Monday, July 4, 2016

Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto Pride provokes backlash

The demands of Black Lives Matter during Pride 2016 protest
There has been much debate in the last 24 hours since Black Lives Matter-Toronto held a sit-in protest during Sunday's Toronto Pride parade.

The surprise protest shut down the parade for about 30 minutes yesterday, causing confusion and frustrations for many others along the route, myself included.

The group had been invited to participate in the parade as honoured guests.  Pride Toronto stated it hoped to show unity between the similar causes of LGBT and Black liberation.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) reportedly did not give advanced warning of their planned sit-in during the parade which included a touching tribute to the 49 victims of the recent Orlando mass shooting.  Instead, they took the opportunity to promote a fairly modest list of demands for better inclusion of people of colour in Pride festivities, claiming Pride Toronto is "anti-black" and has routinely threatened funding for people of colour-inclusive spaces during the festival.

Those arguments are, at best, debatable.  Reviewing the many years of inclusive programming, including the 17th year of Blockorama this year, not to mention the invitation of Rupaul to speak last night, there's no doubt that Pride Toronto has gone to great lengths to make itself an inclusive space for all in the diverse LGBT community.

Is it enough?  For many, yes.  For everyone?  Clearly not.

If Black Lives Matter believed that Pride Toronto has been "anti-black," one has to wonder why did they agree to participate in Pride Toronto's parade?

While Black Lives Matter clearly has important and extremely valid points to make about police violence and racism in our society, there's no doubt some of their tactics are controversial.

I've read comments from many LGBT folks in the community online in the last 24 hours, ranging from knee-jerk support, to thoughtful support, to indifference, to great frustration, to outright racism.

I have to say that I've been torn about how to react to this.  But for the most part, I do sympathize with the Black Lives Matter activists and find there was nothing wrong at all with their decision to do what they did.

As has been stated by some, the Pride parade, itself, was originally an unpopular and radical protest against widespread ignorance and homophobia in society.

If BLM felt it important to hold a sit-in during the parade to get its points across, they had every right to do so.  The occasion seems wholly appropriate for such an action considering its history.

Were all of their demands important enough to bring the parade to a halt?   Looking at their list - including more funding and community control over diverse spaces during Pride, more diversity in Pride Toronto's staffing, to banning official police floats in future Prides - I'd say no.

Shouldn't have Black Lives Matter made these demands of Pride Toronto before accepting the invitation to be honoured guests?   I'd say yes.

But clearly, BLM had other things in mind and planned to use the platform they were given to cause an action and start a huge public debate.  To that end, they have succeeded enormously.

However, in doing this, BLM has risked a huge backlash.  I would suggest that most of that backlash is coming from folks who are largely indifferent or even hostile to the core issues raised by BLM.

But of course, we can't write off all negative reactions to yesterday's actions as just racist.

As one fairly progressive person (race unknown to me) on Facebook stated:

"This was an epic fail. Sure, the ambush worked but so what? A symbolic banning of the police from having floats at Pride does nothing to curb police racism and violence. 

"I generally support guerilla tactics like the sit in, and were BLM merely one of many groups marching, I would have been 100% fine with interruption of the parade. But BLM accepted the offer of being the Honoured Group at Pride. Turning on one's host -- another group with a long history of fighting institutionalized violence and intolerance -- is more than being simply rude. It spurns the attempt to build bridges and it betrays trust."  

I do support most of the demands that BLM made of Pride Toronto yesterday.

But the blanket demand that police floats be banned from future Pride Toronto parades is unacceptable.  It didn't even have a time limitation on it, such as "until the Toronto Police Service proves to the community that it is taking serious action against systemic racism," or something else more quantifiable.

Even Donald Trump put a time limitation on his ludicrous and racist promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until he can "figure out what the hell is going on."

But BLM seems contented to ban police from Pride parades forever.  That's anything but a productive suggestion.

Both LGBT people and people of colour have had much reason to mistrust the police based on how they've been targeted in the past and present.

But outright bans of the police from participating in the parade sends the wrong message.

As one openly gay police officer has stated today in reaction, "Exclusion does not promote inclusion."

