Culture  Out of the closet and onto the screen

Image+nation festival brings queer film to the fore

On November 4, Arizona, California, and Florida surprised the world by banning same-sex marriage. Since then, Grey’s Anatomy has made the choice to eliminate two of its non-heterosexual characters for their upcoming season. Fortunately, this kind of visual censorship isn’t as present in Canada, where marriage between same-sex partners has been legal since July 2005. In the same spirit, the image+nation is an important player in promoting respect for human rights.

Image+nation, now in its twenty-first year, seeks to broaden the false, narrow understanding many have of the homosexual community. The festival has garnered international recognition in recent years, and strives to offer films with a wide variety of perspectives on contemporary sexuality, explains Charlie Boudreau, executive director of the festival for the past ten years. The queer cinema, as it’s called, doesn’t just focus on coming out anymore. “There are 5,000 ways to be gay,” she says. New visions are emerging, and young talents are being developed.

Image+nation is not a barometer for society’s perception of different sexualities; it doesn’t exactly reflect highs or lows – but it does give us the opportunity to see some excellent movies on the big screen. Boudreau acknowledges that they’ve scored a point against the small American gay film industry, in which hopelessness has resulted in reductive movies. As Boudreau emphasizes, this festival – which once presented the first works of famous director Gus Van Sant – distinguishes itself with its edgy range of films, and by prominently showcasing new talent.

After a movie-watching marathon, I’ve prepared an overview of the festival, as well as previews of some of the movies worth checking out.

The festival image+nation presents a generation fighting not only for the acceptance of its diverse sexualities, but also for the respect of all human rights. In an age of crossing boundaries and pushing limits, the image of society offered by image+nation is not restricted to homosexuality, but embraces the young, contemporary generation filled with contradictions, questions, doubts, expectations, and desires – it is a truly multifaceted festival.



Be Like Others (Canada, USA, and Iran)

Totally disturbing , and genuinely touching. Director Tanaz Eshaghian’s film deals not only with the little-known realities of transsexual life, but also with Iran’s culture, which often seems intangible to North American audiences. Some aspects of the film are as unbelievable as they are unsettling: in the Islamic Republic of Iran, having a sex change is legal – but homosexuality is punishable by death.

In Tehran, two men deeply uncomfortable in their male bodies aspire to become women and, ultimately, gain more respect. But after traumatic surgery, nothing is resolved. The square camera lens acts as a metaphor for the government’s inflexible reasoning: everything needs its approval; homosexuality is a sin and transsexuality a mental disorder. Identity is only a piece of paper, and the soul wanders like an orphan. Be Like Others is a beautiful documentary with remarkable conviction, where sometimes silence is more profound than spoken words. A must-see.

Gay… so what? (France)

Jean-Baptiste Erreca travels the world to provide a picture of what he calls the “post-gay generation.” From Beijing and Paris, to the streets of Madrid, Havana, New York, and Berlin, we discover the identity and demands of this new generation. Full acceptance and communication are praised, while mere tolerance of homosexuality seems hypocritical.

Bit by bit, we are immersed in this contemporary counter-culture. We are brought to Madrid with transvestites during EuroPride 2007; to Beijing, where freedom of speech is subjected to the Communist Party’s control; to New York’s Greenwich Village and its new gay hip-hop generation; to Cuba, where lesbians have to hide; to Berlin, where the city’s most iconic gay man fights against drug abuse and unprotected sex; and finally to Paris, with the organization GaiLib and the controversy during Sarkozy’s election. Gay…so what? is a broad and well-constructed portrait of sexual diversity, offering unique arguments and beautiful cinematography.

Sex Positive (USA)

In this documentary, director Daryl Wein explores Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen’s efforts to encourage safe sex for homosexuals during the 1980s. At first, Berkowitz comes off as a total jerk. In the beginning of the documentary, he blurts out: “I’m 51 years old. I can’t think of anything less sexual than listening to an old fart talking about how he got his dick sucked in 1979.” Still, we get to see pretty quickly that Berkowitz’s frustrated, arrogant personality is what helped him to raise his voice, and champion the use of condoms in the homosexual community.

The film evokes an era where AIDS had just been discovered, and crazy speculations on the epidemic abounded. With a handheld camera, Wein achieves a wonderful sense of immediacy. Sex Positive is a touching documentary, essential for understanding the emergence of a crisis that increasingly affects us today.

Newcastle (Australia)

This Dan Castle film focuses on a group of gorgeous young surfers, and might well become a cult movie to young audiences. Jesse lives in the shadow of his brother Victor, a one-time surfing star. His other brother, Fergus, is gay and attracted to his friend, Andy.

Although the film insists on numerous full-frontal shots of bare-chested or nude guys, Newcastle is really a story about Fergus’s integration into his brother’s very heterosexual world. As entertaining as 2005 skateboard flick Lords of Dogtown , Dan Castle’s movie has some breathtaking scenes. It’s a captivating teen movie, well-adapted to the tone of the festival.

Otto; or, Up with Dead People (Canada and Germany)

Though this movie may seem hard to classify, it could simply be called a porn-horror-comedy. Otto, a zombie that suffers from amnesia, is hitchhiking his way to Berlin. Surprising events lead him to stay with Fritz Fritze, the star of a political-porno-epic-zombie movie Up with Dead People. Otto comes to remember his living days, and the circumstances of his death with his lover, Rudolf.

If you’re not already familiar with the work of director Bruce LaBruce, Otto; or, Up with Dead People can seem too multi-faceted to possibly work – but don’t be fooled. The experimental combination of aesthetics is what gives this director his own style. Melding the dark mood of German expressionism with satirical student films, this movie will win over even the most cynical viewer.

The New Twenty (USA)

This first feature-length film by director Chris Mason Johnson raises numerous questions without really answering any of them – such is the beauty of the film. The New Twenty exposes the downside of a long-standing friendship between five friends. Stepping into their world through an old picture filled with beaming smiles, we discover how very different they are from one another. Andrew is handsome, Julie is beautiful, they’ve been going out for some time, and they just moved into a new apartment together. Everything seems to be going well, but the fantasy does not last long. As the characters verge on their thirties, expectations shift. Felix, obsessed by Julie, loses himself in drugs. Ben tries to establish a cyber-identity instead of getting out into the world. Tony is forced to think over his future when he falls in love with an older man living with AIDS. Moments of humour offer this drama a bit of optimism. Life is a new beginning.

Short films

Une robe blanche (Canada)

A young man living in Berlin pays a woman to pretend to be his girlfriend when he visits his mother in Montreal. Maintaining a suffocating decorum keeps him from revealing himself, and his love for his mother prevents him from expressing himself honestly, as though he’s constantly under the scrutiny of a security camera. How can he bring himself to be open with his mom, when she keeps calling him “Kitty”?

Other shorts suggestions

1977, For the Love of God, Les Lapines, The Lonely Lights, Sleep Lines, The Window.