Queer film festival serves up “Reelness”

Our ongoing coverage of the Reelout’s 19th year

The poster for ABU the movie.
Image supplied by: Supplied by Matt Salton
The poster for ABU the movie. 

From Feb. 1 to 10, Kingston will see a diverse collection of the finest short films and documentaries exploring the LGBTQ+ community.

These films tell intersectional stories that span the globe, with intimate and sweeping profiles that ask viewers of all backgrounds to step outside of themselves and see the world through a new lens.

Our ongoing coverage will continue to be updated here as the festival continues. 

Click on the movie below to read our writer’s review:

  1. ABU
  2. The Gardener
  3. Porcupine Lake
  4. Third Gender in South Asia/Being Transgender in South Asia
  5. Crossroads: International and Intersectional Shorts program



Reelout opened this year’s festival with ABU, a documentary chronicling the life of director Arshad Khan. The film follows Khan from his childhood in Islamabad, Pakistan, to his troubled youth in Mississauga and includes a glimpse into the director’s present day life in Montreal.

Throughout his life, Khan struggled with identity and felt out of place, worsened by the complicated relationship he has with his father, Abu.

Luckily for the audience and the director himself, Khan’s family documented much of their life with intimate home videos. These clips made up the core of the film, accompanied by Khan’s commentary.

We’re introduced to the highs and lows of his life as a gay boy growing up in an increasingly strict household. Oftentimes, Khan balanced his true identity with appeasing his parents, what seemed like an impossible task.

In addition to the turmoil of Khan’s family life, the film discusses the detrimental effects of 9/11 and how Khan didn’t realize the true extent of hate and Islamophobia present in Canada until after the attack.

In an intimate question period after the screening, Khan said “the world’s prejudices are in the gay world too.”

For example, Khan said that after these terrorist attacks, the LGBTQ+ community often echoed the hateful Islamophobia present in the wider national mood.

While 9/11 and the hatred it inspired encouraged Khan to take to the streets in protest, his parents went in a different direction. They became more interested in fundamentalist Islam and moved further away from accepting their son’s sexual orientation.

This moving documentary was an early, important highlight of the festival.

The film gives Canadian audiences a brutally honest portrayal of the experience of a gay Muslim immigrant dealing with prejudice within and beyond our country.

—    AJ Lockhard

The Gardener

Directed by Sébastien Chabot, The Gardener is a documentary that tells the story of Francis Cabot and his decades-long gardening project.

The primary focus of the film features Cabot’s private gardens ‘Les Quatres Vents’ at his summer home in Charlevoix County, Quebec. The gardens cover 20 acres and are known worldwide for their beauty.

The documentary explores Cabot’s dedication to his horticultural masterpiece, largely through shots of ‘Les Quatres Vents’ while interviewing the late Cabot filmed shortly before his death.

Director Chabot presents the footage of the gardens as if Cabot is giving a personal tour. There are no wide-sweeping shots or bird’s eye view camera angles.Instead, the film lets the artist take the audience through the enclosure he believes relies on a personal, human touch.

Like the documentary itself, Cabot’s work is meticulously planned. Chabot’s film is restrained, which allows for the scenes’ natural beauty to appear undisturbed and for the viewers to settle into a quiet appreciation of the garden and its creator.

The beauty of the gardens has attracted a number of fellow admirers. The film highlights interviews with former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, friends of Cabot and a writer on gardens and horticulture.

This use of guest appearances illustrates the wide-ranging impact of Cabot and ‘Les Quatres Vents.’ Oddly, the garden becomes a backdrop for this emerging community of admirers the film’s audience inevitably brings together.

—    Clayton Tomlinson

Porcupine Lake

Written by Ingrid Veninger, Porcupine Lake presents a coming of age film that tells the innocent love story of Bea and Kate. As the two girls spend a summer together, they explore the transition from childhood to adolescence as they navigates issues like poverty, broken homes and family breakdowns.

