Inside Out Toronto Film Festival breaks stigma that queer films aren't 'bankable'
"Queer film has kind of saved my life and I know that the work is not done," Elie Chivi, co-head and executive director of the festival said
Boasting an impressive lineup showcasing 107 films from 30 countries, the Inside Out Toronto 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival is back for its 33rd year, running from May 25 to June 4.
“We've seen so much growth, between programming and guests and filmmakers coming in, and just how our festival is seen,” Andrew Murphy, co-head and artistic director of the festival told Yahoo Canada. “It's a really important stop in terms of networking, in terms of business, in terms of really showcasing the best.”
“COVID came at a time when we had just started to really grow,” Elie Chivi, co-head and executive director of the festival, added. “In 2019, we had some record numbers and we had really developed our industry arm to become a really influential aspect of the festival.”
“I think last year we were still in the haze of COVID. … This year, it does feel like we're all ready to ... really take our place as one of the major festivals in the city.”
While many festivals have transitioned back to a fully in-person experience, Inside Out is continuing with a hybrid model, keeping an online option for screening these films.
“Accessibility is a major aspect here for us,” Chivi said. “Last year was our first truly hybrid year and yes, some of that viewership dropped, but not significantly enough for us not to justify it from a business sense."
"The viewers are there and people are choosing to sometimes watch things at home, and we can either fight against those habits or we can work with them.”
'There's still a stigma of sorts, ... that queer folks aren't guaranteed, bankable'
Looking at the importance of Inside Out, the pre-pride event has become a critically important festival for both the professional development of queer filmmakers, but also providing access to queer content.
"There's still a stigma of sorts, even at development stages, that queer folks aren't guaranteed, bankable and ROI isn't always guaranteed," Murphy said. "There's always a business aspect when you're in the film industry, no matter what themes you're working with."
"Looking at larger festivals, yes they can have sidebars or they can have queer content integrated as a way to show how far we've come, but look at some of the docs that we have in our festival. There are places around the world [where] you can die for being who you are. As long as that's happening, we probably need to keep doing what we're doing."
Chivi added that being from the Middle East, he's from one of those places where someone could die for being queer.
"Queer film has kind of saved my life and I know that the work is not done," Chivi said. "We have so much left to do, just from a human rights perspective, and I think the power of queer art can be transformational."
"Just because we have, in North America especially, access to so much content that is representational, doesn't mean that everywhere else in the world that people are living with the same equality and freedom that we have. ... I think our film festival, as a platform, even in doing a small little part, can help change people's lives, hopefully change people's perspectives. Or at a bare minimum, help people see their stories reflected on screen and I think that is really critical."
Chivi also highlighted that the through line for the festival this year is "resilience and queer joy."
"Because amidst all of that turmoil that we experience every single day, there is joy and there is love, and there is some optimism," he said.
"I'm really excited that this program reflects that, while also still shining a light on the work that is left to be done."
With Toronto being home to several festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Hot Docs festival, Murphy admits there is a lot of competition in the city, but Inside Out gives filmmakers a unique platform for queer-specific projects.
"We can make it into mainstream news that can be read and people can find out about what we're doing at this particular festival without it being like, 'oh, I'm not queer, I don't know if I belong there,'" he said.
"A festival like ours really demonstrates and prioritizes the significance of the content and the significance of community."
"We've been in business for 33 years," Chivi added. "We are nonprofit, but we also need to keep the lights on and we do so because our audience comes back year over year."
"Yes, it might not be a Marvel film, in terms of numbers, ... but there is space for everyone's stories."
Inside Out Toronto festival films
Some highlights from the festival includes the event's opening film, Ira Sachs’ drama Passages, which premiered at the Sundance festival. The film is about three people caught in a love triangle and stars Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, and Adele Exarchopoulos.
The RE:Focus Gala film is Kokomo City, a documentary from Grammy-nominated artist D. Smith on the stories of four Black transgender sex workers in New York and Georgia. The RE:Focus fund provides direct financial support for women, non-binary, and/or trans filmmakers telling 2SLGBTQ+ stories.
There is also a Centrepiece Gala film, Supporting Our Selves, directed by Lulu Wei. The Toronto-based documentary follows four decades of the philanthropic organization, Community One Foundation.
The South African film Runs in the Family from Ian Gabriel tells the story of former scam artist Varun and his trans drag performer son, River, who go on a road trip across South Africa.
The closing gala film, Glitter and Doom, by Tom Gustafson, is inspired by how Glitter and aspiring musician Doom met. It stars Alex Diaz and Alan Cammish and features Lea Delaria, Missi Pyle, Tig Notaro, and the Indigo Girls themselves.