Tag Archives: Inside Out Film Festival

The Garden Left Behind

The Garden Left Behind is about a woman and her grandmother, both undocumented immigrants, living together in New York City. Abuela Eliana (Miriam Cruz) dreams of returning to her beloved Mexico while Tina (Carlie Guevara) dreams of the day she can complete her transition. Without papers, money is scarce and medical insurance unheard of, so it’s been a long path for Tina. But she has a second family in the trans community, and a strong circle of fiercely protective women surrounding her, so you want to believe she’ll be all right.

Director Flavio Alves situates Tina in a city filled with love and support, but also hatred and violence. Even the slightest decisions she makes may threaten her personal safety, not to mention her mental health. Meanwhile, her gender identity must be performed for an elderly doctor (Ed Asner) who ultimately gets to decide whether or not she’ll get to be a candidate for transition. Not that his pronouncement either way would save her from judgment or brutality if it came to that. Which is why Tina takes to the streets in protest for a friend beaten by police. Her status makes activism risky, but her very existence is a risk in a world where cruelty is an answer to otherness.

As much as I admired the greater context offered by Alves, it was the grandmother-granddaughter relationship at the heart of the story I responded to most. Abuelita does not understand, but she learns she doesn’t need to. She learns that her love is enough. It’s also relatively rare in this kind of story, so it’s as remarkable and inspirational as it is welcome.

The cast, made up of actual trans people, is refreshingly authentic, and I believe this casting is what really sells the story. What also really works is that Tina is at peace with herself. The world may have problems with her, but the conflict is never internalized. She knows who she is, and while perhaps feeling resentful at having to demonstrate it, she never wavers. But the outside world brings more than enough conflict to make up the difference.

Carlie Guevara, like Tina, is a young trans woman of colour. She is a target for hate but also a symbol of hope; she, and others like her, persist. Guevara is luminous and magnetic. But what makes this movie feel really truthful on top of watchable is that it’s not just hardship and struggle. It rises above the bleakness to deliver pure authenticity.

Knives And Skin

Carolyn Harper makes out with a football player but when she pushes away his roaming hands, he leaves her alone in the woods and she’s never seen alive again. Her disappearance disrupts her high school and the entire community, as the disappearances of beautiful young white women often do.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, we watch things unravel for her friends, her fellow bandmates and classmates, her mother, and the well-intentioned but inexperienced local sheriff. More than that, though, we experience the way that grief accelerates the coming of age for a group of teenagers, which makes it rather obvious that their parents’ haven’t exactly completed the growing up process either.

Writer-director Jennifer Reeder creates a very atmospheric teen noir that pulls from a lot of sources but manages to be its very own thing. The closest thing I can compare it to is Twin Peaks for its eerie tone but believe me when I say Knives And Skin is its own gothic soup – a horror broth steeped with many surprising flavours. Reeder brings in familiar tropes and mixes them with haunting song and feminist references and the result is hard to categorize but fascinating to watch, even if it is uneven, a little long, and prone to meandering. If it occasionally feels a little piecey, it also feels dreamy, surreal. The story is less concerned about finding Carolyn than it is about exploring the various ways people feel trapped, and subtle reminders that escape is possible. Although it starts off with a dead girl in the woods, it subverts the expectations of that genre over and over with its confident female leads and the weaponization of sex. It’s like a parody, but self-aware and dead serious.

Reeder may value style over narrative, but Knives And Skin interesting, beautiful, and unforgettable.



Bad Girl

Amy is a teenager, a “bad girl” who’s just returned home after some shadowy shenanigans to her adoptive parents who are willing to give her “one last chance.” They’re pretty sure she’s going to hate the new home they’ve bought in rural Australia and they’re right; she’s out the door and doing a runner almost immediately. But then she meets a local girl named Chloe who makes life a little more bearable, and her parents think this friendship is a positive thing.

bad_girl_h_0716.ad77b830223d2062af858dce36ad8abeThey’re all wrong on all counts. Chloe isn’t want she seems, and when Amy discovers her secrets she ends up not only fighting for her own life, but to keep intact the very same family that she’s up until now been eschewing. Seems like Chloe is the titular bad girl after all! Oh, teenage irony.

Fin Edquist writes and directs this twisty-turny thriller. There isn’t a lot to distinguish Bad Girl from other oeuvres in the genre but the performances from the two young lead actresses, Sara West and Samara Weaving, are pretty extraordinary. The film’s first half hour is a relationship drama made strong by their chemistry. They bond over their shared yearning for family, for identity.

The film’s visual approach is informed largely by the environment. Whether outside or in, they sky looms large, and often forbidding. The atmosphere of the film responds accordingly. A real sense of dread is cultivated in quieter moments, making the splashes of violence really pop against the austere background. Bad Girl is a genre film that just may surprise you.




