The Coast is Queer 2015

As always, The Coast is Queer gives us a variety of gems. Here are my faves:

Boner Fashion Show and 19th Birthday, by The Ryan and Amy Show. Two hilariously raunchy little shorts; one about a very unusual fashion show, the other about some aggressively gay-friendly parents.

Kiss and Tell, directed by Jackie Hoffart. A bunch of lovely little vignettes related to kissing, all tied to Vancouver streets. Beautifully shot, beautifully narrated, and definitely among my favourite shorts of the night.

The Out-Laws, by Shannon Kohli, a fun little slice-of life about a male couple and their extended family. Not a whole lot to say, except that one half of the couple is bisexual, and his gay brother-in-law (I think) is kind of an ass about it. This is apparently the pilot for a web series, and if it keeps up the bi visibility angle I’ll definitely check it out.

Family Is Like Skin is a documentary on lesbian life in Cambodia, directed by Paula Stromberg with the full participation of the local women. Some of the issues they face are very familiar—isolation, ignorance, familial rejection, forced marriages—but a lot of the political and cultural background is completely different. For one, Buddhism (the country’s official and majority religion) does not condemn homosexuality, nor is there any law against it. However, the government forbids public assemblies of any kind, so Pride parades are not possible. Right now the focus is just to build communities, break down barriers between women living in isolated towns, and promote honesty (and patience) with family members. Marriage equality is apparently not on their radar.

Same Boat, by David C Jones. It’s a surreal little piece where a musical lesbian couple shakes up the comfortable life of a bed-and-breakfast-owning husband and wife. I’m not a big fan of musical, but damn if this didn’t work! The songs were catchy, and the juxtapositon of musical lesbians with non-musical straight folks was hilarious. We’re all on the same boat, maybe heading for different shores…

Dissonance, by Anna Ngo: a beautiful animated short showing what happens when a trans boy tries to use the “wrong” bathroom.

The Right To Be Heard, by Krista Martin. A welcome and necessary documentary about the state of trans rights in Canada, with particular focus on federal politics (very timely, with the upcoming elections). Featuring interviews with several trans people, as well as NDP MLAs Mable Elmore and Spencer Chandra Herbert we hear about Bill C-279, and about problems trans people may face during their transition, if their gender presentation doesn’t match their official ID, which may lead them to being unable to vote.

Boy Meets Boy. A creepy, disturbing little flick about dating and vampires, where nothing is quite what it seems…

The Future Perfect, by Nick Citton, is a trippy tale of love, fatalism and time travel. In a weird dystopia where corporations compete to create favourable timelines, our protagonist is a time agent tasked with killing a child in the past and must struggle with the ethics of his job. Also starring Zachary Quinto as the disembodied voice of Mission Control, who falls / will fall / must fall in love with the agent.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d be blogging this year. Lots of stuff going on, not a lot of time, not a lot of spare energy, just a wee bit of stress… I didn’t need a repeat of the 2013 festival, where I loaded too many movies on my plate, burned out, and delivered the last one about three weeks late. I’d just go to the movies (how many? still TBD, TBH. Even as I write this I haven’t yet figured out my schedule), and maybe post short little snippets, like I used to before my blogging hit the big time.

But then, I saw Eisenstein in Guanajuato, the VQFF’s opening gala film. And soon enough, I felt a review welling up inside me, and it felt good.

So, Sergei Eisenstein: Soviet Russian film director, famous for (among others) Battleship Potemkin and October (a.k.a.: Ten Days That Shook The World). In late 1930 he embarked on a long trip to Mexico: financed by various Hollywood personalities, he was to make a movie of his own design and choice, but all the materials as well as the final product would belong to his backers. This film, directed by Peter Greenaway, tells the story of that Mexico trip, and the spell of love and death that Mexico cast on Eisenstein.

This is a crazy, weird trip of a movie, as zany and frantic as Eisenstein himself, filled with self-consciously artsy camera work, over-the-top profound discussions on love, sex, death, politics, colonialism, Soviet culture vs. Mexican culture vs. Hollywood culture, movie history, name-dropping every major Western film and cultural figure, from Charlie Chaplin to Upton Sinclair to George Bernard Shaw…

Oh, and there’s sex, too. Eisenstein is seduced by his (married) guide, Palomino—also a teacher of comparative religion—and they fall in love with each other. This is not just a superficial fling, but a serious relationship between intellectual equals who connect with each other on every level. It has to end, though. Eisenstein is eventually called back to Russia when his grand Mexican movie goes way over budget and his backers get pissy, but Palomino must stay with his family.