All in all, BLM used the platform they were given to ignite a firestorm of dialogue, most of it not overly positive or helpful to their cause.  They will have to live with these consequences, which might include further isolation as a group from would-be ally organizations.

Did they have a right to do what they did?  Absolutely.

Was it the best way to promote their cause?  I have serious doubts.   But time will tell how effective or unproductive their actions were.

Is most of the ongoing backlash against BLM justified?   Some of it is, but a good chunk is not.

At this time, I'm reminded of the eloquent and powerful words made by Jesse Williams recently at the BET Awards:  

"If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression...If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do."

I have considered myself an ally of the black community, as well as all people of colour communities in fighting racism and discrimination in our societies.

There is no doubt that the LGBT community needs to do more to promote diversity and fight racism within it.  Sadly, many white LGBT people can be as racist as white straight people in our societies.  All of that has to change.

It's possible that yesterday's events, while chaotic and controversial, might have done some good to that end.  I certainly hope so.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Health Canada rules for gay men donating blood welcome, but still fundamentally flawed

Health Minister Jane Philpott (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The long-standing rules barring men who have sex with men from donating blood in Canada are no longer valid.  They haven't been based on serious science for years.

The old rule enacted in the 1980s after the tainted blood scandal barred all men who have had sex with men even once since 1977 from donating blood for life.  I was well aware of this rule before I came out.  Thus I donated much blood before I became sexually active.

At first, it didn't seem to me like Health Canada or Canadian Blood Services were picking on just gay men as they used a similar sledgehammer approach to banning thousands of other Canadians for the smallest of reasons, like for a time those who had eaten certain meat products in the U.K.

But in recent years, it's become clear that science had less to do with the rule barring gay men.  Rather, the rule was kept in place simply to calm paranoid or prejudiced Canadians worried about the blood supply and maintain the "perception" that the blood supply was super-safe.   

Health Canada, wary to make the same mistakes of the past, stubbornly refused to budge on the issue until recently, when it changed the lifetime ban to a 5-year no sex ban.   Meaning gay men had to abstain from sex for five long years before becoming eligible to donate blood.  

Today, the rule has been changed again, bringing Canada in line with many other countries, lowering the sex threshold to just one year for gay men.  But for many, that's still going to disallow most gay men from donating, including those who are probably the least susceptible to getting sexually transmitted diseases or HIV: monogamous gay couples.

So there is more work to be done on this file.  If the Trudeau Liberals are intent on ensuring evidence-based policy decisions, it seems clear they should keep their promise to end the blanket ban completely and instead target actual behaviour.

Yes, the rates of HIV infection and other STDs are higher amongst sexually active gay men who aren't in monogamous relationships.  But the risks of similar infections amongst sexually active straight people (for whom, let's face it, condom use still remains less than common) have got to be higher than monogamous gay couples or gay men who always practise safe sex.   

It's time to stop targeting gay men unfairly like this.  Today's announcement is a step in the right direction.  Let's hope it's just the beginning of the end for this discriminatory policy.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

50 tragic steps back in Orlando, 1000 steps forward in Kyiv

Today's Gay Pride parade in Kyiv (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
I'm numb with the tragic news coming out of Orlando last night.  According to reports, a lone gunman, in an act of vile hatred, last night around 2 am open-fired inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more before U.S. police shot him dead. 

In 2014, I visited Orlando with my partner Sam and attended a different gay nightclub called Parliament House one evening.  (I had to re-check the name today after hearing this horrific story.) 

Just last night, I went out myself with another friend here in Toronto to another gay nightclub.  This tragedy hits very close to the bone for me as I could easily imagine myself in such a place at 2 am.

Investigations into this horrible act of terror continue in the U.S.  There are reports the gunman was sympathetic to the evils of extremist religion.

I can only say that we should not take this tragedy and use it to gain political points or to marginalize or stigmatize religious moderates, be they Muslim or Christian or any religion.

On the other hand, those who promote hatred and violence, including those who do it in the name of their extremist religions, have blood on their hands today.

So too do those who fight for the easy distribution of assault rifles in the U.S.  The gunman last night reportedly used one, hence why the casualties of innocent people inside the Pulse nightclub were so high. 

As we struggle to comprehend this horrible action, let's celebrate the way the Orlando community and indeed all decent people of all sexual orientations might come together to mourn and move forward.