James Fanizza writes, directs and stars in Sebastian but does not in fact play him. He plays Alex, the guy who meets Sebastian  (Alex House) and initiates a fling – this despite that he has a boyfriend, a boyfriend who just happens to be Sebastian’s cousin. They both agree to feel bad about what they’re doing, but they don’t consider not doing it. It’s full steam ahead (and it DOES get steamy).

MV5BMzBjYmE1YWEtZmNiYy00YTQyLThiMzAtYmFhMzI3ZmFlY2ZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIxMDkwMTk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Sebastian is an Argentinian student in Toronto for just one week; both know that the relationship (whatever it is) ends when he catches his flight back home. But the affair is irrepressible. They’re falling for each other whether or not they say the words, and it’s the kind of relationship that changes them, unlocks things hidden deep inside (and who can resist a boy with a dark and unspoken past?).

This is not the most polished piece you’ll encounter at the Inside Out Film Festival, but for a first directorial effort, it’s got promise and panache. Shot around Toronto, the city provides a bustling backdrop to the conflict of feelings. If this budding relationship begins to feel to us, the audience, like a Once in a Lifetime thing, we must wonder whether one week is enough for these two men to recognize it, and if yes, whether they will be brave enough to act on it. And that sort of anticipation has a vicarious thrill to it that is not unlike falling in love. But as we all know, love is complicated, and Alex and Sebastian will not be exceptions.

Strike A Pose

In 1990, an ad went out for FIERCE male dancers; 7 men were picked from obscurity and within months were surfing the zenith of fame alongside Madonna in her Blonde Ambition tour and Truth or Dare documentary.

All but one were gay, and Madonna, having recently lost friends to AIDS, madonna-dancers-02-800was outspoken about gay rights and safer sex. Madonna’s timing was excellent – she pushed buttons while at the same time humanizing homosexuality. In the days before Internet, this was a shot in the arm for the gay community. The kiss depicted in Truth or Dare was for some the first gay kiss they’d seen. It was the first real uncensored gay conversation for many.

But tours end. Fame is fleeting. These 7 men went their separate ways. 25 years later, filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaa seek to reunite them, or at least the surviving 6. What has happened in the past quarter century? Drugs, alcohol, HIV, depression, homelessness, and lawsuits. Life outside the spotlight is cold.

There’s a nostalgia factor at play here, and the first third of the film is peppered with archival footage that will please even passing Madonna fans. Beyond that, the film only superficially delves into the successes strike-a-poseand\or failures of these dancers. Despite the prominence of Express Yourself as a theme and an anthem, much is left unsaid. What of these lawsuits? Fully three of the group sued Madonna after the tour ended, despite having been “a family” and having nothing but love for her, and owing her a debt of gratitude. In fact, the only reason offered for the lawsuits is being “caught off guard.” Not a single bad word is spoken against her, but her absence (other than in clips and videos) is distinct.

Is there life after Madonna? Yes. And it might even be interesting, but you’d never know it from this documentary. It’s content with skimming the surface and cashing in on the men’s iconic status. Their 15 minutes evaporated pretty quickly, but this documentary’s impact will fade even quicker.


This post first appeared on Cinema Axis as part of the coverage for the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.



Hurricane Bianca

Mr. Martinez chases his “making a difference” dreams all the way to backwards Texas where he winds up as the science teacher teaching creationism. Faggy ties are of course verboten here, but not, apparently, backless, braless dresses on the female teachers, or anatomically-correct titty cakes in the staff room. The students are horrid little assholes set on making his first day his last, but their work load is light because this school puts its students’ safety first, and fires him immediately upon learning he’s gay.

Hurricane_Bianca_posterHe soothes himself with a little drag and suddenly, he’s inspired: why not Mrs. Doubtfire himself back into a job? So the next day he falsies up everything he can in grand Drag Queen fashion: fake lashes, fake cleavage, fake hair, real sashay, and before his new name “Bianca” can trill off his tongue, he’s sitting in the principal’s lap, accepting the very position he’d been fired from the day before.

The kids are still assholes but Bianca is magically more savvy than Mr. Martinez and she takes no guff. In fact, she unleashes scathing Drag Queen stand-up on her students. This shit was nastier than Amy Schumer roasting Charlie Sheen. There’s no doubt that even Texans would find this less professional and more fire-able than being gay, yet Bianca roasting her students wins her popularity and career stability.

Roy Haylock does a good Mr. Martinez but it’s hard not to like him best when he’s snarky and sarcastic Bianca. Bianca Del Rio is his legit Drag Queen name – you may know Bianca from having won season 6 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (and if you do, you’re in luck: not only does Ru Paul make an appearance, so does at least one of Bianca’s competitors!). There’s a gold mine of comedy here and I don’t blame writer\director Matt Kugelman for coming up with a pretense for laying it on as thickly as Bianca spackles on her eyebrows. Laughter is more important than authenticity.

