Celebrating its 30th year, the INSIDE OUT Festival takes place May 27 – June 6, 2021 this year virtually. After being delayed to September last year, the Film is back with several festival favourites coming right out of Hot Docs and SXSW, to be made available to viewers Ontario-wide. In addition to Features, there will be a wide selection of 2SLGTBQ+-theme Shorts and Episodic programming available as well.
Our George Kozera (Twitter: @PartyG) had a chance to preview some key titles from this year’s Festival already. See his thoughts!
LANGUAGE LESSONS (OPENING NIGHT GALA)
Not only does the opening night movie of the 31st annual Inside Out Film Festival arrive from winning the Audience Award at SXSW, it is also short-listed to be on my personal best of 2021. In addition to Natalie Morales directing LANGUAGE LESSONS, she co-wrote and co-produced this pearl of a movie with her co-star, Mark Duplass (a brilliant indie mega force who never disappoints).
Adam (Duplass) and Carino (Morales) meet Rom-Com cute; he’s in his boxers when he hears a voice coming from his laptop only to discover he’s been gifted, by his husband, to receive Spanish lessons. Their rapport is almost instantaneously easy-going and laced with humour until the second scheduled session begins with a tremendous tragedy in Adam’s life and their relationship turns from teacher/student to a new and solid friendship with peaks and valleys.
LANGUAGE LESSONS takes Covid-restricted cinematic storytelling to new creative and elegant heights as it is more than just two people talking on Zoom. I urge all to screen this on May 27th and experience a movie filled with love, laughter, tears and insight.
As a teenager growing up in Montreal, along with 100 million others, I read “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (*But Were Afraid to Ask) by U.S. Physician David Reuben. It didn’t answer everything I wanted to know. Years later, as a young adult, I read Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”. The mud riddled with sexual questions was getting clearer, but I was still in the dark. Oh, the things we had to do then to get answers before Al Gore invented the internet!
36-year-old queer Health Reporter turned Filmmaker, Alex Liu, was also as much in the dark as I was in my formative years. He made A SEXPLANATION for “people like me who feel so tortured about their sexuality, they feel compelled to make a Documentary about it”. This is NOT your mother’s Sex-Ed class! Due to the unimpeachable charm of Alex Liu, he makes topics as diverse as shame, the link between sexual health and mental health, parenting, relationships and the impact of pornography with insightful interviews from experts and even his immediate family with whom he opens and closes this Documentary with. Fearing this Movie would be as dry and clinical as those books I read quickly vanished when Liu opens with his “talk” with his parents and grandmother – how can one not be immediately smitten when the first thing his father asks if that’s what he’s wearing for the filmed chat and to at least straighten the collar of his tee-shirt. Rest assured, A SEXPLANATION is not played for quick and cheap laughs. A myriad of topics is discussed with insight. Ultimately, what impressed me the most with the Documentary is Liu himself. As our guide, he reacts to the information receives much like we would. He’s embarrassed asking a question or has this endearing nervous giggle at times. His reaction to the answer when filming a representative from Porn Hub telling him the top searches on that site from men and women mirrored mine!
Total sexual knowledge will always be elusive. A SEXPLANATION succeeds nicely with clearing some of my remaining mud.
Beyto (Burak Ate) looks to have it all. He’s handsome. He’s a talented swimmer hoping to represent his adopted home of Switzerland in competition. He is well respected at his office job. And, as the only child of Turkish immigrants, he helps at the family kebab restaurant in Zurich. Despite his large group of friends, he can’t ignore the intense attention paid him from Mike (Dimitri Stapfer).Mike is not only his swim coach, he also provides vegetables, with his shirt wide open to show off the abs, for use at Beyto’s family restaurant. We quickly learn that the attraction is a mutual and the two men start a relationship. When seen hugging and partying at a Pride parade by two of his mother’s gossipy friends, Beyto’s sexuality is no longer a secret, much to his parents’ dismay and cultural upbringing. To correct this perceived wrong, Beyto’s parents force him to join them on their annual visit back home to a small village in Turkey with the pretext that his grandmother’s health is rapidly failing but to trick him into an arranged marriage with his childhood friend Seher (Ecem Aydin). The results are catastrophic.
There’s a lot I admired about BEYTO. I loved being immersed in the small Turkish village: its traditions were revelatory to me and I genuinely admired Writer/Director Gitta Gsell’s choice to have a young person with developmental issues to be portrayed so lovingly and respectfully. Burak Ate has epic screen charisma and Ecem Aydin registers beautifully as her character copes with a marriage to a gay man, learn to adapt to a new way of life in Switzerland and dream of establishing a career for herself. I can forgive the occasional lapses into melodrama that BEYTO falls into and the character of Mike, which wavers between predatory at first then unyielding, can be perceived as soap operatic but Dimitri Stapler handles these with aplomb.
