Queer movie fest brings the party to schools

Scott Ferguson and Diana Khong stand in front of a plant.

Inside Out Film Festival is ready to bring its youth involvement to the next level, starting with a new free matinee for high school students.

The award-winning documentary, No Look Pass, will play at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 25. No Look Pass tells the story of Emily “Etay” Tay, an athlete and first-generation gay Burmese immigrant. Tay struggles to find her place in the worlds of Harvard University, professional basketball, and a traditional family—all while coming out as a lesbian.

The screening has over 100 students slated to attend, say organizers, some of whom will be coming from as far away as Hamilton.

For Scott Ferguson, executive director of the festival, the film’s an opportunity to get kids talking about queer issues in a way that isn’t tokenizing. “There’s such a broad range of subjects addressed and brought up in film,” he says. “The things they’re talking about might not necessarily be outright about bullying or anti-homophobia, but most of them are just raising awareness of what it’s like to be queer—and the normalcy of LGBT identity.”

It’s just one part of their three-pronged “Inside Out Reach” initiative, which they hope will fight youth homophobia and groom a new generation of film buffs along the way. Organizers also plan to bring screenings into schools later this year. And the festival has also taken on youth reporters, who’ll be given all access passes to the festival, then will upload video and document their experiences.

The queer film festival’s demographic “tends to be a little bit older,” says Diana Khong, the festival’s marketing and education co-ordinator. But Inside Out youth reporter Matt Hoffman, 17, is ready to change that. “I want to get people more aware and expand their horizons when it comes to film,” he says.

Hoffmann is a 12th grade student at Thornhill’s Westmount Collegiate. He says that while his own school is generally gay friendly, friends tell him their schools are more homophobic. “People are being told by movies and TV” that homophobia is normal, he explains. His focus is drawing his peers’ attention to alternative media—and letting those stories fight bigotry.

“Everybody loves films,” he says. “One of the biggest issues is that people go to the same kinds of movies and they’re not exposed to different kinds of film…I’m hoping people who get exposed to different kinds of movies will have different outlooks on the way they see things.”

After the festival, organizers want Inside Out’s screening tour to bring challenging movies into high schools all over the Toronto District School Board. Khong says the move out of downtown and into kids’ neighbourhoods was an important one.

“I don’t want it to be preaching to the choir,” she explains. “Inside Out does have a great library of films and it’s a great resource.”

“Wherever you lie, wherever your politics are, just sit down and maybe you will learn something through film.”

An extended version of this article appeared in Xtra! Toronto.


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