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Previewing the 2015 Inside Out Film Festival

May 20, 2015

By John Corrado

GrandmaThe 25th edition of the Inside Out Film Festival starts tonight, and will be going strong at TIFF Bell Lightbox until May 31st, celebrating LGBT cinema from around the world.

Audiences are in for a real treat tonight with the Canadian premiere of the Sundance hit Grandma, which isn’t even opening in theatres here until September 25th.  The film features Lily Tomlin in top form, and also happens to be writer-director Paul Weitz’s best work since About a Boy in 2002, making it a natural fit for the opening night slot that should get things off to a great start.

Along with Grandma, below are my thoughts on four more films playing over the next eleven days, including the closing night selection, Portrait of a Serial Monogamist, and three documentaries that all explore different LGBT issues, which should hopefully give you a small taste of what to expect.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Grandma: Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) is an aging feminist and misanthropic poet, still grieving the death of her longtime partner, and struggling to reconcile with her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden).  But when she breaks up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), Elle is launched headlong into one of the most eventful days of her life.  Shortly after, her estranged granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up, needing to borrow over six hundred dollars for an abortion already scheduled that afternoon, sending them both on a journey of old friends and past regrets, desperately trying to track down enough money to terminate the unwanted teen pregnancy.

For a progressive minded and refreshingly character driven dramedy, that offsets the laughs with some genuinely moving twinges of bittersweetness, Grandma is surprisingly balanced and often quietly remarkable in its approach to this tricky subject matter.  Julia Garner shines brightly as the young charge, more than holding her own onscreen, and the rest of the ensemble cast is equally solid.  Nat Wolff is amusing as the obligatory loser boyfriend, Laverne Cox leaves her mark as a sympathetic tattoo artist, and Sam Elliot brings fascinating depth to his few minutes of screen time as a surprising old flame, proving that sometimes all you need is a single scene to craft a memorable character.  But Lily Tomlin is the real star here, bringing biting humour and emotional nuance to the memorable title relation, delivering one of the best performances of her career.

Transfixed: Martine Stonehouse is a celebrated transgender activist living on the autism spectrum in Toronto, who is struggling to complete her gender reassignment surgery before marrying her longtime partner John Gelman, a straight man who is also on the autism spectrum, and wants to have a partner with female genitalia.  Because of her weight problem, there are greater risks involved in the surgery, and in order for Martine to “get a vagina” as John so bluntly puts it, they are left battling the Canadian healthcare system and facing financial troubles that could prevent them from having the wedding of their dreams.  Both unflinchingly honest and often disarmingly entertaining, the title of Transfixed perfectly describes how I felt watching the film, which blasts down stereotypes in all the best ways.  Martine Stonehouse makes for an inspiring and truly remarkable subject, and director Alon Kol has crafted an intimate and incredibly engaging portrait of her life, built around a moving and completely charming romance that’s as unconventional as it is universally relatable.

The Amina Profile: When Montrealer Sandra Bagaria started an online relationship with Amina Arraf, the author of the popular blog A Gay Girl in Damascus, charting the dangers of being openly gay amidst political turmoil in Syria, she unwittingly became involved in a media sensation after news came out that Amina had been kidnapped.  Director Sophie Deraspe recounts the full story through interviews and reenactments in this intriguing documentary, revealing all the pieces of the ensuing investigation that quickly proved everything was not as it seemed.  Without giving too much away, The Amina Profile is an interesting look at the real life ramifications behind internet lies, that often unfolds like a mystery and engagingly explores how fiction can overshadow and change our perception of actual events.

A Sinner in Mecca: An openly gay man living in New York, Parvez Sharma has always struggled to balance his devout Muslim beliefs, with the fact that his religion doesn’t accept homosexuality.  Turning the camera on himself, the filmmaker goes to complete his pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where being gay is considered a crime punishable by death, sneaking along his iPhone to capture the ancient rituals, despite all filming being strictly forbidden.  Because Parvez Sharma isn’t overly critical of his religion in general, A Sinner in Mecca feels slightly less challenging than it perhaps could or should have been, but the fact that he captured this journey at all is still pretty remarkable.

There are many revelations here, like how the holy city has fallen victim to consumerism with a shopping mall right next door, and is literally drowning in trash dropped on the ground by the millions of daily visitors.  The images of people being shoved around and left without water for hours at a time, and the barbaric slaughtering of goats that end the pilgrimage, are disturbing and speak for themselves.  This is a thought provoking and bravely assembled film, that offers an engaging look at one man’s personal journey to find acceptance both within himself and his culture, raising some important questions about the thin line between religion and control.

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist: After dumping her longtime girlfriend (Carolyn Taylor), seasoned breakup artist Elsie Neufeld (Diane Flacks) makes a bet to stay single for five months, to prove that she can handle being out of a relationship for once in her life.  But as she tries to pursue a younger local DJ (Vanessa Dunn), she can’t seems to shake the nagging feeling that she just broke up with the love of her life.  There are some clever fourth wall breaking moments here, and a few adept observations about life in a city like Toronto, but for all of these progressive tricks, Portrait of a Serial Monogamist can’t help going down a predictable path.  The film also has some trouble nailing down a consistent tone between scenes, like during a needless subplot about the selling out of the trendy TV station where Elsie works, and a random cat funeral near the end.  But this is still an okay modern romantic comedy that can be pleasant to watch, featuring some nicely written scenes and plenty of uniquely Toronto moments.

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