Clockwise from top centre: Queendom, Supporting Our Selves, Hummingbirds, KOKOMO CITY, Narrow Path to Happiness

Queer Doc Highlights at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Fest

Toronto's LGBTQ+ film fest returns May 24 - June 4

14 mins read

Get ready to show your cinematic pride as Inside Out LGBTQ+ Film Festival returns to Toronto. The festival kicks off May 25 with the opening night screening of Ira Sachs’ sizzling infidelity drama Passages. Inside Out also features a strong crop of documentaries that put the lived experiences of queer people front and centre in this year’s festival. Highlights include the centrepiece selection Supporting Our Selves by Toronto filmmaker Lulu Wei, which marks one of the notable world premieres at Inside Out. The portrait of Toronto’s Community One group and the ongoing effort to make the queer scene an actual “community” is a worthy rallying point in the festival as it aims to bring people back together with in-theatre screenings. (Select Inside Out films have encore virtual screenings the day after their premieres.)

In-theatre events run at TIFF Bell Lightbox again this year, with a handful of festival-circuit favourites making their Toronto debuts at Inside Out, including the award winners KOKOMO CITY and Hummingbirds. Here’s a handy guide to the documentary features screening at 2023 Inside Out LGBTQ+ Film Festival.


A Queer’s Guide to Spiritual Living

Friday, May 26 at 4:15 pm

Films about the complex relationship between faith and queerness are becoming a regular programming slot at festivals with an LGBTQ+ focus. While they often consider the role of stigma, they also reflect journeys towards self-love and acceptance. The latter comes in the Canadian documentary A Queer’s Guide to Spiritual Living. Directors Ari Conrad Birch and Michal Heuston speak with queer people of various identities and faiths to learn about the role that spirituality plays in their lives. This character-driven work considers how spiritual identity, gender identity, and sexual identity aren’t incompatible: rather, they’re often harmonious elements that guide personal growth.


Is There Anybody Out There?

Saturday, May 27 at 11:45am

Audiences seeking a perspective on disability and ableism will find a good conversation starter in Is There Anybody Out There. The film directed by Ella Glendining offers a first-person journey of self-discovery as the filmmaker seeks out someone like her. Glendining shares how she has a rare condition in which she was born with no hip joints and short femurs. She scrolls through the internet, chats in Facebook groups, and speculates in confessional diaries. However, she experiences some breakthroughs, including becoming a mother, and invites viewers along a unique journey. “As Glendining confronts her own future, the film invites larger considerations of ableism and the need to realign society rather than to ‘correct’ anyone who falls outside the norm,” I wrote while reviewing the film back at Sundance.


Commitment to Life

Saturday, May 27 at 2:00 pm and online

Inside Out cinephiles who caught Jeffrey Schwarz’s Sunset Blvd. documentary Boulevard! A Hollywood Story can see a much different Hollywood story in Commitment to Life. The film offers a thorough look at the outbreak and peak years of the AIDS epidemic. Told through the voices of survivors, the talking heads doc revisits how activists harnessed the influence of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Rivers to raise awareness for AIDS research, education, and prevention. The film finds hopeful elements despite observing how homophobia inspired a long delayed response that claimed too many lives before the LGBTQ+ community was mobilized into action.



Saturday May 27 at 7:00pm

Get ready to be wowed by the women of KOKOMO CITY. This first feature by D. Smith rightly earns its all caps assertiveness and gets an overdue Toronto premiere after wowing Sundance. The film is a fun and intimate study of the lives of four Black transwomen and sex workers. Without any hint of judgment, Smith chronicles the daily experiences of these women as they make a living through the oldest profession—and one historically forced upon Black transwomen by necessity. It’s as frank as it is funny, with some truly memorable characters.

“The approach to doing KOKOMO CITY was, ‘Let’s be ourselves,’” Smith told POV in an interview during Sundance. “However we talk, let’s leave the red carpet dialogue away from this. As a matter of fact, let’s not even wear makeup. Forget about glam, or wigs. Let’s strip down and let’s be truthful about who we are. You’re still beautiful whether you wear makeup or not. They’re all gorgeous women. I think that approach really drew people to their stories without feeling like they’re being preached to. No one gave me any pushback. They just all did it. Like some were in bonnets, some were half-naked, some rolling blunts. It was familiar.”