And let's ignore the conservative scumbags who will use this incident to whip up hatred against all Muslims, demand the greater distribution of guns and a complete shutdown of allowing Muslims into the U.S. (as no doubt Donald Trump will repeat, proving once again he's not a leader.)

Meanwhile, this story about Kyiv's Gay Pride march today gives me hope.

"Around a thousand people turned up on Sunday for Ukraine’s first major gay pride march which was held amid tight security measures..." 

Kudos to those brave activists and community members who are asserting their value as human beings amid a vile conservative culture. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Federal Conservatives freaking out over today's Liberal-NDP-Green cooperation on electoral reform

After mostly botching the launch of their democratic reform committee earlier this month when they originally stacked it with a majority of Liberals, the federal government has fixed it considerably today with this move.

Now, the Liberals will hold only 5 seats on a committee of 12, handing the opposition a majority of votes on the committee that will study and make a recommendation on a possible change to our voting system.

I wrote when the committee was launched that moving unilaterally to change the system, perhaps to a ranked ballot (as seemed the case based on the Liberals' actions), would be a huge error by the Trudeau government.  Such a process would be tainted and threaten to de-legitimize any possible change.

But by agreeing to add one NDP MP to the committee, plus give Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and one Bloc MP voting rights, it seems the federal Liberals have fixed the process and put this issue back on track.  The NDP and Greens seem quite happy.   

But Conservative Scott Reid seems to have blown a gasket.   As we know, any kind of change away from First-Past-The-Post would hurt narrow Conservative partisan interests as ranked ballots would force all parties to appeal outside of their grass roots base, while proportional representation would make it impossible for Conservatives to impose their will on the country with only 39% of the vote.  

Reid calls today's compromise a "backroom deal" which has left him "mighty ticked off."

Conservatives remain desperate for a referendum to scuttle any possible change.  They love the current system as is because it hands them 100% of the power with as little as 39% of the vote.

Reid strangely calls today's move to change the make-up of the committee to closely match the popular vote in the 2015 election "wildly undemocratic."  Reid also claims any change the prime minister favours "will be unconstitutional."

Can you say 'hyperbole'?  Can you say 'bullshit'?   That's all the Conservatives' Reid is offering today on the issue.

While the initial launch of this process seemed flawed, dooming the whole process perhaps to failure, today's move actually saves the process.   By opening up the process to give more say to the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc, the Liberals have won a huge amount of legitimacy.

Furthermore, the chances of making a change to proportional representation have just gone up.

If the Liberals come to an agreement with the NDP and Greens on a new system, the government will have great latitude to implement it without an expensive referendum.   Perhaps the Liberals and the NDP could agree to hold a referendum after one or two terms under the new system.

It still remains uncertain where this process will lead us and how serious the Liberals are about changing the system.   But today's news is good news for those who favour dumping Canada's antiquated voting system.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Conservatives are not the party of social justice progress

In my opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada, like all other similar conservative parties in the western world including the Republican Party in the U.S., fight primarily for the maintenance of establishment power.

Conservatives, by and large, always favour policies that will strengthen the powerful at the expense of those without power.  If you're rich and inherited tonnes of money or your daddy's business and have always had easy access to the power brokers in your community, the Conservative Party is your party.

If you don't fit that description, you probably shouldn't be voting Conservative as you're actually voting for a party that will never look out for your interests.   Why do conservatives still garner much support from middle class or working class people?  Bigotry, primarily.  Conservatives have loved to stoke hatred of "others" and we saw many examples of this in the 2015 federal election where Stephen Harper tried to stoke fears of Muslims to win votes.  Donald Trump south of the border - a billionaire lout - has done the same thing on a grander scale, actually convincing dummy poor people that he's on their side.

When it comes to social justice and correcting historical discrimination, conservatives have always stood in the way when it counted most.  If vulnerable people had long been denied their rights, it was conservatives who supported that discrimination and usually fought tooth-and-nail to keep it in place.

Think of the fight to end slavery.  Conservatives wanted slavery to continue because it profited their primary constituency.  Women's equality.  Conservatives also fought against it.