BEYTO handles its many delicate and provocative subject matters with grace and maturity, and I recommend it highly.
EVERYTHING AT ONCE
EVERYTHING AT ONCE is a Documentary about the history of Kink Magazine and the two Catalan Photographers that created it. Paco and Manolo are real-life partners who gave up their individual careers decades ago and singularly focused on photographing nude males, committing them to print in magazine form. Despite being called “Kink”, it is not about fetishes – just a bunch of dudes letting it all hang out for everyone to see! It’s easy to see that Paco and Manolo have been together for many years as they finish each other’s sentences and lovingly bicker as well as to who’s memory of an event is the correct one. Along the way, interviews are conducted with many of the “Kink” models; these chats occur before, during and after their respective photoshoots. It was fascinating to hear their many personal different thought patterns and reactions.
I’ve always felt that photography never gained the respect it is due when this unique expression of artistic vision is compared to other works of art, be they painting or sculpture or music. Whereas I gravitate more towards the work and visions of Bruce Weber, Greg Gorman and Mapplethorpe, Paco and Manolo’s end results are more naturalistic with clever use of shadows and surroundings.
What I truly disliked about EVERYTHING AT ONCE were the subtitles. Replete with spelling errors, grammatical errors and head scratchers like “Dedicated to all those names that now are part of the firmament”, so much more sense could have been made with a quick grammar check before the final print. That said, considering two thirds of this Documentary has handsome Mediterranean men au naturel, I suspect many in the audience won’t even notice!
POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
Based on true events, POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA takes us on a magical journey of Director Wes Hurley’s life. First as a young gay boy growing up in Vladivostok USSR in the ’80s and then in Seattle with his mail-order bride mother. Two different settings, each unique in tone and execution, and just when you think you are getting a grasp on the situation, this Movie smacks you on the outside of your head and says “ya think??”. It defies expectations and I haven’t been this captivated and entertained since “The Shape of Water”.
I will give away no plot points or outlines because the beauty of POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA is in its humour and the progression of the characters’ lives. But I will say this…as young Potato, Hersh Powers gives the best screen performance I have seen since in some time. In my fantasy movie awards world, Lea DeLaria will win copious awards for Best Supporting Actress playing the grandmother. Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls, Dancing with the Stars) and Dan Lauria (TV’s The Wonder Years) were pleasant surprises.
When one character says “our lives are like Russian movies. Nothing good ever happens. Bad guys always win” and is told “then believe in American movies” how could I not love POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA so much so that I have to say it twice. Emphatically. I LOVED POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA.
Set in Los Angeles, SUMMERTIME uses its large, diverse Cast of unknowns and high school performers and we watch as their lives intersect and the storylines progress with most of the dialogue articulated with poems, prose, rap, hip hop and even dance. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada‘s creative vision is enhanced with the stunning Cinematography from John Schmidt (Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) bringing new depth and appreciation of L.A. landmarks. With a cast of almost 30 cinematic neophytes on screen, one does run the risk there are going to be some less than talented performances, but the weaker ones are earnest and watchable. However, special mentions must be paid to Tyris Winter, Gordon Ip, Marquesha Babers and Maia Mayor for outstanding work.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been able to develop an appreciation for Poetry. It started in high school with Emily Dickinson and continued when I was bartending at a bar that had a monthly poetry night. But I enjoyed SUMMERTIME more when I equated the poems said to characters breaking out in song in musicals. I also loved the one Twyla Tharp inspired dance routine.
SUMMERTIME is unique and I applaud all involved for taking risks and showing us a new way to see movies.
BOY MEETS BOY
BOY MEETS BOY is described in its press release as a movie inspired by the Mumblecore genre. I had to look that term up as it was new to me. Funny enough, it has nothing to do with Benicio Del Toro’s performance in “The Usual Suspects” but it is used to define independent movies that are low budget, dialogue driven and about characters in their 20s and 30s. BOY MEETS BOY meets that criteria.
With 48 hours left before Harry (Matthew James Morrison) must leave Berlin to return to the U.K., he sends his online hook-up home and hits the bar where he sees Johannes (Alexis Koutsoulis). They share a kiss. Eventually, in the harsh light of day, Harry realizes he needs to print out his boarding pass and Johannes offers to help with that task. Once that’s accomplished, the two decide to spend the day together and walk around as the drugs they’ve ingested start to dissipate and get to know each other better. Topics discussed range from insipid to personal and include favourite sex positions, favourite foods, dating apps, employment status, religion and so on. They talk a lot, and we see that a genuine connection between them is occurring.
Much like the Inside Out Audience Award winner in 2011 “Weekend”, BOY MEETS BOY is an honest love story where the characters seek authenticity, validation and commitment. The performances from the two lead actors are extraordinarily strong and truly believable. I am a fan of dialogue driven narratives and BOY MEETS BOY ticked all the right boxes. And it has a killer remake of the KC & the Sunshine Band’s classic “Please Don’t Go” from K.W.S.
