There’s a virtual parade of documentaries ready to help POV readers celebrate Pride! As drag bans sweep the States, Toronto faces a Blue Jays brouhaha, and a viral video has the Internet shaking its head as a user blames the water supply for having a gay agenda, stories that accurately reflect the LGBTQ+ community are essential. Fortunately, we’ve been inundated with news about one-off screenings, new streaming releases, classics coming out of the closest, and old favourites and have curated a dozen docs to see this month to celebrate all colours of the rainbow. We’ve tried to avoid some of the tried and true listicle staples—shout out to Paris Is Burning, Forbidden Love, and No Ordinary Man!—but heartily add them to the list if you haven’t seen them already. Don’t forget, Toronto audiences can catch additional queer stories with the closing weekend of Inside Out and Queen of the Deuce screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, among other highlights.
Here’s a baker’s dozen docs to watch this Pride Month.
Screens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, June 2 at 7:00pm
An essential precursor to Paris Is Burning and Drag Race, Frank Simon’s 1968 documentary The Queen goes behind the scenes of the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant in New York City. It’s an early snapshot of drag, just a few years after Some Like It Hot camped it up. But where that comedy classic plays drag for laughs, The Queen offers an intimate portrait of a community decades before it broke through the mainstream.
Streams on MUBI (beginning June 7)
Make a drag double bill with Paris Is Burning or The Queen with this inventive hybrid short about drag queens in Argentina. The award-winning film by Augustina Comedi explores Argentina’s queer scene during the time when the AIDS epidemic and a military dictatorship made it especially gruelling to be visibly queer. Only one survivor, La Delpi, remains to tell the story of queens and transpeople who suffered cruelly in a conservative Catholic society. However, she celebrates the lives of her fellow queens by honouring them as is truly fit: by putting on one heck of a show.
Streams at NFB.ca
An important perspective about the rights and love lives of queer people with disabilities, Picture This offers a portrait of Andrew Gurza. A self-described “queer cripple,” Gurza draws upon his experience to ensure that the voices and bodies of people with disabilities are part of the conversation. Directed by Jari Osborne, the film uses a character-driven story to explore the ways in which spaces and communities need to be reimagined in order to be as inclusive as they aspire to be.
Portrait of Jason
Streams on MUBI
Decide for yourself if this 1967 character piece reveals the soul of a troubled man or the pitfalls of ethical practices. Portrait of Jason lets hustler Jason Holliday tell his story to the camera during the course of one 12-hour shoot in director Shirley Clarke’s hotel room. Holliday is the only one in front of the camera while the voices of Clarke and crew members come from offscreen. On one hand, the set-up invites a candid confessional. On the other, it places Jason directly in the hot seat as the conversation increasingly puts him on the defensive. Perhaps the complexities of the production dynamic partly make the film such an enduringly provocative study of race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Screens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, June 2 at 9:00pm
-Also on Criterion Channel
Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 documentary invites audiences for a night out at a lesbian performance club. The setting comes with clear rules and expectations: this place celebrates women and their bodies. A chorus of performers share their perspectives about owning their sexuality on stage, and being sensuous and free for observant eyes. Intercut with lo-fi verité shots of the performers in action, the film gives viewers a sense of being at the club with an audio guide to the stories behind the onstage numbers. Shakedown offers a refreshing portrait of a subculture told through the voices at its centre.
Screens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Thursday, June 22 at 7:30pm
A delightful slice of history comes in this documentary by Kevin Hegge that looks back to the New Romantics. Tramps! is a loud, wild, and scrappy portrait of the New Romantics, the countercultural scene that emerged in late 1970s’ London to unite outsiders, misfits, and bohemians. Figures from the era like designer Judy Blame, filmmaker John Maybury, DJs Princess Julia and Jeffrey Hinton, dancer Les Child, and nightclub promoter Scarlett Cannon reflect upon a movement born in London’s underground where people were free to experiment and fuel the city from the inside out. Read more in our interview with Kevin Hegge.