Every single social justice cause in history has been hampered by conservatives working hard to maintain the injustice.  Why?  Because conservatives believe in maintaining things just like they've always been.  If this group of people have all the power, they probably deserve it or worked hard for it, they foolishly assume.   In truth, most people with power achieved that power through unjust systems or pure luck.  Today, there remains huge swaths of people who will never achieve real power in our society no matter how hard they work at it.   But such facts are not the concern of most conservatives.

Yesterday, the Conservative Party of Canada finally voted to end its official opposition to marriage equality in Canada.  This is a good thing.   It's also 11 years too late and almost of no consequence to LGBT Canadians.   For me, it symbolizes perfectly why the Conservatives are not and can never be the party for people who truly care about social justice and true equality.   Conservatives are followers, not leaders, on issues of social justice. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Burying the hatchet: I'm going to Toronto's Inside Out festival after all

Earlier this month, I posted about my decision to skip this year's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto.

My short film Tri-Curious was rejected by them and I felt that it might be too painful and aggravating for me to attend the festival, as I've done for years.

By definition, film festival programming (or any type of arts programming or curation, for that matter) is inherently subjective.   I don't take the rejection personally.   Nor do I think it reflects at all on the quality of my film, which has been accepted into two other queer film festivals recently (Mumbai and Kansas City) and hopefully will get more acceptances in the near future.

Every artist out there experiences a huge amount of rejection.  Why should I be any different?   Screening at Inside Out would've been a great experience for me.  It was not meant to be this year with this film. 

After some careful thought, I've decided to bury the hatchet, put aside my disappointment and buy a ticket or two to Inside Out after all.  The film Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo looks particularly enticing.  I'll probably be seen at a festival party or two as well.   

I haven't been overly thrilled with many of Inside Out's selections in recent years.  There's been an abundance of awful art house selections with weak or offensive story arcs which frequently left audiences dissatisfied.   But there's also been a lot of decent work that deserved to be seen, especially the short film Hole, which won the top short film prize last year.   With a fairly diverse selection this year (if the catalogue is any indication), there's probably at least one film every film lover can love.   

Life's too short to be angry and absent.  

I do hope my film Tri-Curious can screen at another festival in the Toronto area in the near future.   My fingers are crossed in that regard and I'll be sure to write about it here.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Change to Proportional Representation, or don't bother changing at all....

Liberal ministers Dominic Leblanc and Maryam Monsef at presser today.
The Trudeau Liberals have fulfilled an election promise by today launching a special parliamentary committee to recommend a new electoral system and explore mandatory and online voting.

Already, the opposition is criticizing the Liberals for "stacking the deck" in the governing party's favour by appointing a majority of Liberals to it.

The opposition has a point.  The Liberals have total control over what the committee decides to recommend once this "consultation process" ends December 1st.

So far, many Liberals including Justin Trudeau, himself, have been making noise in favour of changing to a preferential balloting or instant runoff voting system.  Such a move would change the way Canadians vote in federal elections from marking one 'X' next to their one preferred candidate, to voters ranking candidates from top preference on down, starting with "1," followed by "2," and so on.

There are many positives to such a new system.  No longer would voters be forced to hold their noses and "vote strategically" in elections, meaning reject their first choice in favour of their least hated choice in order to stop a candidate they truly detest.   Many progressives agonized over which party to choose in the last election because of the current first-past-the-post system.

With preferential voting, progressives could be free to vote Green or NDP in constituencies where those parties have little chance of topping the polls.  Then they could possibly pick the Liberals as their second or third choice.   If no candidates receive over 50% of the vote in the first round, the candidates with the least support are dropped off the count, and the subsequent preferences of those voters are re-allocated until one candidate gets over that 50% threshold.

Such a system would force political parties to appeal to the widest number of Canadians as possible in order to win not only as many top preferences as possible, but also subsequent second and third choices.   Parties that play only to their narrow base and ignore the vast swath of mainstream voters, like the Harper Conservatives did for ten years, would find themselves quickly defeated once the majority of voters team up against them.

This would likely lead to a major change in tone during elections.  Instead of parties viciously attacking each other in order to secure a mere plurality of support, those parties would probably start to team up or go easy on each other as they'd be gunning for each others' supporters.  Parties or candidates might even make deals with each other before election day in order to try to secure second preferences to get over the top.