YES I AM – THE RIC WEILAND STORY
In truth, the sad reality is that since the dawn of time, every Film Festival shows a “less than good” movie. What makes the pain more poignant is when that movie is one you were genuinely excited to see. That was the case with me and the Documentary YES I AM – THE RIC WEILAND STORY. I never heard the name before but read that not only was he the high school friend of Bill Gates and Microsoft’s first Computer Programmer, he eventually turned to philanthropy leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in support of LGBTQ causes. The Documentary started off well as we learned, through interviews with Gates and others, that as straight-laced as he was in business, at night he partied to excess with a group of guys whose motto was “our heels are high, our morals are low” and his car had personalized licence plates which read YES I AM in case someone saw him making out with a guy in the front seat. Then, inexplicably, screenwriter Wade Laurels and Director Aaron Bear switch gears and devote around 30 minutes of the movie to the AIDS crisis in America, a topic significantly better addressed in many award-winning Documentaries and has nothing to do with Weiland other than the fact that he was diagnosed with the, then, deadly disease. Returning to the subject matter at hand, now Weiland is just too rich for words, describing himself as a strategist activist and is suffering with extreme self-loathing and depression. Whereas the last act of this Documentary features some laudatory statements from the recipients of Weiland’s generosity, it focuses more on his friends who spew “armchair psychologist” babble rather than any valuable insights as to why Ric Weiland committed suicide.
I’ll give the Filmmakers responsible for getting YES I AM – THE RIC WEILAND STORY made a B- for intent, but a solid D- for execution.
MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY
Musicians Bertie (Idella Johnson) and Fred (Lucien Guignard) have been married for two years and are living at Fred’s family home in Anduze France, a place so beautiful it is proof of a higher being. We can ‘t help but notice that when MA BELLE. MY BEAUTY opens, that Bertie seems out-of-sorts and is throwing major attitude in her husband’s direction. We quickly then see Fred picking up Lane (Hannah Pepper) at a local train station to see if she can cheer Bertie up with the surprise visit. The reception is only cordial at first but slowly warms-up. At a party the three attend, Lane meets Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), a stunningly beautiful Israeli artist and they quickly hook up, having sex in the bedroom next to Bertie and Fred’s. This does not sit well with Bertie.
This recent Audience Award winner at Sundance had me very confused. MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY is being sold as a study of polyamorous relationships. Whereas there is a quick throwaway line directed at Fred that implies he was the third in the relationship between Bertie and Lane, but that is never made explicitly clear. Did their relationship include him or only just other women? We know that Bertie is upset that Lane did not attend the wedding and was incommunicado for two years, but much of their historical background is kept out of reach to the audience.
Despite not enjoying the somewhat surly nature of Lane, there is much I liked about MA BELLE, MY BEAUTY. The Jazz soundtrack and songs and music performed in the Film were luscious as is the beauty of the French countryside. I just felt that I bought into something that was incorrectly packaged.
Inspired by a real-life event that occurred in Bucharest Romania, POPPY FIELD is one of the more important movies of the Festival that should be seen. We first meet Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) as he welcomes his boyfriend Hadi (Radouan Leflahi) arriving from Paris. Their reunion is joyous, if somewhat strained. When Cristi’s sister surprises them with an unannounced visit, he becomes distressed, despite his sibling’s virtually immediate acceptance of Hadi. We quickly learn why. Cristi is a member of the Romanian gendarme, deep inside the closet who continues the charade with his fellow military officers of complaining about failed relationships with women. When the gendarme is called in for an intervention at a local movie theatre showing “The Kids Are All Right” by a homophobic, religious fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist group, Cristi is visually taken aback. When threatened to be outed by a protester, he responds violently.
POPPY FIELD must be commended for tackling many sensitive issues surrounding homophobia and hypermasculinity. Listening to the hatred spewed by the religious zealots is no different to the gay slurs made by the military, including from Cristi himself, as they make similar impacts. They are ugly. They damage one’s psyche and soul. Mericoffer’s performance, which won him a Best Actor award at the Torino Film Festival is remarkable, an astonishing blend of volatility and self-refection with some self-loathing and angst thrown in. Director Eugen Jebeleanu must be commended for his straightforward storytelling.
POPPY FIELD is not easy viewing, but it is essential viewing.
CAN YOU BRING IT
In 1989, New York critics were unanimously and overwhelmingly enthralled with “D-Man in the Waters”, renowned Choreographer Bill T. Jones‘ groundbreaking Ballet about the devastating AIDS crisis at that time. Dealing with the loss of his partner of 17 years from the disease, Arnie Zane, it is piece that encapsulated all the fear, grief and sadness that affected many due to the epidemic with athletic, muscular, poignant and exuberant motions and musicality. CAN YOU BRING IT is not only a Documentary about the original production, it intersects with a revival of the piece in 2015 by the students from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. With interviews from some of the original dancers, as well as Jones himself, we also watch the rehearsal process of the new interpretation of the original and how motivated these young classically-trained dancers are.