Alan Cumming and Rachel Dratch lend some campy fun to the proceedings (and watch out for a Margaret Cho cameo!) but as the title suggests, it’s Bianca who is the force of nature here. Batten down the hatches and enjoy.





I Love You Both

No man is an island. But you know who is an island? Twins! Twins can definitely make themselves into a little island. Krystal and Donny are supertwins and superfriends. They live together, they hang out together, and they even date the same guy. Wait – what?

doug3Only in 2016? Even in 2016? Somehow they’ve met this supercool dude named Andy, and he’s everything either of them could hope for. He’s interesting and charming. But which one of them does he like? As close as they are, Krystal and Donny find out there are still things to learn about their relationship once they begin dating the same guy. Are they maybe a little codependent? How close is too close?

Krystal and Donny are played by real-life siblings Kristin and Doug Archibald, who also co-wrote the script (Doug directs). They have an easy and natural chemistry that really pops on screen. The relationship feels real and anyone who has siblings will relate. They wrote the script over the phone, long distance between L.A. and St. Louis, and funded it through a successful campaign on Indiegogo. Once all the parts were assembled, both took a hiatus from their day jobs to film, and the result is a rare instance where one might finally say “Please DO quit your day jobs.”

It’s a talky, dialogue-heavy film that’s a solid first effort if not always pitch-perfect. There’s a surprisingly light touch to it that makes the premise all the more palatable; the will they\won’t they, gay\straight\bi aspect is appropriately downplayed. This movie is really about the twins, about growing up and letting go, and it’s never more successful when it’s just Kristin and Doug on screen, eating heaping bowlfuls of noodles with their hapless dog.

The performances in the film are strong, but I particularly loved the comic sensibility of Krystal and Donny’s mother, played by Kristen and Doug’s real-life mom, Charlene. Watch this movie and tell me this doesn’t feel a little bit like your own mother. There’s a universality to the character while still having big personality. Only a mother can make you feel so bad about yourself by loving you so goddamned much. I totally want to eat casserole with this woman.

I Love You Both is an impressive debut feature and also an important moment for queer cinema – finally, the hearkening of a time when gay characters aren’t the point, they’re just part of the picture.


This German film by writer-director Piotr Lewandowski is beautifully shot with lush cinematography; you won’t believe it’s his first feature.

The theme is surprisingly mature as well. Jonathan (Jannis Niewöhner) is stuck at home working on the farm and caring for his dying father (Andre Hennicke). The relationship is jonathan-filmstrained. There are whiffs of resentment. Luckily Jonathan has his father’s beautiful young nurse (Julia Koschitz) to distract him, but as the film lurches shakily through its middle third, Jonathan realizes that time is running out for his father and if the family secrets are to be unlocked, it’s now or never.

This movie is slow, sometimes maddeningly so. And the men in question are fairly reticent, so there’s a lot of sun-dappled quiet reflection, and a few close-up shots of bugs for good measure. The visual richness can contrast nicely against the jagged and raw emotions. These are the best of times and worst of times for young Jonathan. He’s discovering himself while losing his father. His sexual energy burns up his grief. The camera lingers on his angular body. This is the sexiest movie about terminal cancer you’re ever likely to see.

Secrets are poisonous, and they leave a large wake of destruction. Cancer is perhaps not the most devastating thing to happen to Jonathan’s family. And despite him being the titular character, this story is not Jonathan’s alone. He and his father both have truths to tell – if only they can find the words, and the courage.



Suicide Kale

Moral dilemma: one couple hosts another for a pleasant, mostly-vegan dinner party, and a little light snooping on the part of the guests turns up a suicide note.

What to do, what to do? Obviously the visitors, Penn (Lindsay Hicks) and Jasmine (Brittani Nichols), themselves a newish couple, are concerned for their friends, who up until now have been role models for a happy relationship. But you can’t be blunt about a note you just stumbled upon, can you?

BillieAndJasmineThe brilliance of this film is that it makes you question what you would do, and it challenges our notions of propriety.

The quality’s a little wonky. It doesn’t quite have the production values you might hope for, and during the dinner scene the camera jitters around so much I had to look away to settle my stomach. Luckily, the conversation is jaunty and captivating enough to conquer some of the flaws. It flows authentically, and you’ll feel like they should have set a 5th place setting for you, the guest who definitely would have went for some wine.

The trick is that there’s a subtext that we’re aware of but not everyone at the table is. PennJordan and Jasmine know a dark secret and are steering things to play sleuth. Billie (Jasika Nicole) and Jordan (Brianna Baker) know that something’s up but the note is the furthest thing from their minds. They’re just trying to navigate this incredibly uncomfortable encounter – and we’ve got front row seats!

So it’s noticeably an indie, but it’s also smartly written and well-acted and I’m very glad I gave it a chance because it’s quite endearing, and an interesting little slice of life.


This review first appeared on Cinema Axis as part of the Inside Out film festival coverage, a festival dedicated to showing LGBT movies.