TIFFmania is upon us. Two weeks from now the cineastes will emerge bleary-eyed, satiated from gorging on as many films as they can cram in. Celebriwhores will tally their selfies with stars, sightings and, if really lucky or persistent, belt notches. And those of us without the time or financial resources to invest in a feast of films, will rue what we missed and plan on what we will see when, if, the films go into general release.
Navigating TIFF is a matter of personal choices. Films that look promising aren't, films that don't appeal are hits, it is impossible to tell until one is parked in a seat and the titles roll. I was lucky enough to receive some advance screeners of films of particular gay interest and also couldn't help resist skimming through the website for a few dream screenings to attend.
The Wavelengths series at TIFF showcases up and coming international filmmakers and there is a strong gay contingent this year. Strangely Ordinary This Devotion is a determinedly artsy narrative-free sci-fi depiction of a group of lesbians conducting rituals and semi-scientific experiments in order to produce eco-friendly babies that do not require water. Those rituals involve menstrual blood, lots of nudity and sex, rocks, flowers, flossing, Prince, cranial surgery (or scarification?), and vaguely BDSM chains inserted into vaginas.
Occidental concerns the mysterious and murky goings-on in a Parisian boutique hotel. Like the hotel it is extremely stylish with a mise-en-scene that drenches Sirkian motifs in neon. Everyone is passionate and no-one is what they seem. A gay (or are they?) couple book into the honeymoon suite and somehow upend the unnatural natural order of the hotels functioning. While a protest march - all smoke and battle-ready police - storms outside, the hotel staff and guests seethe in a hotbed of distrust, racism, homophobia and sexuality. It is as if Almodovar and Samuel Beckett collaborated on a satirical dissection of our fraught times.
Flores is billed as "lavender-tinged" and it literally is. Another sketch for a sci-fi epic, Flores posits that the Azores islands have been over-run by hydrangeas (Madonna was on to something). The shots of the purple and blue flowers towering and shifting in the breeze are gorgeous and oddly unsettling, the intense close-ups of the Portuguese soldiers remaining on the islands are even more gorgeous and not at all unsettling. Shot in faux-documentary style, not a lot happens but the sexual tension is as fragrant as a hydrangea.
The world premiere of Luk'Luk'l is a harrowing experience transformed by two luminous performances by unlikely actors with star presence: Angel Gates and Ken Harrower. Storylines interwine among a cast that lives and struggles in Vancouver's East Side. Presented as documentary but apparently fictionalized versions of the actors/subjects real lives, there is addiction, sex work, celebrity worship, racism, ableism, karaoke, a flying saucer, and more broken dreams that one film can reasonably be expected to contain. The fantasy segments are extraordinary with the theme of the Canadian dream equalling skating (whether hockey or figure or roller) tying everything together.
Director Wayne Wapeemukwa and a quite extraordinary cast manage to walk the line between horror and dignity without slipping and it is so compelling that one daren't look away. Harrower's storyline in particular is gutwrenching and powerful. I hadn't realized how intensely I was praying for a happy ending until the ambiguous finale of Harrower's story occurred. I cried.
The big gay aiming-for-the-mainstream film of this year's TIFF is Call Me By Your Name. Heartthrob Armie Hammer is a doctoral student who falls for the professor's son amidst a sun and suppressed passion drenched Italian landscape. It is expected to get a widespread commercial release.
Also very gay are two documentaries focussing on diva musicians. And both artists are scheduled to make appearances and possibly perform if Ms Jones makes it on time and Gaga recovers her voice in time. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami is a must-see, it was filmed over a decade including a staged concert just for the camera, but face it: Jones could, as the cliché goes, read the phone book and be riveting. Lady Gaga is also fascinating and Gaga: Five Foot Two is bound to be entertaining if probably not as psychologically revealing as billed - however it is already scheduled for its Netflix début so there is no urgency attached.
And that leads to the entire debate over what importance a film festival has when it is screening a Netflix production as a cornerstone gala, even when there is a major celebrity attached. Every year there is a film, usually from the US/Hollywood, whose bonafides are questionable, but if it shines a spotlight reflection on less sellable films like Luk'Luk'l, let the diva do her pseudo-soul baring. And the profits from that screening can be put towards projects like the full 3D restoration of Canada's first horror film, The Mask (Eyes of Hell). Now that is a must-see.
And of course, all of the Midnight Madness films appeal to campy connoisseurs as us gays are rumoured to be. Nicholas Cage is a rampaging murderous father in Mom and Dad; wannabe-queen James Franco's The Disaster Artist is rumoured to be the Ed Wood of this generation; the gore, suspense and eye candy of Downrange is promising; and The Ritual where cult horror author Adam Nevill finally gets to the silver screen puts a horror spin on male bonding in the woods. And that is just skimming through the website.
So for two weeks the news will be full of celebrity sightings and incidental film reviews, some bars will be open late, there will be parties worth scrounging an invite to (Bruce LaBruce's Sour Grapes. Annual TIFF Bash! at the Bovine Sex Club is a good bet), and more films than it would be possible to view even if one had the stamina and the wherewithal. TIFFmania is highly communicable, like it or not, we will all succumb.