With queer films becoming more and more prominent in the mainstream, it is often easy to forget about the margins from where they emerged. Of course, a “true” history of queer films is difficult to trace – thousands of trees worth of scholarly papers have revisited classic Hollywood texts, acknowledging queer sentiments in cinema through the work of artists ranging from James Whales to Rock Hudson. Films that dealt explicitly with queer desires and issues, however, were rare for a long time. In the article “Moving Gay Films Into the Mainstream,” New York Times writer Chloe Veltman acknowledges that “for many years, the work of gay filmmakers was virtually invisible beyond niche circles.” A significant shift in this history came with the emergence of the New Queer Cinema movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This saw a growth in the production of queer films, along with a wider distribution.
Now in its 24th year, Montreal’s Image+Nation film festival was born out of this movement, and offers a variety of feature-length and short films. These films continue in the tradition of the New Queer Cinema, while challenging and redefining what queer cinema means. Image+Nation is an international LGBT film festival, and the oldest exclusively queer film festival in Canada (Despite its progressive nature, Image+Nation still defines itself as only an LGBT festival, rather than the more inclusive terms like LGBTQ or queer).
This year’s festival has already seen a diverse and exciting array of events. Highlights include a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, and a 20th anniversary presentation of Jennie Livingston’s seminal drag ball documentary, Paris is Burning. Although there are only a few days left, there are still a number of great films you could catch.
I spoke with McGill English Cultural Studies professor Alanna Thain, who is currently teaching “Sexuality and Representation: Queer Screens,” about what will be some of the more interesting films presented in the final days of Image+Nation.
Weekend, by UK filmmaker Andrew Haigh, has been receiving a lot of buzz and was acclaimed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Weekend follows a Friday-to-Sunday romance between a pair of young men, which the festival’s website describes as a “brief window [that] provides a glimpse of the poignantly honest process of two men getting to know each other over a weekend of sex, drinking, sharing stories, and taking drugs.” Thain believes the theme “breaks out of the queer cinema ‘ghetto,’” while another reviewer commented that Weekend offers “a sense of authenticity and an eye for details that reminds us of the works of Cassavetes and Mike Leigh.”
There are also a number of promising documentaries still screening at this year’s festival. (A)Sexual by Angela Tucker explores the growing visibility of asexual people, and the their struggle to find a place for theselves within the LGBTQ community.
L’Amour Fou takes place in 1958 when a then 21-year old Yves Saint Laurent took over the house of Dior, and chronicles his subsequent relationship with business partner Pierre Bergé. The documentary, “filled with rare archival material and exclusive images of their homes,” pays tribute to the late fashion designer, his art, and his philanthropic contribution to the fight against AIDS.
Finally, German filmmaker Rosa Von Praunheim’s Rent Boys (Die Jungs vom Bahnhof Zoo) takes a look at Berlin’s hustler culture. Focusing on the experiences of male prostitutes, Von Praunheim ventures to Romania, from where a number of Berlin’s male prostitutes hail.
Although international in scope, many films bring us closer to home. Montreal filmmaker Donald Winkler’s Margaret & Evergon explores the relationship between Canadian photographer Evergon and his mother. In addition, Matthew Hays, a film critic from the Montreal Mirror and author of The View from Here: Conversations with Gay and Lesbian Filmmakers, will host Screening the Epidemic, a special illustrated conference that historicizes the AIDS crisis in film.
Finally, the festival will close with Leave it on the Floor, a musical that sparked a lot of intrigue at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film is described as “an urban musical, its score weighted with the emotional honesty of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the break-out-singing bravado of Glee.”
With so many diverse options packed into the final four days of the festival, do yourself a favour by broadening your queer film repertoire beyond Brokeback Mountain and Milk. Check out one or more of these promising independent films by some of the queer art world’s best established and rising artists.
Image+Nation started on October 26th and will end on November 6th. See image-nation.org/2011/ for more details.