With increasing attention arriving on issues of diversity in the film industry, having this diversity represented in the programming of films at festivals can be seen as emblematic of this development. Representation of this diversity is becoming all the more important, particularly for LGBTQ+ audiences, who for decades have rarely seen their experiences depicted on screen, or if they have, the depictions have frequently been outdated or problematic in some way.

This year at EIFF there is a fantastic range of LGBTQ+ films in the programme, ranging from documentary, to feature film and experimental shorts.

Miss María, Skirting the Mountain offers an intimate look at the life of a trans campesina in Colombia

Perhaps most impressive in this year’s programme is the vast array of documentary films depicting the real stories of LGBTQ+ individuals, histories, and cultures. Miss Maria, Skirting the Mountain (Señorita Maria, la falda de la montaña) directed by Rubén Mendoza follows the story of María Luisa Fuentes, a transgender woman living in Boavita, a rural, conservative Catholic village embedded in the Andes. This heart-wrenching documentary explores the difficulties of rural life in Colombia, a country mired in religious morality and subsequent prejudice.

Blurring the lines between documentary and drama, Luk’Luk’I follows a group of marginalised Vancouverites during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. This juxtaposition serves as means of highlighting how a history of settler-colonialism, culminating in the Canadian patriotism of the games, neglects the citizens of the city who fall outside of mainstream national ideals. One of the film’s main characters is that of Angela Dawson, aka Ms Rollergirl, a Vancouver celebrity, icon and role model, who plays herself. For over 15 years Ms Rollergirl has devoted her life to safety and women’s rights, making headlines in 2015 for winning a Human Rights Tribunal case against Vancouver police, after being refused access to medical care in jail as a trans woman and having police officials refuse to call her by her name. A complex portrait of five people living on society’s fringes, Ms Rollergirl’s life is woven into a narrative contrasting what a country chooses to believe in and how it acts in reality. Director and screenwriter Wayne Wapeemukwa will attend the festival.

Jennie Livingston, director of the landmark documentary Paris Is Burning, will attend its screening at EIFF

Also included in the programme are several documentaries about well known members of the LGBTQ+ community such as George Michael in George Michael: Freedom - Director’s Cut (Dir. David Austin), style guru André Leon Talley in The Gospel According to André (Dir. Kate Novack), and make-up artist and activist Kevyn Aucoin in Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story (Dir. Tiffany Bartok), to name just a few. Also in the programme this year is the Queer cult classic Paris Is Burning, a film that documents New York Ballroom culture in Harlem. This seminal film explores issues of race, class, identity, and the transformative power of drag performance. The film’s director, Jennie Livingston, will be in attendance at the festival for this screening so this is definitely not to be missed. A must-see film for anybody interested in drag performance! 

Regarding Feature Fiction, Wild Nights With Emily (Dir. Madeleine Olnek) is a period romp about Emily Dickinson (performed by the vibrant Molly Shannon), forced to hide her lesbian love affair, while her work is rejected by the male-dominated literary establishment. From Romania,  Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl (Câteva conversații despre o fată foarte înaltă), the debut feature film by director Bogdan Theodor Olteanu, explores a tentative affair between two women set against the prejudice of contemporary Romania.

Another notable narrative entry is Hearts Beat Loud, a heartwarming film starring Nick Offerman as Frank, a widowed single father. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is growing up fast, wrapped up in a blossoming relationship with girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane) and soon to leave the nest to study medicine. Eager to spend as much time as possible with Sam before she departs, Frank convinces Sam to form an unlikely songwriting duo with him for the summer, leading them on a path of love, family, and music.

A pack-like trio of brothers face a troubled childhood in We the Animals

In contrast to this, We the Animals follows Jonah (Evan Rosado) - confused by his emerging sexuality - and his two older brothers as they run wild through the woods near their upstate New York home, struggling to deal with their father's violence towards their mother. A beautiful, deeply lyrical coming-of-age film, director Jeremiah Zagar wished to honor the book by Justin Torres on which it was based. In order to do so, Zagar enlisted the help of longtime friend and playwright Dan Kitrosser to craft the screenplay. Reflecting on this decision, Zagar stated “Dan is gay, and I’m not. And it was very important for us to make sure that the gay perspective was authentic.” Kitrosser could easily relate to the story’s protagonist. “That was something that spoke to me from the very beginning,” he recalls. “I remember as a kid, being so aware of everybody’s bodies constantly, and what I shouldn’t look at and what I should. That was something very tied to my sexuality, and something that was really palpable in the book.”

One of the most exciting programmes for me this year is the collection of work by pioneering queer filmmaker Barbara Hammer. A selection of her films has been curated in the shorts programme Defiant Bodies - Celebrating Barbara Hammer. One of the shorts in this programme, Dyketactics, is largely regarded as one of the very first lesbian films to have been made. In response to this programme of Hammer’s films, EIFF programmers Lydia Beilby and Kim Knowles have curated the shorts programme Resistant Bodies, responding to the central themes of Hammer’s work, to be viewed as an explorative conversation between the two.

If the art of programming LGBTQ+ films such as these piques your interest - we also have a panel discussion taking place as part of the EIFF Industry programme on this topic. Programmer for GAZE LGBT Film Festival Roisin Geraghty, Helen Wright of Scottish Queer International Film Festival, Lydia Beilby and Kim Knowles of EIFF and Queer filmmaker Madeleine Olnek come together to examine the recent trends of LGBTQ+ cinema and the ways in which this impacts its programming and subsequent reception. This is open to all Industry Passholders. We also have a selected number of free tickets available for those without a pass, which can be booked here.