Docs about LGBT women in Asia, Uganda and rural Canada play at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival

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Now around for over a quarter of a century, the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival is back with its 2016 edition, running from May 26 to June 5. We’ve already reviewed, and will continue to review, several of the fictional features that are showing at the festival, but we thought we should also share some must-watch documentaries. What follows below is a great batch of Canadian, American and international films.

Re:Orientations (2016) Canadareorientations

Filmmaker Richard Fung made his first film, Orientations: Lesbian and Gay Asians, in 1984. This documentary was the first to highlight queer Asians and racialized queers in Canada. Over 30 years later, Richard decided to contact his original subjects, all of whom were people of South, Southeast, or East Asian backgrounds. Sadly, of the original 14, three have since passed away and others could either not be reached or simply refused to participate. But seven of the original subjects did agree to be part of this retrospective, including three queer women.

It truly is a treat to see these women look at old footage of themselves, just as it is a pleasure to watch the original clips if you weren’t fortunate enough to watch the 1984 documentary. If you happen to have a special fondness for the city of Toronto, it’s just amazing to see clubs and other establishments, once beloved by the gay and lesbian communities, that no longer exist.

Themes like racism and sexism are covered at length in Re:Orientations. This includes addressing the “now” and “then,” which makes obvious that although a lot has changed, some things remain the same. To aid in that conversation, academics, activists and younger queer individuals are featured as well.

Out Run (2016) Philippines, USAoutrun

It’s amazing to think that this film’s international premiere comes just weeks after Liberal Party member Geraldine Roman became the first elected transgender politician to the Philippine House of Representatives. Out Run is about the queer candidates of the Ladlad Party, said to be the only LGBT political party in the world, and their 2013 run for office in the Philippines.

The Ladlad list is made up of three political hopefuls: two gay men and a trans woman. Should any of them get elected, the party’s main focus will be on getting an anti-discrimination bill passed. Such a bill would look to serve the entire LGBT community, including lesbian women who are often accused of kidnapping their partners in an effort to separate them.

Not having the funds necessary for a big ad campaign, the three Ladlad candidates travel the country meeting people. Due to their platform and profiles, they’re competing for the votes of LGBT people, who alone could elect them if they all rally behind Ladlad. If they don’t, Ladlad will fold, as election rules state that a new party can’t run unsuccessfully more than two times in a row (Ladlad had previously not picked up any seats in a 2010 election). But Ladlad’s reluctance to push for same-sex marriage could just put support from the LGBT community into question.

Same Difference (2015) USAsamedifference

You may remember the news reports about a school district in Minnesota with a “no promo homo” policy that saw nine students commit suicide between 2009 and 2011. Gay-straight alliances were quashed, and LGBT teachers were told to stay closeted. And if students were to come out to teachers, the rules dictated they be sent to the school’s guidance counselor, as if there were something wrong with them. Add to that a new curriculum that erased LGBT people from history and contemporary discussions and the situation just seemed impossible. Same Difference highlights these truths while taking into account the good that came out of these circumstances.

Two stories, in particular, are at the center of Same Difference. One focuses on a gay teen who spoke out against the system and thrived, while the other features the family of one young man who couldn’t handle the pressure. His story was not all that unlike that of a teenage girl discussed in the film as well, whose mother would go on to use the following words: “I feel if I hadn’t moved to this district my daughter wouldn’t have died.”

Combining home video, news footage, reenactments and exclusive interviews, Same Difference manages to paint a sad but nonetheless hopeful picture.

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things (2016) Canadatwosoftthingstwohardthings

About 32,000 people live in Nunavut, Canada, and you best believe some of them are queer. Yes, that means Inuit as well. Not that anyone really talks about it though. New documentary Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things is looking to change that.

Colonialism and Christianity sought to change family structures and sexual dynamics in Nunavut and were ultimately successful. While this reality dates back to the 1700’s, its influence has really been felt in the last 50 years. Whereas queer individuals would’ve been viewed as completely acceptable in the past, today many Inuit elders and youth look down on these gender and sexual nonconformists.

Several of the queer Inuit youth interviewed for this film speak of a sense of alienation. This is especially worrisome because, as the movie highlights, Nunavut presently has a high suicide rate and experts believe those numbers represent more LGBT youth than are accounted for. But with revamped Pride celebrations planned that look to involve more of the Inuit population directly, things could be changing. As Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things shows, however, it’s all a fine balance.

And Still We Rise (2015) Canadaandstillwerise

And Still We Rise documents LGBT lives in Uganda and the struggle against the Anti-Homosexual Act. Featuring well-known activists like Frank Mugisha, the documentary looks at how LGBT organizations in Uganda stopped their other efforts and banded together to oppose the discriminatory piece of legislation.

Introduced in 2009, the bill would make homosexual activity and the promotion of such activity illegal. While the death penalty was dropped when the bill was introduced to parliament, life imprisonment remained attached to it. Religious figures, including infamous American pastor Scott Lively, put a lot of energy into pushing the “homosexual agenda” panic in the country. Everyday Ugandans were encouraged to “get rid of” those thought to be homosexual.

Despite this, in 2011 the country’s first clinic run by LGBT individuals opened. But progress in other areas was halted because maximum efforts were needed if there was any hope of stopping the dreaded bill. And Still We Rise examines the resulting building of coalitions and where things in Uganda stand today.

Besides these fine selections, other documentaries of interest playing at Inside Out include Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride! and The Same Difference. For those interested in documentary short films, consider checking out 11 Life Lessons from an Awesome Old Dyke in the Lesbian Shorts: Lipshtick Lesbians lineup and Pink Boy, Gaysians and Bootwmn in the Mixed Shorts: Life Through A Lens program.

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