It took “Best Boy”, the feature length Documentary I saw at TIFF during its infancy, to introduce me to a movie genre I would always ignore as I, then, associated the word “Documentary” with the ultra-dry, overly-educational stuff on national public broadcasters. Having since seen hundreds upon hundreds, I can honestly say that after I finished watching CAN YOU BRING IT, the first thing I said to myself that I felt privileged to view it. Not only was I mesmerized by the dance piece itself, the back stories of how “D-Man in the Waters” was created and the love and testimonials from the original troupe were heart wrenching, especially when remembering the people they lost to AIDS. In contrast, The University scenes were equally fascinating as these young dancers equated the feelings explored in the original production to their own personal fears or concerns whether it be gun violence or the misinformation many social media outlets spew.
CAN YOU BRING IT is a fascinating account of a pivotal piece of art and not only honours Bill T. Jones, but it will inspire those who wish to make a mark on the world.
HOW TO FIX RADIOS
HOW TO FIX RADIOS is the only Canadian full-length narrative feature screening this year at the Festival from a uniquely gay male perspective. Set in rural Ontario, this debut work from Filmmakers Emily Russell and Casper Leonard focuses on a new friendship between Ross (Dmitri Watson) and Evan (James Rudden) who work together to clean up the debris of an unused bait shop for the owner to sell it as land property. Evan is soft-spoken, introspective and a dedicated to the tasks at hand. Pink-haired Ross is more outspoken, quick to judge and slow to work. Slowly…very slowly…a bond between these two (and Ross’ sister) develops.
Whereas the Filmmakers undoubtedly have a great eye as HOW TO FIX RADIOS to nicely photographed, they need significant experience in the art of storytelling. The secondary characters border on cliché; why are homophobes overweight or have an IQ lesser than their waist size? As much as I enjoyed the cinematography and the earnest performances from Watson and Rudden, nothing of importance happens until the 62-minute mark in the 90-minute movie. By then, I was quite uninterested in the outcome.
A DISTANT PLACE
Jin-woo, alongside his five-year-old niece, works at a sheep farm owned by people who have become like a second family to him. Far away from the stress of city life, he basks in the tranquility and solitude. When his former male lover, Hyun-min, arrives from Seoul to start a new job teaching Poetry at an adult education class, their embrace is loving and they quickly restart what they once had together. Their life at the farm is idyllic but in the closet. Shortly after, Jin-woo’s twin sister arrives to take back the daughter she left in the care of her brother and tensions begin to appear. When a loud fight between the twins occurs at a public event, what was once speculated upon by all in the countryside was confirmed and Jin-woo’s sexuality was no longer a secret. His once quiet life was now in emotional turmoil.
One rarely sees a movie as beautiful as A DISTANT PLACE. Filmed in the countryside of Hwacheon County in South Korea, the Cinematography is exquisite. Whereas the pace of this Movie is languid, never boring, scene after scene took my breath away. The performances by the ensemble are subtle and sublime, never encroaching an iota of falsehood.
With the well-deserved critical acclaim and audience attendance paid to “Parasite” and “Minari”, Korean cinema is no longer a niche and has ridden to the forefront. I am hoping Korea submits this film for consideration to win the Academy Awards.
A DISTANT PLACE opens with the death of an old sheep and closes with the birth of baby one. In between, we see how life can be filled with adversity but with love and family, it does prevail positively.
DAWN, HER DAD & THE TRACTOR
Shelley Thompson’s assured directorial debut with DAWN, HER DAD & THE TRACTOR impressively explores the themes of acceptance, understanding and family. Dawn returns home to Antigonish, Nova Scotia to mourn the recent death of her mother much to the surprise of her father and older sister. When she left home five years prior, she was still Donald. With Dawn being mechanically skilled, father and daughter work together to restore an old tractor that will end years of estrangement.
This Movie is beautifully-photographed and the story, laced with some humour, moves briskly and efficiently. Whereas, as Dawn, Maya Henry is just shy of being ready to carry a Feature film, the Supporting Cast shine bright. Robb Wells (Trailer Park Boys) as the father, Amy Groening (related to Matt, Creator of “The Simpsons”) as the older sister Tammy and, especially, Reid Price (as Tammy’s fiancé Byron) illuminate the screen. I can forgive the occasional lapses into clichéd territories DAWN, HER DAD & THE TRACTOR falls into as the Movie tackles many emotional and uplifting scenarios with grace.
Titles will be available after May 27, 2021. More on the Festival here.