Queer Film Festival serves up “Reelness”

Our ongoing coverage from Reelout’s 19th year

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Supplied by Matt Salton

Girl Unbound: The War To Be Her

Directed by Erin Heidenreich, Girl Unbound: The War To Be Her is a tender yet matter-of-fact documentary exploring the intersections of gender, religion and war through the perspective of a Pakistani athlete.

The story follows Maria Toorpakai as she reflects on her career as an internationally competing squash player. The film’s interviews with Toorpakai explain how the Taliban severely restrict women’s freedoms in Waziristan — even when it comes to playing squash.

In response to these conditions, the young athlete revealed she would dress like a man in order to attend her squash competitions. This wasn’t the first time her gender shaped her experiences and circumstances; even as a child, Toorpakai chose to dress like a boy so she’d have the freedom to play outside without judgement. 

Toorpakai said she doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl, but instead admitted she hasn’t quite yet figured out this part of her identity.

At one point in the film’s interview footage, Toorpakai is seen smiling while recounting her sister’s suggestion she take some time to pray to discover her own personal truth.

Retelling the unique tale of Toorpakai’s life, Heidenreich’s film offers viewers hope and optimism mixed with stories of hardship and political struggle. 

The Girl Unbound includes shots of familial love alongside clips of their abandoned family home, police escorts to ensure their safety while travelling in Waziristan and threats against the family from the Taliban. 

Since her athletic career gained prominence, Toorpakai and her sister Ayesha, a young politician, are often in the public eye despite coming from a Taliban-controlled region, making the entire family a target for violence.

The film artfully articulates the many challenges the family face together. Attacks against her parents for being educators and threats to her sister for being a female politician are common in their lives. 

The strength of the Toorpakai family is made clear by the evident support they give one another – singing, playing squash or doing volunteer work together. 

Girl Unbound: The War To Be Her shows the audience something seemingly as simple as playing squash can be extremely dangerous for someone in Maria’s position. Even so, squash remains a tool for her rebellion against 

the Taliban.

— Amelia Rankine

This review used the film’s use of pronouns  to refer to Toorpakai

C’est La Vie: French Shorts Program

On Thursday evening, Reelout presented C’est La Vie: French Shorts Program, a touching collection of French language shorts from France, Belgum and Quebec.

The program’s seven films explored diverse subjects pertaining specifically to the LGBTQ2+ community, as well as more universal topics relatable to all viewers like loss, heartbreak and intergenerational conflict. 

Instead of focusing on sexuality as the basis of struggle or as being central to the plotline, many of these films showcase lesbian, gay or transgender characters whose sexual orientation is relevant, but not necessarily the crux of the plot progression. 

The film’s characters face everyday struggles most of us typically encounter. Deemphasizing the sexuality of the characters in these films is a sign of changing cultural attitudes and increased acceptance within society.

The best short of the night — Séverine de Streyker and Maxime Feyers’ Calamity — is about a young man who brings his transgender girlfriend home for dinner to meet his shocked parents. It’s a nuanced study of generational divide and cultural schism. 

When it’s revealed that Romain’s girlfriend is transgender at a family gathering, his parents are dumbfounded and struggle to understand their son’s decision.

A clear depiction of the present generational gap between parents and children, Romain’s brother and his girlfriend are accepting of Romain’s new relationship and the girl’s sexuality never registers with or seems to affect them. 

However, the parents are never pigeonholed as the homophobic, bigoted counterparts to the wholly-accepting younger generation.

Their concerns are more based around fear, confusion and an inability to keep up with recent social and sexual developments in society. Romain’s parents are from a different time, with different values and conceptions of what sexuality and relationships are supposed to entail and they simply don’t understand his decision.

The film brings forth two important messages: the first is fear of difference is usually rooted in misunderstanding; the second is that social progression takes time and occurs over the course of generations. 

To the parents, their son bringing home a transgender girlfriend is the worst thing that could ever happen.  To Romain, his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, it’s a complete non-issue.

According to the film, we’re moving towards a world where people are choosing to take the latter stance.

— Josh Malm

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