But the big downside of preferential balloting is it would shut out non-mainstream viewpoints from Parliament even worse than the current system.   Under the current system, at least it's possible that smaller parties can win seats with relatively low percentages of the vote.  Under preferential balloting, it would be all the more difficult as those candidates would have to rely on second and third preferences from more mainstream voters in order to possibly win.

The result would likely be a Parliament made up of only very moderate, mainstream parties.  Critics of instant runoff claim it's just a scam to elect as many Liberals as possible.  They too have a point.  In truth, it only seems that Liberals like the idea of switching to preferential balloting from first-past-the-post.

If this special parliamentary committee simply rubber stamps Justin Trudeau's preferred new system, it will be a political travesty that could backfire big time on the ruling party.  Voters tend to frown on political parties that try to manipulate democratic systems to their own benefit.   Even if the proposed change has some merit, voters are likely to not only reject it, but also reject the party implementing it if the public deems the reform process to be fundamentally unfair.

That could easily happen with this process, particularly since all opposition parties and voting reform advocates like Fair Vote Canada are likely to be dead set against moving to preferential balloting.

For me, if we're going to go to the trouble of changing voting systems, we should do the right thing and embrace some form of proportional representation.  Such a change would finally ensure that party representation in the House of Commons aligns with party support among voters, unlike the current system which distorts that support.   PR would ensure that laws have the support of parties representing the majority of Canadians instead of just the biggest plurality.

When new democracies have emerged in the world in recent decades, a PR voting system has been put in place precisely because it minimizes the chances of extremists taking power with as little as 30% of the vote.  Nowhere do they implement first-past-the-post in such new democracies, nor do they implement preferential balloting.

Having said all this, it seems unlikely that Trudeau's committee will recommend a PR option.  Any such system would likely need a lot of work to get it right, taking into account the need for regional and local representation.   Contrary to the propaganda spouted by many PR opponents, PR does allow for locally elected legislators.   A mixed member proportional system that utilized open party lists (meaning, the voters could decide who from a party list would be elected to Parliament, not the parties themselves) would be a welcome change.  So would some form of Single Transferable Vote, or STV, which allows for local representation through multi-member constituencies. 

However, I'm not holding my breath this will ever happen in Canada.   Before Trudeau promised to revisit our first-past-the-post system in the 2015 election, I had thought this issue was resolved.  Every referendum on this subject in recent years has resulted in affirming the status quo.  Even a referendum in the UK on preferential balloting was crushed with 69% voting to keep first-past-the-post.  Furthermore, the issue of electoral reform tends to bore the crap out of the public.  Few seem to care much about changing away from first-past-the-post.  Even the NDP when in power always keeps the current voting system in place.   

But the Trudeau Liberals seem intent on moving forward on this issue.  They've got control over what the committee will recommend.  Should the committee simply propose preferential balloting and the government moves unilaterally to change Canada's voting system in such a profound way, it will cause a big and well-deserved backlash.

Should the Liberals bend to opposition demands and hold a referendum on any change, such a backlash could be avoided.  But such a referendum is also likely to end in defeat for the proposed change.

Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how this issue continues to move forward. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I am not attending Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival this year. Here's why.

I've attended Toronto's Inside Out LGBT film festival for years.  I think I know Toronto queer film audiences very well, what they've seen and what else they may wish to see on the big screen.

As many of you will know, I've spent a good part of the last year writing, producing, directing, and picture editing my first narrative short film.   The result is Tri-Curious, a short comedy about a gay male couple about to embark on their first threesome together when one of them suffers an anxiety attack and wants to cancel.

I wanted to put my personal spin on story territory I haven't seen tackled often in queer-themed film: how couples negotiate the post-equal marriage world in a subculture that still celebrates a very free spirited approach to sex, and how one person can struggle to square conservative inclinations with that free spirited culture.

As I wrote on Monday, the film has been selected to screen at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival later this month.   I do hope for more festival selections in the coming months, followed by the full movie being uploaded to YouTube so audiences everywhere can enjoy it.  So far, the YouTube trailer has received almost 45,000 views in just over two weeks.

Many of those who took a chance on me and donated some money to my recent Indiegogo campaign seem very pleased with the final product.  Here is but a sample of the feedback:

"Fabulous fun!!! It's a delightful piece!!" 

