<em>The Watermelon Woman</em> is one of many films showing at Canada’s most northern queer film festival this November, which will have a new virtual format. (Submitted)

The Watermelon Woman is one of many films showing at Canada’s most northern queer film festival this November, which will have a new virtual format. (Submitted)

OUT North Film Festival moves to virtual format

In its ninth year, the artistic director said this year has a more diverse set of short and feature films

Canada’s most northern queer film festival is back in November, with a new virtual format and renewed interest on diversity within the LGBT community.

This year’s lineup for the OUT North Film Festival includes around 20 films, all of which will be accessible online with purchased tickets or a festival pass.

“We’re a really small film festival so we can’t compete on a level that Inside Out (in Toronto) can or Outfest can in Los Angeles. I’m constantly looking for the diamond in the rough or the one that nobody else has,” said artistic director Rian Turner.

“Year-round, I keep my ears and eyes open for up-and-coming directors, writers and just great films. We have to work a little bit harder to get those things but I think we do a pretty good job considering that we’re really small,” Turner said.

Now in its ninth year as a festival, Turner said the festival always tries to balance bringing southern queer films to the North, and bringing the North into the festival.

This year, the Black Lives Matter movement prompted self-reflection. Turner said the organization hasn’t always succeeded in challenging racism and transphobia and supporting diverse filmmakers with programming.

“This year we have a lot to say in terms of Black Lives Matter, and how we haven’t always been so great at curating Black-made films or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) films in the queer community. So we’ve really been focusing a lot on trying to find and support the actors, directors and writers in the queer community who clearly have been neglected for far too long,” Turner said.

“So you’ll see this year that we have a bunch of really great films that highlight Black and BIPOC queer voices,” she said.

Programming in that vein includes two very different films that explore the lives of Black women, three decades, a genre and an ocean apart.

The Watermelon Woman, a 1995 comedy-drama, stars Cheryl Dunye as a twenty-something Black lesbian filmmaker who works in a video rental store and falls for a white customer.

“It was produced 30 years ago and it has a great twist at the end,” Turner said. “I think it speaks volumes about how 30 years ago we were still talking about the same things today and how that’s not OK. You know, we should have fixed this a long time ago. (With vintage films) we have to kind of go back before we can go forward.”

Ìfé, released in 2020, is a short drama that explores the love between two women and the reality of a same-sex relationship in Nigeria.

This year’s programming also includes a number of Indigenous filmmakers who explore two-spirit identity, a culturally-specific term used by some Indigenous people in the LGBT community.

Other films explore LGBT refugees trying to immigrate to America, homeless youth, trans athletes, dementia, a southern gay choir, COVID-19 lockdown and queer proms.

The lineup also includes a family holiday in Italy turned upside down by a surprise engagement and a queer aunt who returns from the dead to fulfill the role of fairy godmother for her niece’s prom.

“The message that we want to send this year is that we really do support all queer filmmakers,” Turner said.

“There’s no way to get around this. We have to support our filmmakers because they tell these stories. And these stories are going to protect and bring awareness to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We have a small platform, but we do have a platform. It’s important for us to support all aspects of our community. We realize that we haven’t done a great job of that in the past.”

As in previous years, the schedule will also include some northern representation in the form of the winner of the annual short film contest.

The winner will receive a hand-blown glass trophy made at Lumel Studios, one of the sponsors of the event.

The festival is supported by grants from the Yukon government and additional support from local businesses.

“It’s almost a bit of defiance to be northern and queer. You know, to love to go hunt and fish and whatever and then throw some glitter around and watch some queer film and be part of this great, vibrant community. It’s a dichotomy that most people don’t experience,” Turner said.

The full schedule runs from Nov. 6 to 12.

Tickets to this year’s festival are $60 for an all-access festival pass and $15 for single day tickets.

Both types of access are available for seniors and students at a reduced cost.

Opening night will feature a program that includes Take Me to Prom (21 min), Woman Dress (7 min), the short film contest winner (5 min) and The Watermelon Woman (90 min).

The Nov. 7 evening program will be Hey, Google (20 min) plus a pre-recorded Q&amp;A with director Leon Lopez and Gay Chorus: Deep South (100 min).

Nov. 8 programming will feature First Stories – Two Spirited (6 min), Second Stories – Deb-we-win Ge-ken-am-aan, Our Place in the Circle (22 min), ​​I am Skylar (15 min), Changing the Game (95 min) and ​Ellie and Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) (80 min).

Nov. 9 schedule is Ìfé (30 min) and Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America (84 min).

Nov. 10 is Witch Therapy (7 min), Break In (16 min) and Queering the Script (90 min).

Nov 11. will be a screening of An Almost Ordinary Summer (100 min).

Nov. 12 will close the festival with Hands Don’t Lie (9 min) and Nobody (83 min).

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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