The boom in queer Quebec filmmaking has organizers of Montreal’s Image+nation, an LGBTQ film festival, looking at expanding from a handful of venues to an online space, as well.

31st edition of Montreal’s Image+nation festival sees it move beyond 'coming out stories,' organizers say

Shorts and features from local filmmakers and abroad are part of the 11-day film festival, which runs until Dec. 2. (Couteau Dans le Coeur/Image+nation)

The boom in queer Quebec filmmaking has organizers of Montreal's Image+nation, an LGBTQ film festival, looking at expanding from a handful of venues to an online space, as well.

Festival director Charlie Boudreau said there was a time when all submissions could find a place in the fest, but those days are long gone.

"This speaks to a community that wants to see itself," Boudreau said. "We get 700 to 800 [short films] per year but are showing 25."

This wasn't a problem when a motley crew of intellectuals and activists launched the festival.

It was the only film festival of its kind in Canada at the time.

Programming director Katharine Setzer said that the tone of the stories being told has evolved since the festival's inception.

"There used to be an urgency to see oneself on the screen, because you couldn't, but that's changed," Setzer said.

As mainstream television and movies increasingly include queer characters, it has given Image+nation the space to tell more rounded-out stories — not just ones focused on coming out.

Boudreau said the films are "moving past validation" into themes that speak to a larger human experience.

Canadian issues

One festival spotlight is Made Au Canada, which showcases the best in Canadian cinema.

Among films under the spotlight is the second feature by filmmaker, multimedia artist and former CBC broadcaster Sook-Yin Lee.

It's called Octavio Is Dead and is based on a paranormal experience Lee had in Catalonia.

A dead poet was still inhabiting a Barcelona home she was staying in, and she could tell it did not appreciate the intrusion.

"Growing up Chinese-Canadian, ghosts are not new," she said.

It's common practice in Chinese culture to leave offerings and food for dead relatives, she said.

But that kind of connection isn't what she felt with the presence in Barcelona — she felt he was upset to have her there.

Well-known Quebec actress Marie Brassard joined the cast after agreeing to live in Lee's Toronto home during the 17-day shoot.

Lee said it was because the production was so cash-strapped, but Brassard considered it like an art residency.

"She is so brilliant," Lee said. "I've always loved her."

Joining Lee's quasi-docudrama is a documentary nearly 20 years in the making called Fruit Machine — a look at the stories of survivors of the "gay purge" of Canada's military and public service.

Filmmaker Sarah Fodey structured the movie as a series of portraits of former civil servants and military veterans who were victims of the purge that began in the 1950s and continued well into the 1990s.

This is one of the images shown to public servants who were suspected of being gay, as part of the so-called 'fruit machine' testing during the Cold War. (CBC)

She first became interested in exploring the topic in 2002, but she held out on releasing the film until there was some kind of conclusion to it.

"The film needed its resolution, its third act," she said.

That came in 2017 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an apology in the House of Commons to those caught in the gay purge, and the federal government reached a settlement with survivors that includes $110 million in compensation.

Queer Quebec

On Monday, the Phi Centre, a multidisciplinary space located in Old Montreal, will play host to Queerment Quebec, a local shorts program that both Setzer and Boudreau say is the highlight of the festival.

The night celebrates local filmmakers.

"It's a moment for them to shine," Boudreau said.

But with its success has come the problem of having to edit who gets in.

"We had so many submissions, we had to make some really hard choices," Setzer said.

The Phi Centre said the event is always a big success.

"We host them every year. It's a great collaboration," said spokesperson Myriam Achard

Setzer has been with the festival for 20 years but still felt anxious in the days leading up to the launch.

 "I had a little moment today where I felt in control, and things were going smoothly," she said Tuesday.

"Once we take the stage and say, 'The festival is on,' there'll be a sigh of relief," she said.

The festival runs until Dec. 2, with screenings in half a dozen venues around Montreal.


Elysha Enos


Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.