"Loved it! Well done! You need to keep making these!"  

"Great film - I truly enjoyed it! And I know the countless hours of hard work you put into it. Happy your fundraising campaign was such a huge success!"  

"Meant to message earlier to say I loved the film..."  
I was looking forward to hearing thunderous laughter that might accompany the film's final punchline at an Inside Out screening.  Toronto is my home town, after all. 

But two weeks ago, I was pretty upset to learn that Inside Out had rejected it.   The initial rejection email from programming coordinator Jenna Dufton was generic, as sent to all rejected filmmakers.  So I wrote them back an email asking why my 7.5-minute short film (a length that is typically easy to program compared to much longer shorts) which I think Inside Out audiences would love didn't make the cut?   I stated I was baffled as I had seen many films just as good, if not weaker get selected in recent years.  

Perhaps Inside Out programmers simply couldn't match my film in a program that made sense to them, I wondered. 

Yet the response from lead programmer Andrew Murphy surprised and disappointed me.  He claimed the rejection of my film wasn't personal.   Then he went on to criticize my film's rough cut (which I submitted to them last December,) even though I had provided Inside Out with the finished cut in time for its deadline of March 12.  My entire Indiegogo campaign was timed to coincide with that deadline.  Apparently, my film's final version had not been viewed at all.  

Why was the film rejected?  Murphy listed off reasons that reminded me of many other films that I've actually seen programmed at Inside Out in the recent past.  The feedback betrayed an inconsistent subjectivity, I later told him.  

My film is not a masterpiece, but I can humbly say it's a very decent and funny film that I know would be loved by Inside Out audiences.  I can't prove that now as I don't want to release the full film online to the general public while dozens of other festival submissions remain outstanding. 

I will offer to anyone interested: if you want to view my full film now to judge for yourself its quality, please message me.  I can possibly provide you with a password-protected link.  

I do congratulate those filmmakers who did make the Inside Out cut this year.  I'm sure there will be some high quality films to be seen, along with many stinkers, as per usual.  

It's true that the quality of any film is always in the eye of the beholder.  It's entirely possible that good films might be viewed as weak by some people.   Mr. Murphy had every right to reject my film for whatever reasons he wanted.   But the rejection of my film seems pretty arbitrary to me.  

Such is life as an artist, I guess. 

Whatever the reasons, all things considered, attending Inside Out this year to view other selected films would be too painful and aggravating an experience for me.  So I'm going to opt out of attending Inside Out this year.   I hope to return in future years.

*****UPDATE*****

I've been thinking a lot about this over the last week and I've had a slight change of heart.   Please expect another new post about this soon. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Transgender Man and His Colleagues in North Carolina Call for Repeal of HB2



This is an incredible ad.  The perfect answer to ignorance is always truth.  This is a beautiful work as well as a powerful answer to the bigotry we've seen swirling lately in the Republican south.  I'm very happy to promote it here. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

My film 'Tri-Curious' gets world premiere at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival


I'm thrilled to announce that my short film 'Tri-Curious' is heading to Mumbai, India for its World Premiere at the end of May in the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, known as KASHISH.

Organizers invited the film in mid-April but I couldn't announce it until the festival released its lineup on the weekend.

This is a tremendous honour as KASHISH is South Asia's biggest and India's only "mainstream LGBT film festival", now in its 7th year.   It runs from May 25 to 29, 2016.  The overall festival theme this year is '7 Shades of Love,' and organizers have invited 182 films from 53 countries to screen.  I don't yet know when my film will be screening, but I'll announce that when I hear.  The film festival will be held at three venues – Mumbai’s iconic art deco Liberty theatre, Alliance Francaise de Bombay and Max Mueller Bhavan.

The festival doesn't get much institutional or corporate support, I'm told.  Thus, they can't sponsor filmmakers to travel to attend.  Instead, funds raised go to putting on the event.  To that end, the festival is raising funds through crowd sourcing.  Please check out the details here. 

But what a thrill to have my little short film find an audience on the other side of the planet.   Congrats to everyone who worked on the film for this great honour!  Here's a YouTube video the festival posted with highlights from its 2015 festival.