Streams on Tënk
Mike Hoolboom’s award winning experimental non-fiction film Frank’s Cock remains one of the best studies of the impact of AIDS on the lives of queer people. The film splits the screen into four quadrants, offering a dizzying array of images that range from porn footage to intimate confessionals. Narrated by actor Callum Keith Rennie with a script that draws inspiration from the experiences of gay couples in which a partner is dying of AIDS, Frank’s Cock takes viewers through an 8-minute roller-coaster ride of joy, hope, grief, and crushing heartache.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Screens at the Revue Cinema in Toronto on Thursday, June 8 at 7:30 pm
She’s the sassiest woman to ever hold a microphone and she’s fodder for, quite frankly, one of the best celebrity profile documentaries ever made. The incomparable Joan Rivers shares her life’s story in this excellent portrait by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern. The film lets Rivers reflect upon how tough it was to break out as a mainstream comic in a male dominated scene. But through her acerbic zingers, quick wit, and no-holds-barred fashion critiques at the Oscars, Rivers helped build a queer following that ensures her memory endures as one of the most flamboyantly funny women who ever lived. It’s guaranteed to make audiences laugh and cry with equal measure—although the source for some tears may surprise you.
Someone Like Me
Streaming at NFB.ca
Someone Like Me follows journey of 22-year-old Ugandan refugee Drake as he goes from living in the shadows to being out in the open as several Vancouverites work together with the non-profit Rainbow Railroad, which connects LGBTQ asylum seekers with prospective sponsors. The film by Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams ultimately gives a portrait of the sense of community in the queer scene through the ups and downs that Drake encounters with his support network. Through Drake’s story and those of his sponsors, Horlor and Adams observe the dedication it takes to give someone like Drake a chance, but also how Canada’s sponsorship programs still put a heavy degree of responsibility on the goodwill of individuals to provide these fresh starts. Read more in this POV profile.
A Secret Love
Streams on Netflix
Here’s one recommendation just for Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Bass! A Secret Love tells the moving story of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel and their longtime relationship that couldn’t be shared in the open as freely as other couples could at the time. The film finds a novel hook in Donahue’s story, too, as she played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that substituted for Major League Baseball during the Second World War. That team offered inspiration for the 1990s’ comedy A League of Their Own, but, more importantly, helped show fans and players that an inclusive mindset is at the heart of any good team and audience.
The Company of Strangers
Streams at NFB.ca
Academy Award winner Cynthia Scott (Flamenco at 5:15) directs this unclassifiable NFB work that straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction. Not quite a documentary, nor a drama, but not really a hybrid, either, The Company of Strangers creates a space where women can be themselves in the company of others. The film features eight women, all basically playing themselves (ish), on a bus tour. When the bus breaks down, time stands still and invites them to share their experiences and confront questions of identity. The film features a refreshing diversity of experiences with particular attention paid to questions of age.
A Bigger Splash
Streams on MUBI
Here’s a groundbreaking addition to both queer cinema and documentary form. A Bigger Splash is director Jack Hazan’s docu-fiction portrait of artist David Hockney. The 1973 film intimately observes Hockney’s relationship with his then-lover, model, and muse Peter Schlesinger. A Bigger Splash is especially notable for its observant cinema verité portrait of two men sharing a home and a life together. On the documentary front, the film also remains a landmark for queering convention by injecting their story with fictional interludes that explore Hockney’s romantic impulses and artistic processes.
In the Turn
Streams on Tubi
A strong portrait for queer youths comes in In the Turn. Erica Tremblay’s hidden gem of a doc tells the story of Crystal, a ten-year-old in transition in Timmins, Ontario. Crystal finds an outlet in the small town, however, as her mom hooks her up with the Vagine Regime queer roller derby team. As the members of the Vagine Regime rally together and support Crystal both morally and financially, and provide her with an opportunity to play sports, In the Turn shows the positive impact that sports and, more importantly, enthusiastic and supportive teammates have on one’s personal growth. In the Turn is an inspiring and empowering doc for how poignantly it shows the roller team’s ability to boost self-confidence and self-acceptance.
Streams on Criterion Channel
One hopes that the 2022 release of The Inspection and Jeremy Pope’s Golden Globe-nominated performance inspired some film buffs to explore director Elegance Bratton’s first feature, the documentary Pier Kids. The film earned comparisons to Jennie Livingston’s 1990 landmark Paris Is Burning for its glimpse into the lives of queer Black Americans, but doing so with a corrective lens in consideration of some of the gaps in authorship that Paris has confronted over time. But whereas Paris Is Burning is more concerned with the voguing and ballroom culture of NYC (and fabulously so), Bratton’s film takes audiences outside the houses in which the characters strut their stuff. Pier Kids is a sobering portrait of homelessness, particularly as it effects queer and transgender Black youths.