10 Must-See Films at Inside Out Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival

The 27th annual Inside Out: Toronto LGBT Film Festival launches today, offering a colourful cinematic program featuring over 100 films from around the world. The festival runs from May 25 to June 4, a perfect pre-Pride cultural experience for those keen to find inspiration in the joy and struggle found in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered stories.

Our top flicks this year include a biopic on leather loving Tom of Finland, gay Instagram hunk Max Emerson’s first foray into film, a Chinese lesbian love story, a hilarious romp with RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Bob the Drag Queen and Detox and a Canadian documentary offering a behind the scenes look of the world’s most famous all-male drag ballet.

10 Must-See Films at Inside Out Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival

Signature Move

Zaynab (Fawzi Mirza from the webseries Her Story) is stuck. She lives with her widowed TV-obsessed mother (Shabana Azmi) but takes great pains to hide everything from her, including her love of wrestling and her sexuality. Alma (Sari Sanchez), on the other hand, gives Zaynab’s routine a much needed shakeup, and what starts as a casual affair begins to deepen. Zaynab’s discomfort with her sexuality and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, however, threaten to drive the young women apart. More than your average romantic comedy, Signature Move is as much a celebration of diversity as a testament to female strength, where women are paramount as lovers, wrestlers, mothers and daughters.

Hello Again

From 1901 to the present, Hello Again presents a series of ten vignettes in which ten characters pair up in various configurations and time periods, with a panoply of sexual proclivities. Jack (Tyler Blackburn) has sex with Robert (Cheyenne Jackson) who has sex with Sally (Audra McDonald) who has sex with Ruth (Martha Plimpton). And while they experience the immediate pleasures of sex, their hearts are left wanting. From operetta to swing to pop, the music of Hello Again strikes an emotional chord in this bittersweet exploration of sex and love.

Tom of Finland

Tom of Finland, as he is known to the world, but introduced to us here as Touko Laaksonen, the visionary artist behind those infamous charcoal drawings. A decorated officer, Touko Laaksonen returns home after serving his country in World War II. But life after the war does not necessarily bring him peace. The only place that Touko finds refuge from homophobic Helsinki is in his art. Under his secret signature, Tom of Finland, Touko creates hypersexual drawings of muscular men that would eventually become a symbol of freedom and expression for a generation of gay men. From a World War II soldier to the forefather of the leather scene, to becoming a voice at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic, Tom of Finland is a beautiful story of a courageous man who stands at the center of the gay revolution.

EMO the Musical

After being expelled for faking his own suicide, Ethan enrolls in a new school and sets his sights on joining its only Emo band, the appropriately named Worst Day Ever, who are preparing for the Battle of the Bands competition. Complications ensue when Ethan falls for Trinity, the lead singer of the rival Hope Group, a Christian folk trio. While the singing lovebirds try to hide their relationship, their fellow bandmates have their own secrets, including the Hope Group’s young guitarist, whose conversion therapy doesn’t appear to have cured him of his same-sex attractions. As the band competition draws near, the teenage lovers are forced to make decisions that might cost them their friends, their place in school and, ultimately, each other.


In the United States, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. (In Toronto, the estimate is anywhere from 20 to 40 percent.) With a fervent sense of humanity, Instagram star Max Emerson (aka maxisms on Instagram) dives head first into the subject in his poignant, yet hopeful, debut feature. Jack has just turned 18. He is as smart as he is reckless and impulsive. He and his boyfriend Tom have run away from home and rely on sex work to get by. Their bond is strong and unfailing, but Jack yearns for a new life for the two of them. With increasingly high stakes and the illusion of financial security, Jack navigates the sexual underworld of both New York City and Miami. The consequences are explosive. Showing profound empathy for its characters and their struggles, Hooked is a complicated, timely exploration of issues that plague our LGBTQ youth.


When Sei starts working at the massage parlor, Ling takes her under her wing. When Ling discovers that she is pregnant, Sei proposes that they raise the baby together. Happy in their special bond, it seems as if nothing can get in their way. But when neighbours begin to gossip about the relationship, and a young man begins courting Sei, the friends’ carefree life starts to crack, and eventually sets the women on separate paths. Twenty years later, after she learns that Ling has passed away, Sei returns to Macau to put the pieces together and discover the truth about the end of their relationship. Created in a culture of homophobia, Tracy Choi’s Sisterhood takes a brave and beautiful look at the fine line that can exist between friendship and romantic love.

Cherry Pop

Cherry Pop recounts one colourful night in the world of a dive drag bar where a terrified contestant known as The Cherry will perform in drag for the first time. What could possibly go wrong? The Cherry has his work cut out for him. He’s not only performing on a new stage, but must contend with a cast of wacky characters: the suicidal drag legend (Tempest Dujour), an impossibly stressed out host (Bob the Drag Queen) and a series of backstabbing queens (including the ring leader, played masterfully by Detox). To make matters worse, The Cherry has a secret. When the other drag queens uncover it, all hell breaks loose. Featuring performances by an esteemed list of your favourite RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni, Cherry Pop is a real-time roller coaster ride. The only thing left to do? Jump on, tuck in and try not to lose your wig.


Set against the brooding backdrop of a rural Icelandic fishing village, Christian and Thor are best friends on the cusp of puberty. They both have difficult home lives. Christian’s alcoholic father is abusive and Thor’s single mother is back on the dating scene, leaving him in the custody of his two bullying older sisters. Yet the boys find solace in each other’s company. Just when Christian’s feelings toward Thor grow more complicated, two local girls enter the picture, leaving a friendship irrevocably changed. Grounded by two outstanding performances from the young leads, Heartstone offers a raw, understated glimpse into the awkward, often painful promise of youth.

Rebels on Pointe

Rebels on Pointe is an affectionate and entertaining celebration of the world famous Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet that mixes high art with sharp humour as it parodies the conventions and clichés of classical ballet. Established more than 40 years ago from the social upheaval of post-Stonewall New York, and surviving through the worst years of the AIDS crisis, the company has developed a cult following around the world, performing in over 500 cities and 33 countries. Hart’s documentary juxtaposes rich archival material detailing the history of the Trocs with behind-the-scenes access and captivating performance footage. The heart of the film, however, is the stories of the dancers, providing an intimate glimpse beneath the tights and tutus at a talented troupe of drag ballerinas who are breaking stereotypes with passion, determination and impressive technical proficiency.

Out of Iraq

Nayyef and Btoo meet during the height of the Iraq War. Nayyef is a translator for the American army and Btoo is a soldier in the Iraqi army. Love blossoms quickly. The couple, however, decide that staying in Iraq is far too dangerous. While Nayyef is able to obtain an American visa, there is little chance of Btoo receiving the same. Yet the couple never give up hope of being together again, even as the years between them stretch further and further apart. A highly engaging and deeply compelling documentary produced by World of Wonder (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Out of Iraq stands as a portrait of the great risks a brave couple will hazard for love, and as a reminder of the dangers that LGBT people in Iraq continue to face.

By Kevin Joseph

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