Is Inside Out Playing It Safe At 21?
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Is Inside Out Playing It Safe At 21?

Opening gala film Loose Cannons.

This year’s Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival kicks off Thursday for 11 days of films, galas, and parties. In its 21st edition, Inside Out will show over 80 films at its new home, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, to an estimated audience of 35,000.
The festival has chosen to focus on the United Kingdom for its international programme, showing the made-for-television adaptation of the Sarah Waters novel The Night Watch for its closing gala, episodes of the BBC television show Lip Service, and Centrepiece film Weekend, about two men trying to turn a hook-up into something deeper. For fans of documentaries, there are a healthy number of films about queer icons, such as The Advocate for Fagdom about filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, and L’amour fou on designer Yves Saint Laurent. Also interesting is a series of films about life in the Middle East, with the standout being Offside, a tale about young women in Tehran disguising themselves as men in order to catch a football match, by imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

A still from Offside, part of the 24 Hours in the Middle East series.

Alongside gala films Night Watch and Weekend is Loose Cannons ( 2.5 STARS ), which opens the festival. The film is a spiritual cousin to I Am Love, the Tilda Swinton film from last year, in which hidden romantic feelings unravel a tightly wound industrial patriarchal Italian family. It never gets as silly as Love, but it’s equally dull and predictable. Cannons, while well-acted and elegantly executed, never reveals enough of the characters’ motivations and misses the opportunity to use the tensions between class, gender, and age to make a solid point.
Cannons is an odd choice for an opening film, as it is neither particularly modern nor particularly insightful. Instead, it’s comfortable, gentle, and—worst—familiar. (Something like the documentary Together, about the discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in China would have been our pick.) Cannons isn’t a bad film, but we’re forced to wonder why it has such prime status at Inside Out, and, by extension, why there’s a glut of bland films that will deal with the “humorous” contrivances and complications of fucking (eCupid, Buffering, the series Sexy Boys) including that blanched variant of “trying to bang that straight guy or girl, who may or may not be as straight as initially thought.”

Centrepiece film Weekend, part of the International Focus on the United Kingdom.

Part of the issue is that the queer ecosystem has changed rapidly over the last six months. Toronto voted in a conservative mayor who has many scared that he’ll defund the Pride Festival as soon as he can. Queer students in Catholic high schools across the province are fighting bullying and a bureaucracy that won’t allow them to congregate safely in gay-straight alliances. Nationally, Harper has said he wouldn’t reopen abortion or gay marriage debates, but with his majority status and a socially conservative base, activists wonder how much weight to put on his promises. So, while few people could have predicted things would get so gloomy—last year’s QUAIA debate is almost small beer in comparison—the programming at Inside Out feels mildly out of touch.
While this year’s Inside Out still offers much to enjoy (and over the next few days we’ll be previewing the highlights), we can’t help but anticipate next year’s line-up, hopefully with an array of films that are fiercely political and tap into this year’s hot-button issues. (Surely, the series on the Middle East is an acknowledgement of the arguments surrounding QUAIA.) There would be documentaries like Out For The Long Run, about the difficulties and triumphs of openly queer athletes in high school and college. There would be more films about the struggles in Toronto—beyond the Hogtown Homos program we can’t wait to catch. There would be an opening gala film that, like a real cannon, would rumble through our systems with its passion and awaken our imaginations with its roar.