Sunday, May 28 at 1:30 pm

A timely story about the fight for queer people to simply exist comes in the Inside Out selection Queendom. Director Agniia Galdanova follows Gena Marvin, a Russian non-binary visual artist, drag performer, and social media influencer. Queendom shows firsthand the state of LGBTQ+ rights in Russia as Gena uses their art to assert queer rights under Putin’s shadow. The film observes as they create surreal creature outfits that shatter notions of gender and break taboos, including a skin-tight bodysuit that pays homage to the Russian flag. Queendom also captures the rampant homophobia in Russia as Gena’s art constantly provokes strong reactions, including expulsion from school and an arrest. However, through their remarkable art and vulnerability, Gena’s story is ultimately a portrait of queer resilience and an empowering tale of being seen.



Sunday, May 28 at 4:15 pm

Inside Out delivers an extraordinary self-portrait with Hummingbirds. Directors Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía ‘Beba’ Contreras put themselves in front of the camera with this freeing and revitalising tale of young love. This prizewinner from the Berlin Film Festival follows the young women as they live day by day in the bordertown of Laredo, Texas. Beba awaits her papers to live securely and freely in the States, but the summer nights go by with youthful abandon in the interim.

Told with a kinetic handheld, hybrid style the embraces the girls’ situation straddling two worlds and exploring their identities, Hummingbirds captures their story intimately as they face the realities of a divided America. In addition to sporting a brisk visual style and fresh approach, Hummingbirds is especially notable for Inside Out audiences as it is collaborative filmmaking at its finest. The film sees Silvia and Beba team up with a quartet of co-directors and crew of seasoned professionals to tell their story honestly and authentically.


Supporting Our Selves

Tuesday, May 30 at 6:45 pm and online

After capturing the role of Honest Ed’s as a unique landmark in Toronto’s cityscape in festival favourite There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, director Lulu Wei joins producer Jenn Mason to explore the history of advocacy in Toronto’s queer community. They turn their lens to the activist group Community One, which instilled a sense of community among LGBTQ+ Torontonians through staples of Toronto’s queer scene like Inside Out, the 519, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and Pink Triangle Press. The film gives voice to founding members of Community One, then called The Gay Community Appeal, to consider the importance of togetherness among groups that often struggle to be seen and heard. Supporting Our Selves also considers the elements of exclusion through this push for visibility and invites an inclusive and intersectional cast of characters to reflect upon—and simply reflect—the diversity of queer Toronto, as well as contemporary queer people mobilizing passion into action today. (Check back soon for an interview with Wei and Mason.)


Leilani’s Fortune

Monday, May 29 at 7:00 pm

Well, Leilani’s Fortune might have the most novel synopsis within the documentary line-up! This Canadian doc, which world premieres at Inside Out, is admittedly the one that I have yet to see, but I’m very intrigued by its premise, which follows queer Ethiopian-Eritrean artist Witch Prophet as she embarks on a career in the music industry. This character-driven music doc directed by Loveleen Kaur wonders what the future holds for Witch Prophet and whether she can work her magic to become the next Drake.


Narrow Path to Happiness

Friday, June 2, 7:00 pm

Another tale of aspiring artists comes in the Hungarian documentary Narrow Path to Happiness. This film about the artistic process finds two great characters in Gergo and Lenard, a gay Romani couple compounded by dual outsider status. As part of the gypsy community, they’re doubly marginalized and often struggle to find acceptance with their own family—a sad fact they encounter when Gergo’s mother dies and they return to the family village to pay respects. They decide to writer their own happy ending, however, as Gergo pursues a singing career. Enlisting the help of a local dramatist, Gergo and Leonard write a musical based on their experiences, eager to share their lives with the world and empower anyone else who struggles to be seen.


It’s Only Life After All

Saturday, June 3 at 4:00 pm

In case you couldn’t score tickets to the Indigo Girls during their run at Hot Docs, It’s Only Life After All is back for a Toronto encore. Inside Out features this upbeat, if overlong, portrait by Alexandra Bombach that chronicles the musical duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as they shook up the male-dominated, heteronormative rock scene. “Bombach smartly latches onto the role of lesbianism in the Indigo Girls’ story,” I wrote while reviewing the film during Sundance. “It’s Only Life After All illustrates how the duo made notable headway as an openly queer and unabashedly feminist act. The film shows what it means to use one’s platform to create space and visibility. There are interviews with fans who credit the Indigo Girls for saving their lives. The film doesn’t get sentimental here, though, as Saliers and Ray accept the news with modesty. The credit and empower the fans for saving themselves by creating an experience and a relationship with the music.”

Inside Out runs in-person and online May 25 to June 4.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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