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This year's Out North Film Festival takes a transgender focus

Fiona Griffin and Debbie Thomas never set out to beat any kind of drum when they organized the Yukon's first queer film festival in 2012. "We don't have a political mandate or anything like that," Thomas said.

Fiona Griffin and Debbie Thomas never set out to beat any kind of drum when they organized the Yukon’s first queer film festival in 2012.

“We don’t have a political mandate or anything like that,” Thomas said.

“We’re all about screening excellent films that no one else is showing. We just have an appreciation for good filmmaking and good stories.”

This year marks the fifth anniversary for the Out North Film Festival, the only one of its kind North of 60.

And like they say on their website, who’d have guessed?

Sitting in a downtown cafe, both Griffin and Thomas are proudly wearing their festival T-shirts, adorned with a bright pink porcupine.

Every year the festival logo is a different northern animal. In the past it’s been a moose, a beaver, a wolf and a raven.

A few years ago the venue for the festival moved to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, which has more seating capacity and a better sound system than its predecessor, the Old Fire Hall.

The organizers are hoping to attract a larger audience and a broader demographic this year, they say.

To do so, they’ve picked (albeit somewhat reluctantly) more mainstream films than they normally would.

Among the Hollywood hits screening this year is Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, a film about a forbidden love affair between two women set in the 1950s.

“It’s unusual for us to have such high-profile films in our lineup,” Griffin said.

“We’re a bit edgy about moving towards more mainstream films because as a queer film festival, I like to support indie queer filmmakers.”

“And that’s basically our mandate,” Thomas added.

Through no planning of their own, three of this year’s six feature films have a transgender storyline.

That includes The Danish Girl, a film loosely based on the lives of two Danish painters, one of whom underwent one of the first sex change surgeries.

Alicia Vikander received this year’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film.

The New Girlfriend, a French film, “tackles transitioning from a two-sided perspective,” Thomas said.

“It has brilliant acting and cinematography, and it shows a lot of gender fluidity from both characters,” she added.

There’s also A Womb of Their Own, a film described as “six articulate, charismatic and diverse masculine-identified people who discuss their pregnancies and chest-feeding experiences, demonstrating the non-binary nature of gender.”

Over the years, the organizers have been lucky. Some distributors have basically donated the screening fees for certain films. Others have been more expensive, they say.

But funding from the Royal Bank of Canada and the Government of Yukon Arts Fund has helped a lot, they added.

“We have a lot of community support from local businesses, non-profits and individuals,” Griffin said.

For the first time this year, the festival features a contest for youth.

Griffin and Thomas approached schools and youth groups around the territory to encourage students to put together a film of their own, using smartphones and tablets.

The only stipulation was that it had to be under five minutes in length and feature the Out North logo.

The winning film will be screened during the festival, with the winner receiving a brand new iPad and a $200 donation towards their school or youth group.

“We’ve had a lot of interest so far, so it’ll be interesting to see what we get,” Thomas said.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 25. Full contest details are available at

The Out North Film Festival runs from Friday, April 15 until Sunday, April 17.

Tickets are only available at the door.

Contact Myles Dolphin at