Visually, this film is absolutely amazing: stunning landscapes, loving eyefuls of Mexican architecture as well as Mexican life—those glass-entombed mummies, the creepy alleyway that Eisenstein explores near the beginning, and the creepy-fun Day of the Dead parade. More than that, though, this film is filled with techniques that harken back to old-school cinema: abrupt cuts to static close-ups, repeated three-way split screens, shots filmed in grainy old black-and-white… as well, more modern (probably) tricks with fisheye lenses and such. Now I’m kind of in the mood for some silent Soviet film! How much of this movie was genuine callbacks to Eisenstein’s œuvre, and how much was the director playing silly buggers? I am definitely curious.

My only complaint was that some of the dialog was hard to follow, what with the protagonists tending to talk a mile a minute with strong accents, but I didn’t really let it bother me. Their conversations were genuinely fascinating, and with those visuals you could never get bored. If I lost the thread of a scene, I could just pick it up again later.

All in all a great start to the festival! Beautiful, weird, zany, dramatic and intellectual—and best of all, it’s inspired me to blog again!

Fare Thee Well!

My third and probably last PuSh Festival show was Fare Thee Well!, an unusual art piece I caught today after work. To see it I had to get to the Lookout at Harbour Centre and look into one of several telescopes facing roughly east. For about 15 minutes I listened to sad, haunting instrumental music while a distant scrolling marquee bade farewell to various people and ideas, or showed classical quotes about goodbyes.

It was very high-concept, and it worked for me. What helped was that the messages were not all sad. One said “Farewell VHS players”. I think another was about rotary phones. “Farewell CBC” was followed by “Farewell Jian Gomeshi”. Some were downright ambiguous: for example, how should I read “Farewell Trust in the Father”? A sad acknowledgement of the breakdown of family structures, or a happy end to patriarchal authority?

There were a small number of “Welcome” messages, and all of them were either sad or disturbing. Most memorable? “Welcome Harper”. Yeah.

All in all, a job well done! My only complaint was that the setup in the Lookout needed work. The telescopes were too low, and having to look through them without moving was damn uncomfortable. There should have been some way to move the chairs up or down a bit.

And since this was my first trip up the Lookout, I made sure to take lots of pictures. It was the perfect time of day, too: just light enough to see details of the buildings, but dark enough to give them some magic.

7 Important Things

After the sublime and the philosophical, I came down to earth with 7 Important Things, the true story of baby-boomer-turned-hippie-turned-heroin-addict-turned-hair-stylist George Acheson. Directed and co-performed by Nadia Ross, it is a perfectly mundane, perfectly special story of dreams and despair, hope and disillusionment, sex and drugs and love beads.

The short play (about an hour long) is presented in a number of formats: semi-formal Q&As, projecting old photographs, re-enacting scenes from his past, monologues. It almost felt like a bunch of acting and motivation exercises, except that they actually managed to gel into a play. I got the definite impression that George is not an experienced actor (and his life story never mentions any passion for acting), though he held his own very well. And either way, it’s not a bad thing: that bit of roughness made the experience more authentic to me.

At the end, Nadia asks George to step up to the audience and just stand there, to “have them see you as I see you.” And we did: worn but not broken. Unmasked. Vulnerable. Alive. He went through a lot of pain and didn’t really change the world but in the end he found his place, and quiet happiness. We should all be so lucky.

Dark Matter

This was my first PuSh Festival show of the season, and boy was it a doozie!

I honestly had no idea what to expect, and the writeup didn’t help. And that was just fine by me, I was all ready to take whatever experimental mayhem the theatre would throw at me.

At first I was just… bemused. Performer and writer Kate McIntosh, along with her two sidekicks, just did a lot of strange quasi-slapstick antics, moving props around, getting in each other’s way… it looked frantic and meta, like a metaphor for the creative process, or behind-the-scenes work at any production. I couldn’t see a story or a pattern, but I patiently waited, trusting that it would all come together.

