I’ve got somewhat mixed feelings about Pat Mills’ Guidance. It’s very funny, enjoyable and inspiring in an oddball sort of way, but it feels like two separate movies which don’t really work together.

Meet David Gold, former TV child star. Twenty years after being on the air, he can’t even hold down jobs recording feel-good affirmation tapes because all he’s really good at is drinking, smoking, alienating his family, compulsively watching tapes of his glory days, and denying his gayness.

Out of desperation he answers an ad for a high school counselor. With no experience, no references and only minimal prep work (ie: watching a few online videos), he manages to bullshit his way through the interview under a fake name and land the job!

Yes, the school was pretty desperate too, which sortakinda justified the whole setup. My disbelief needed a lot of suspension, but it looked like a silly comedy so I rolled with it. And kept on rolling as he breezily fixed all the kids’ problems like an alcoholic fairy godmother: teaching the shy girl how to flirt with a dumb jock; getting a problem student transferred to a school that would challenge him better… with lots of shots. Sometimes weed or cigarettes. But mostly shots.

What gave this part depth was that David isn’t some happy twinkly carefree blithe spirit. Having a job, responsibilities and the promise of income doesn’t make any of his issues go away. He’s still alone, still drinking alone even at work, still struggling with fears and denial and low self-esteem. As much as we want to laugh or cringe at his antics (and we do!) we want to give him a big ol’ hug and tell him everything will be all right. The job is helping him, little by little: his bonding with Jabrielle, one of the school’s “bad girls” and checking up on her abusive home life shows that he’s started to think about people who aren’t him.

I was still all ready for the story to evolve this way: David would hit rock bottom, possibly keep his job, possibly be let go, there’d be wacky hijinks, the students would rally around him, he’d find his self-esteem, quit drinking, reconcile with his family, and maybe find out his landlady’s not such a mean bitch after all. Happy ending!

But then, reality ensues. The nosy and very gay gym teacher find out David’s real identity after a little snooping, he’s found behind his desk in a drunken stupor, and everything comes crashing down: the principal calls the police, and David runs. He meets up with Jabrielle who’d run away from home, they go rob a few tanning salons (it makes sense in context) but they can’t keep it up for long. David sends Jabrielle to her aunt in Winnipeg, and he surrenders to the police. And finally, finally, David is at peace.

So… that was a bit shocking, to be honest. I think this movie was meant to show (among other things) a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy trope, but I feel it went a little too far for a comedy. Because now I’ve got too many questions: what will happen to all the kids he’s helped? Will Ghost be forced back to his old school when authorities find out his grades were forged? Will Jabrielle be able to stay with her aunt, make a new life away from her abusive parents? Will she be called to testify against David?

Still, there’s a lot I love about the movie. Besides being hella funny, it’s a loving ode to freaks, weirdos and repressed loners everywhere, who tend to be way more interesting than so-called “normal” people. Flaws and quirks are okay, and it’s best to be honest about them. And bland affirmations are worse than useless. Sometimes life really sucks, and it won’t get better until you face it.


It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lily Tomlin movie. Is that bad? Does that make me a bad gay? Well, it doesn’t matter, because this film is a hell of an initiation.

Tomlin plays Elle, a cranky academic still grieving over the death of her long-term lover; she seems to have few friends, and is barely on speaking terms with her daughter. Out of the blue, her teenaged granddaughter Sage shows up seeking money for an abortion. Elle is broke at the moment and has cut up her credit cards, so off they go to try to extract money from her old friends, ex-friends, ex-lovers and complete strangers before Sage’s appointment that very evening.

Grandma is a brilliant, hilarious ride: acidly funny like only Lily Tomlin can deliver, but also deeply moving in parts such as when Elle reminisces about her life with Violet or reconciles with her latest ex. And, just as importantly, it raises a bunch of points about the reality of getting an abortion, but wove them into the story so well I didn’t realise what it was doing until hours later: the issue of money or lack thereof, how supportive the baby daddy will be, actually having a clinic within easy access, dealing with guilt and fear of going to hell you never thought you had, getting judged by pro-birth activists or your own mother (for different reasons), having a support network…

Well played, movie. Well played.

Other lessons I learned: we’re all flawed and messy. No matter what we tell ourselves, no matter how successful we are in our careers, whether we’re neurotic perfectionists, philanthropes misanthropes or just confused teens, we’re all muddling along the best we can. And in a way, that’s a good thing. It means there’s always room to grow, to be inspired. People who think they know it all would be really boring. Or picketing abortion clinics, maybe.

A few more thoughts:

Hello, all-star cast! Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox, Judy Greer, John Cho, Nat Wolff… All spot-on, even the one-scene wonders. And really, wouldn’t it take stars of that calibre to keep up with Lily Tomlin? Julia Garner, playing Sage, was… all right. She held her own, but didn’t really shine.

One little nitpick, which I guess was unavoidable: the plot seemed forced to me. I mean, how likely is it that Elle wouldn’t have any available cash? Mind you, it turned out to be justified pretty well and played into Elle’s character, so it all worked out in the end.

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!

Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2014: final thoughts

Right, another festival under my belt! Let’s do a recap, by the numbers.

Number of shows I planned to see: 20. Which I realised was insane unless I took the entire week off or something.

Number of shows I actually saw: 11. Last year I saw 17, fell way behind on my reviews, and then felt guilty and stressed out about it. It looks like this is about the optimal number if I want to balance the festival with work and non-queer-film-related life.

Favourite feature film: A tie between The Way He Looks and Drunktown’s Finest. Honourable mention goes to Children 404.

Favourite short film: A three-way tie between Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny, Orbits / Orbitas (shown in Grrls in Space) and StandStill (shown in The Coast is Queer)

Movies I wanted to see but didn’t:

Drunktown’s Finest would have been listed here, but some movies pulled out of the festival at the last minute, and the Monday night late show was graced with an additional showing of Drunktown’s Finest.

There were a couple other movies I’d planned to see, but I’m not that broken up about missing.

Percentage of subtitled films I saw: 5 / 9 feature films, or 55%. (6 / 9, I guess, if you count the Navajo dialog in Drunktown’s Finest.) Not as high as last year, but still respectable. I managed to see films from Argentina, Brazil, Morocco/France/Switzerland, the Netherlands and Russia. Also Australia, Spain (no dialog) and the United States.

Percentage of films I saw that were directed by women: This year, over 50% of the festival feature films are directed by women. This is a big, big deal, since the percentage in mainstream cinema is apparently 8%. Dropping to 6% if you only look at Hollywood. How does my festival experience add up? Well, out of the 9 feature films I saw 4 were directed by women, so that looks about right at 44%. Incidentally, I had to look up the name of Boys’ director, Mischa Kamp, but it turns out she’s a woman. Counting short films, the percentage is 17.5 / 33 (Trenchcoat Lesbians was co-directed by Ryan Steele and Amy Goodmurphy) which just edges it over the 50% mark.

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.