Reelout wheels out of Kingston

A quick-fire review of some of this year’s film highlights

Fire Song, one of the films at this year’s Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival, focuses on the experience of living on a First Nations reserve.
Fire Song, one of the films at this year’s Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival, focuses on the experience of living on a First Nations reserve. 
Credit: 
Supplied by Reelout Queer Film Festival

The Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival screened its closing gala to an enthusiastic crowd this past Saturday, wrapping up an entertaining, illuminating and educational nine-day celebration of sexual and gender diversity in film. 

Reelout — which began in 1999 as a project to celebrate queer media arts — has remained relevant and subversive as discussions on sexuality and gender have blossomed in Canadian society. 

After 17 years, the festival continues to be an artistic forum for debate and discussion on topics related to various marginalized communities. This year’s theme, “In the Dark,” covered issues such as poverty, First Nation reserves, sexual violence and the devastation of war. 

“We had a lot of terrific visiting filmmakers and some great audience questions and it is nice to see that people were engaged,” festival director Matt Salton said. 

As part of my coverage of this year’s festival, I was treated to three very different films — Fire Song, a Canadian drama about life on a First Nations reserve, the trippy, apocalyptic Spanish film Velociraptor and the light-hearted romantic comedy Portrait of a Serial Monogamist.

Fire Song

Fire Song, which made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, depicts the young and intelligent Shane, an Anishinaabe teenager at a crossroads in his life. 

When the film begins, Shane is torn between staying on his reservation and attending university in Toronto. 

He also finds himself choosing between his girlfriend Tara and his friend David, for whom he harbours secret romantic feelings.

Faced with mounting relationship pressures, traditional values in his community, rising tuition costs, the suicide of his younger sister and his mother’s chronic depression, Shane — played by newcomer Andrew Martin — begins to break down and cope with his stress in increasingly harmful ways. 

The film focuses on issues that affect many Aboriginal peoples. As a film that confronts  alcoholism, substance abuse, racism, homophobia and sexual violence, Fire Song authentically and successfully tackles issues that have been relevant to all of us at one time or another. 

Fire Song is a refreshing, hard-hitting, but ultimately positive depiction of problems affecting youth in Canada’s marginalized communities and a fantastic example of oft-unseen First Nations cinema. 

The film is based partly on director Adam Garnet Jones’ experiences in his own community. 

“When I went to write this film I started thinking about and remembering a time in my own community when there had been a cycle of youth suicide and that feeling of heaviness in the community, of everyone being afraid of, you know, is this the end? Are we going to lose somebody else?” Jones said. 

“And everyone is so worried about what is going to happen next, but nobody knows what to do and so exploring that kind of feeling and looking back on my own experiences.” 

Velociraptor

On Saturday afternoon, I went to see Chucho E. Quintero’s surrealist, indie doomsday-dramedy Velociraptor, a film with complex, taboo subject matter that’s buttressed by occasional moments of hilarity.

The film follows two friends, Alex and Diego, as they prepare for an inevitable apocalypse. The two characters spend their last hours on Earth together, divulging sexual secretes and desires. 

Alex, who’s gay, tells stories about his sexual experiences to Diego, whose sexuality remains ambiguous. The two confide their sexual exploits and fantasies until Alex proposes that the two have sex. He’s still a virgin, he tells Diego, and he wants to enjoy his first time in the company of someone he loves. 

Velociraptor is visually stunning and the chemistry of the two leads — actors Pablo Mezz and Carlos Hendrick Huber — carries the film to the end. 

The film successfully deconstructs beliefs about sexuality through the dialogue of the two protagonists, and it’s captivating to see the two bond over fears and desires concerning sexuality and intimacy.  

Mixing science fiction, romance and drama, Velociraptor is a fresh take on the strength of friendship and the excitement of sexual exploration.

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist

At the closing gala this past Saturday, I watched the final film of the festival — John Mitchell and Christina Zeidler’s romantic comedy Portrait of a Serial Monogamist. 

The film follows radio journalist Elsie, a serial dater who recently broke up with her latest girlfriend for a younger woman. After a friend challenges her to put an end to her relationship addiction, Elsie commits to being single for five months. 

With a straightforward and predictable plot, Portrait of a Serial Monogamist feels like one long TV episode. Elsie is a typical romantic comedy lead — kind of immature and a bit of a screwball, but just charming enough for you to root for her and forgive her shallowness. 

The film’s portrayal of Elsie and her experience is surprisingly poignant, touching and at times cringe-worthy, especially if you’ve ever been that crazy ex-partner.

Although it’s labeled as a queer film, co-directors John Mitchell and Christina Zeidler’s urged viewers to consider Portrait of a Serial Monogamist as a romantic comedy. Instead of focusing on specific queer issues, the plot follows Elsie’s quest for self-understanding. 

“That is what is subversive about our film. It was just them as people and they weren’t trying to hide who they were. They’re already out, they’ve lived their lives and that’s how we played with the genre,” Zeidler said.

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