Then things got verbal. McIntosh and the others brought up abstract and/or deliberatly silly philosophical questions, and lectured us about Big Scientific Ideas, focusing on the Many Worlds Hypothesis—you know the one, it’s that interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that says every observation, every choice, actually branches off whole new universes that are just as real as the one we’re in now.

Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead when you open the box, in different realities. Instead of sitting in SFU’s Goldcorps Centre for the Arts, I could have tripped and fallen on the way to the show—fallen left, and I would have been killed by an oncoming truck; fallen right, and I would have found the love of my life.

(I didn’t make up that last example, by the way. McIntosh pointed in my general direction and speculated about the alternate lives of “the man over here.” I like that she was talking about a man meeting another man. Hey, it’s like she knew me!)

And so the audience got our brains massaged and stretched by the wonder of science, the weirdness of philosophy, and some general clowning around. Good stuff? Sure. Nothing too memorable though, I felt.

But then!

But then McIntosh lifted the backdrop a little.

Picture it: a solid black sheet pierced with little holes, lit from behind for a lovely starfield effect. And picture me: primed by all that high-flown cosmic cogitation, of time and space and higher realities. When the backdrop was lifted my brain clicked on the Aristotelian geocentric model, where stars are just holes in the outermost sphere (sound familiar?) letting in light from the Primum Mobile. This glimpse of the backstage lights, so bright to my dark-adapted eyes, was for a moment like looking into someplace outside reality. I was Dave Bowman entering the monolith, I was Dante reaching the heights of Paradise. It felt transcendent, almost a spiritual experience, and I don’t use that word lightly.

The play wound down soon after this. Its last few minutes were more quiet and low-key, letting me come down gently from my epiphanic climax—which didn’t stop me from gushing about it afterwards, repeatedly.

My brain was buzzing all the way back home, both at the experience, and the cleverness of juxtaposing such an old cosmology with modern theories. If indeed that was the intent. That’s the beauty of non-narrative performances like this, it’s easy to write your own interpretations. All I can say is, this is what I got out of it.

Fortunately I didn’t trip and fall once on the way home. On the downside, neither did I meet my future husband.

GIRLTRASH: All Night Long

This is an awesomely hilarious movie about sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, lesbianism, heartbreak, fantasies and lies. It’s silly and over-the-top, knows how silly and over-the-top it is, and just merrily rolls with it. And rocks with it. (See what I did there?) And did I mention it’s a musical? With some really catchy songs?

There’s not a lot more I can say. I mean, you don’t really care about the plot, do you? There’s a battle of the bands that must be won with pluck and determination, one girl’s in love with another who’s in love with a third but it turns out she really isn’t and actually bonds with girl #1 and in the end they totally do it. And we all learn valuable lessons about how wrong (or at least, really inconvenient) it is to lie to get what you want.

A great way to conclude this year’s VQFF! You always need to start and end on a high note, and this film absolutely delivered.

Salvation Army / L’Armée du Salut

This is the story of a man forever stuck between worlds: men and women, Morocco and Europe, rich and poor. The movie is based on an autobiographical novel by Abdellah Taïa and recounts the author’s adolescence in a small town in Morocco, followed by his emigration to Switzerland.

It’s a beautiful and fascinating look at conservative Muslim North Africa: a place where men and women are very much segregated, where public homosexuality does not belong but single men can still find action with a fifteen-year-old boy if they know how to look. Teen Abdellah is very much a cypher: he’s very stoic, hardly ever cracks a smile, quietly going through the motions: running errands, cleaning the house, meeting adult men for trysts… It’s not clear what he gets out of it: they’re never shown giving him money or gifts, except for a fresh watermelon from the fruit merchant, just once. Abdellah seems very disconnected both from his emotions and his sexuality, and though I appreciate that this is probably true to the book, I’m not sure it works in a purely visual medium.

Fast forward 10 years and Abdellah has moved to a pretty touristy seaside town, still in Morocco, and shacked up with an older, rich Swiss gentleman. Though he’s taken up speaking French and has his eye on Western culture, it’s clear his sugar saddy does not see him as an equal and hasn’t cared to integrate at all in Moroccan society, not even speaking a word of Arabic. The locals do still call Abdellah “brother” and don’t mind that he’s a kept boy, but again it means he doesn’t quite belong in either world, and the space he occupies is a lonely one with no room for peers.

