The Pride Week LGBT Short Film Festival, currently showing in Toronto, does what its name would suggest: screen LGBT-themed short films during the city's Pride Week. Beyond that, the success rate of the festival falls off, at least in terms of broad artistic appeal. The program is erratically quite good and quite poor, even disconcertingly so, as with the inclusion of an interesting but aesthetically arid (and long) TV documentary. However, even in its weaker moments, the festival succeeds in representing the eclectic energy of the LGBT film community, an energy that expresses itself across genres in this multifarious bill — documentary, experimental, comedy, drama, and of course, dramedy.
The 107-minute program, sponsored by the Canadian Media Guild’s Toronto chapter, is running on loop all week at the Graham Spry Theatre, a tiny room with bad sound on the touristy main floor of the CBC building on Front Street. It is not an auspicious location, but it has the benefit of staying open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Friday, June 24-28, and from 12-5pm on Saturday, June 29. That accessibility comes with a price tag, however, and it reads Family Friendly.
“I wanted to find a range of shorts that reflects the diversity of the queer community,” explains programmer Matt Guerin, “but that also maintained a G or PG-rating, as per the guidelines of the Graham Spry Theatre.” Pride isn’t known for its prudery, but in this festival we are relegated to first base with “Kiss,” an experimental film by Mark Pariselli that shows people doing just that. The film stands on the shoulders of Andy Warhol’s 1963 original of the same name, extending his delightful protest of the Hays Code’s time limit for onscreen kissing to ostensibly criticize homophobic laws worldwide. Twinning the two films creates an interesting study in the evolution of snogging.
Admittedly, the action does get a bit steamier in “Her With Me” by Alyssa Pankiw, a low-lit and well-produced short in which a former teen idol (played by Amy Groening from the TV series “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil”) escapes the paparazzi and into the arms of a wry Toronto girl named Sydney, played by Aimee Bessada. It's one of the stronger contributions, though it suffers from the same sentimental streak that afflicts “I’m in the Mood for Love” by Jason Karman and “Let’s Get Soaking Wet” by Steven Bereznai, two regrettably unfunny comedies. (Thankfully those are balanced out by the quick-witted gallows humor of “Shawn” by Mark Zanin.) “Where Are the Dolls” by Cassandra Nicolaou also operates on a powerful sexual theme; moody and a tad desperate, it derives much of its beauty from the narration of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Where are the dolls who loved me so….”
The sentimentality only really works when it ceases to be used as a ploy and instead becomes the focus in “The Closest Thing to Heaven” by Ryan Levey. Here is a true and simple love story, from first pang to sudden end and recollected with calm devotion: honest, charming, and well told. It might even make your face wet. “For Dorian” by Rodrigo Barriuso also manages to hold together the serious emotional content with strong storytelling. Viewers may remember actor Dylan Harman from last year’s Fringe favorite and this year’s Soulpepper production “Rare,” when audiences embarrassed themselves by laughing at his confessed desire for sex. They aren’t laughing this time. Harman and the highly accomplished Ron Lea portray the conflict between a loving-but-controlling father and his son with Down’s syndrome as he explores his sexuality.
Another highlight from the festival is “I’m Yours” by Chase Joynt, a documentary inspired by the work of Canadian video artist Colin Campbell. The film interviews a transgender male and female, Joynt himself and acclaimed artist and performer Nina Arsenault, while posing what seem to be very personal questions and then showing only the answers. Their responses diverge dramatically; Joynt gets at the intriguing territory between sexual identity and human individuality. That conversation is the same one that is occurring between all the films in the festival. One wonders how much more could have been said under a different set of constraints. For example, one that goes beyond the sensibilities of children and passers-by.