Also, please take another look at the trailer to my film if you wish - the YouTube link is on the top right of this blog.  Glad to say it has almost 34,000 views so far.

I'll post more info on my screening and the 2016 festival over the coming few weeks.  

Saturday, April 30, 2016

RuPaul's Drag Race's huge impact on queer culture and on me....

RuPaul
Before the summer of 2015, I had never watched the hit Logo TV show 'RuPaul's Drag Race.'

The main reason: I had never been too much into drag culture and harboured some false assumptions about it.  Sure I enjoyed the occasional drag show over the years, but I had little love for drag queens.

To me, they represented perhaps only the bitchiest and most superficial elements of queer culture: the cattiness, the politically incorrect content of most acts, the hyper-feminized showiness.  I even thought much of drag culture was borderline misogynist.  Despite dressing up in drag on a couple of occasions for Halloween, I gave the whole drag thing little respect.

How foolish of me!  I have to thank my loving partner and fiance Sam, who's done his share of drag over the years, for opening my mind.

Last summer in 2015, Sam introduced me to 'RuPaul's Drag Race.'  Season 7 had just finished its run and one night we streamed Episode One.   By the time the first two unfortunate queens were selected at the episode's finale to 'Lip sync for their lives,' I was hooked.   Between sips of whatever alcohol I was drinking, I shouted out to Sam, 'This is fucking awesome!'

We then spent a huge number of nights binging on the rest of Season 7.  Being my first season, I had nothing to compare it to and enjoyed it immensely.  I've since learned that Season 7 actually was one of the least enjoyable, as many hard core fans may agree.

We then moved on to binge on Season 6, which Sam described as his favourite.  And it was awesome!  SPOILER ALERT: The hilarious victor, Bianca Del Rio, won my heart, as she did most viewers.

Chi Chi DeVayne in drag
ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT: Then we binged on Season Five to see the talented Jinkx Monsoon take the $100,000.   Finally, I went back to Season One and worked my way forward to Season Four and of course the All-Star season too.

Through this, my previous prejudices about drag got washed away.   I now fully believe that drag is the opposite of misogynist!   It's a celebration of the beauty, strength and resilience of the feminine.   I feel better about my new love of drag culture.  Now I look forward to every drag act I can have the pleasure to see.

RuPaul's show has done more to humanize drag and bring it into the mainstream of queer culture than anything else I can remember.

Chi Chi DeVayne out of drag (with some special effects help)
And, who are we kidding, it's one of the most entertaining shows on TV today.  It's the only show I currently watch as soon as possible after each broadcast and I'm completely caught up as of last week's show on April 25.

My favourite competitor this season has got to be Chi Chi DeVayne, pictured both in and out of drag.  She's gotten great since the beginning of the season with her drag looks and performance.  She's also a sweetheart and, I have to admit, rather hot as a man out of drag.

One observation: the most beautiful drag queens also tend to be quite beautiful men out of drag.

YET ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT: Season 8 is now down to its top four finalists, all of whom happen to be drag queens of colour, including Chi Chi.  It's a fascinating and awesome turn of events.   I have to agree the four finalists completely deserve this.   They've earned the top four spots with their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent!

It's great to see queens of colour at the centre of a queer cultural phenomenon in North America.

Along with the fact that Black Lives Matter will be leading Toronto's Pride parade this year, this is a step forward for a community that still has much work to do in making itself fully inclusive.

My prediction for this season's finale?  I have no real idea.  Bob The Drag Queen seems incredibly talented.  Kim Chi is a "walking, talking work of art," as she was described last week by one of the judges.  The talented Naomi Smalls is gorgeous both in and out of drag.

But Chi Chi DeVayne remains my favourite.  In the last episode, two of the regular judges including Michelle Visage, called Chi Chi their favourite.  RuPaul, herself, has showered Chi Chi with a heck of a lot of love too.   So we'll see  how this one ends up.

After eight seasons, the show's format, editing and gimmicks including the standard lines have become infamous:  'The time has come....for  you to lip sync....for YOUR LIFE!   Good luck and don't fuck it up!'  

There's little chance of that.  The only question remains for how many more seasons will RuPaul and the show's producers continue this stunning, enormously entertaining and successful run.