Four months later Abdellah has arrived in Geneva to begin his studies. Unfortunately he has arrived early and his grant doesn’t kick in for another month, so he has no money and no place to stay. After wandering around the university for a bit, he runs into his ex-sugar daddy. It seems their breakup was not a friendly one, and they have a very bitter argument. Abdellah gets called a heartless whore but doesn’t let it get to him, proudly claiming he’s free, both of Morocco and of his ex.

Free or not, though, he still has no place to stay. Happening upon a Salvation Army homeless shelter, he decides this is as good a place as any. His new roommate is another Moroccan man who offers to sing a song while sharing a snack; Abdellah chooses what I assume is a traditional Moroccan song and as the roommate sings, Abdellah starts crying.

Cut to credits.

Really, it was that abrupt. I guess it was a deliberate artistic choice, and I’m guessing also that it reflects the novel, but it was extremely jarring and took me out of the story right at the wrong moment (talking to other audience members later, I wasn’t alone).

What I’m getting out of that last scene is that Abdellah isn’t nearly as free of Morocco as he’d like to think he is. He doesn’t have to live by its rules anymore, true, but the culture is still with him, for better or for worse (depending on how much he wants to assimilate in mainstream Swiss society). And we’re left with the unhappy thought that this may be his lot in life: to never really belong anywhere, to always have bits of his past calling to him in the present, clouding his future.

Or that’s what I’m getting out of the film, anyway. I can’t be sure because, as I said, it’s hard to get into Abdellah’s head. I found the look at Moroccan life fascinating, but without a personal connection to ground it, I felt as detached from most of the story as Abdellah himself. Maybe this is the kind of story that works better as a book.

Children 404

Children 404 is an online support forum for Russian LGBT teens that was created in reaction to Putin’s notorious “gay propaganda” law. Kids who access it get to connect with their peers; they learn that they’re not crazy, they’re not sick, and most importantly that they’re not alone. There’s also a private area where teens can get help from professional counselors donating their time.

This intensely moving documentary focuses on two people: Elena Klimova, the site’s creator; Pasha, an openly gay teen who’s moving to Toronto to study journalism. They talk about their hopes and wishes: for a better future, where Putin-fueled homophobia will be as unimaginable as segregation; for a family, kids, a house, just having a normal life, something that would never be possible in today’s Russia. They never asked to be activists, but what choice do they have? As Elena points out one one scene, even hiding won’t ensure your safety, and you’d constantly be looking over your shoulder anyway.

Interspersed with their scenes are several dozen short testimonies from Children 404 teens—anonymous, of course: we just hear their voices, and see shaky homemade footage of their schools or neighbourhoods. They talk about getting bullied, beat up, having to hide relationships from classmates, growing up believing they’re sick or abnormal or sinners. Hearing those voices drives home what a difference the site makes, every day, for hundreds of teens.

What surprised me about Children 404 is how positive it is. Yes, things are terribly hard now, but these amazingly brave souls are truly making a difference, changing hearts and minds. Not just queer ones, either: in an April screening of the movie in Moscow, the audience successfully resisted protesters’ and police’s attempts to shut the event down. To the straight audience members, this was a wake-up call that the hate is very real, and it does affect them too.

In the post-film Q&A, director Askold Kurov told us of more happy endings: Pasha is now in Toronto, and doing well in his studies. There’s been an uptick in refugee claims from Russia by GLBT people, but it looks like they’ve all been accepted. And best of all, the site’s legal troubles are over: the charge of containing homosexual propaganda that was laid against it, has been dismissed. They’ll keep on helping queer teens for a while to come.

Hope springs eternal. Russia will need a lot of it, but it looks like some people are moving it in the right direction.

The Coast is Queer 2014

I missed out on the last day of grass volleyball to see The Coast is Queer, that’s how dedicated I am! I would never miss this wonderful showcase of local queer talent.


As fun now as when it first showed last Saturday. Sissy power!