Veninger’s film begins as Bea and her mom are leaving Toronto to reunite with Bea’s father at his road-stop diner in the country. Although quiet and cautious, Bea finds an unlikely friend in the bold and adventurous Kate she meets while at the diner.

Kate takes it upon herself to introduce Bea to all the ways of the adolescent world, from learning the techniques of french kissing to demystifying boners and periods.

Veninger captures the simplicity of childhood friendship with authenticity and humour.

Bea and Kate’s activities – swimming in the lake, eating ice cream cones and playing in the woods – are reminiscent of a classic summer film. However, Veninger strays from clichés by leaving out a male love interest and avoiding a picture-perfect plot resolution, choosing to conclude with Bea’s family moving back to Toronto and leaving Kate behind.

Porcupine Lake is a bittersweet story about what it’s like to leave childhood behind and experience love, pain and adolescence for the first time. The film presents a pure and sacred love story that is sure to resonate, endearing the film to its audience.

 —    Raechel Huzinga

Third Gender in South Asia/Being Transgender in South Asia

This Reelout presentation featured two films curated by Reena Kukreja, a professor in Gender Studies and Global Development Studies. The two documentaries present intimate and stirring portraits of LGBTQ+ communities in Southern Asia.

The first film shown was Naked Wheels, a documentary directed by Rajesh James following two transgender people as they travel across Southern India with a professional truck driver.

James’ film is rooted in interviews with its subjects as they explore the barriers and stigmas transgender people face in India, including deeply human stories about the impacts of discriminatory institutions and social attitudes.

The subjects of the documentary present institutional challenges that range from the difficulties associated with undergoing gender reassignment surgery to social challenges within LGBTQ+ communities such as loneliness.

Naked Wheels brought forth a candid portrayal of navigating gender identity in Southern India, offering unique insight into the impact social stigma has on transgender people.

Prof. Reena Kukreja curated the presentation. (Photo supplied by Reelout.)

The second documentary of the day was Chuppan Chupai – Hide and Seek.

Directed by Saadat Munir and Saad Khan, the film offers an in-depth portrayal of people belonging to sexual minorities in Pakistan.

This film goes far beyond discussion of the social and institutional challenges faced by members of sexual minorities to provide a vivid glimpse into the inner lives of its subjects.

Chuppan Chuupai – Hide and Seek illustrated the vibrant networks and relationships emerging among the country’s LGBTQ+ community.

Both films highlight the social stigma and barriers faced by LGBTQ+ communities in Pakistan and India, providing sympathetic and thought-provoking takes that brought the issue of LGBTQ+ rights in South Asia to life.

Crossroads: International and Intersectional Shorts Program

This Reelout international shorts presentation boasted a selection of seven short films that examine a variety of LGBTQ+ experiences on the international stage.

The first film featured, The Streets Are Ours: Two Lives Cross in Karachi, directed by Michelle Fiordaliso, was the only documentary in the program. It follows the journey of Pakistani-Canadian actress Fawzia Mirza as she performs her play about her queer identity across Pakistan.

The Streets Are Ours is dedicated to Sabeen Mahmud, the LGBTQ+ activist who invited Mirza to perform in Pakistan. Mahmud was assassinated in 2015, shortly after Mirza returned to the United States.

The other films shown during this program were solely fictional and told stories along the lines of race, gender, class, immigration, religion and ability through an LQBTQ+ lens.

Sign, a silent film from the United States directed by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Adam Watcher, examines the romantic relationship between Ben and Aaron, a deaf man. The film is a captivating exploration of how love and disability can interact with one another.

Another, Y, presents a German film directed by Gina Wenzel. The film follows the relationship of Laura, a young German woman, and Safi, a woman who flees her homeland to Germany at the height of the refugee crisis. Y paints a humbling picture of how human connections can at once transcend political crises and be profoundly shaped by circumstance.

Appropriately named, the Crossroads presentation explored how different characters’ realities intertwined with their relationships and identities, providing broad intersectional views of their subjects.

—    Rebecca Frost


documentary, Film Festival, Reelout, Screening Room, short film

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