Trench Coat Lesbians

Hilarious and weird flirting between two “lesbians”, in the style of a 60’s B movie. Bonus: I learned more slang terms for “vagina” in those five minutes than I ever have in my entire life.

A Love Story

Michael Vonn fondly reminisces about her relationship with Billy, a drag queen who died of AIDS in 1988, and how it continues to haunt her (in a good way) to this day.

Up and Down

The story of a tomboy learning how to play the yoyo and hang with the boys. It’s not actually queer since she is interested in one of those boys, at least until her girlier older sister swoops in. But in a refreshing twist, the happy ending was not to end up in a couple, but rather to make friends and keep doing what she loved best.


A naked woman. By a lake. Eating a cake. Smearing all over herself. A fun little short by Michael V Smith.

Queer Arts Festival – SD Holman interview

Artist, photographer and Pride In Art Society Artistic Director SD Holman talks passionately about her work, the Queer Arts Festival, and why it’s so important to make space for queer / trans creatives.


In this moving documentary, Joella Cabalu turns the camera on her gay younger brother and her devoutly Catholic parents, bringing them together in one room for an interview. It’s hard to watch, since it’s less a conversation than people talking at each other… but it’s a start.

Interestingly, Joella narrates that she feels responsible for mediating between her brother and parents. It’s good that she brought herself into the documentary as more than a dispassionate observer because she is part of the story.

StandStill is tied for favourite with Orbitas and Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny (shown in Saturday’s Grrrls in Space).

Whispers of Life

An intriguing little short of a mysterious man who talks a bullied teen out of suicide. Gorgeous visuals and delicious hints of magic.

A Message

Who else but Clark Nikolai would do a short movie about an apocalyptic deluge of ejaculate from a distant galaxy threatening life on Earth? I hear he’s doing a sci-fi movie, too. Can’t wait!

Exempli Gratia

Clark Nikolai’s second offering, and it kind of went over my head. Found footage with lists of mental disorders? Maybe I need to watch it a second time for it to make sense…

Hall of Mirrors

A manically mysterious short. I don’t think I got this one either, but I still enjoyed it!

All Good Things

You start out both laughing and squirming in your seat as these two hilariously incompatible guys try to have sex. but the very last bit was disturbing since Guy #1 did not appear to consent to being fucked. There and gone, and honestly it’s only in hindsight that it started bothering me. Is this what the filmmakers were going for?

Punch My Tammy

A catchy little song about anal love…

Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy

A bit of history: in 1884, Belgian poet Albert Giraud wrote a collection of poems based on the Commedia dell’Arte figure of Pierrot, the sad clown always pining for Columbine. 21 of these poems were adapted into an operatic melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912. And then Bruce LaBruce got his hands on it.

What we end up with is a deliriously weird movie that as far as I can see only has the slimmest of connections with the original material: a black-and-white silent movie that feels like an experimental art-house piece, juxtaposed with the complete operatic score (with subtitles, since it’s in German), with a plot that has to be seen to be believed. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but not everyone did. I could hear some audience members fidgeting during slow bits and some straight up walked out halfway through. I get it, though: the (very fake) gore and murder might have crossed a few lines, and the whole thing was probably way too out there if you weren’t in the right mood.

In this reimagining Pierrot is a butch lesbian, already going out with her lady Columbine. But Columbine’s fat capitalist pig of a father susses out that Pierrot (who actually passes pretty well) is in fact a woman! Much drama ensues as the fat capitalist pig drags Columbine away, and Pierrot operatically curses her female body. If only she could change it, and show the fat capitalist pig she can be a man worthy of wooing his daughter! Cutting off her breasts is easy enough, but that’s only half the job. So Pierrot decides to check out strippers and hustlers in order to find the perfect penis to steal. A few attempted murders later Pierrot finds her prize, and shows it off to Columbine and her fat capitalist pig of a father. She’s horrified, but he seems to approve. The film ends on this ambiguous note.

Weird enough for you? On a scale of 1 to WTF, it still doesn’t beat gay zombies fucking each other’s open wounds, but the operatic dimension as well as the old-school film atmosphere puts it in a class of its own. Superb.

Fun fact: Susanne Sachsse, who plays Pierrot, also sings the operatic vocals. That’s damn impressive.