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Jack English

Film festivals are so "gay" that the word is even a synonym for festive. In any decent-sized urban film festival there are a number of gay-themed films, both for demographic reasons and because coming out and coping with antagonism are dramatic events. The gayest movie ever, of course, is The Wizard of Oz, because it's a Technicolor coming-out and triumphing allegory.

And our own Emerald City, where edicts from the Book of Leviticus don't hold much sway, gay marriages have been sanctioned for more than a decade, where everyone in the downtown has gay friends, family members, co-workers and neighbours, is a distinctly gay-friendly burg, despite our out-of-step mayor's refusal to march in the Pride parade.

There are several movies at this year's TIFF to remind us of the bad old days of virulent homophobia. The Imitation Game, which early reviews hail as this year's British Oscar bait film, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the Second World War genius code-breaker sometimes called the father of artificial intelligence. In 1952, Turing was arrested on charges of gross indecency after his affair with a 19-year-old drifter. He volunteered to accept libido-depressing hormones in lieu of prison, but 18 months later, apparently took his own life by cyanide poisoning.

Story continues below advertisement

Jump ahead 30 years in England, the era of the movie Pride, one of those inspirational ensemble comedies in the tradition of The Full Monty.

During the stand-off between the National Union of Mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher's government, a group of London-based gay and lesbian activists decided to raise money for strikers' families by adopting a Welsh village. Hilarity ensues and prejudices tumble.Which brings us to Do I Sound Gay?, David Thorpe's first-person documentary on his quest to get the "gay" out of his voice. Really, this is what qualifies as a problem these days? Well, maybe more than you think. I spoke to Thorpe, a Brooklyn-based writer, about his film. While he acknowledges that the premise sounds kind of "frothy," he says he used humour as a way to get to something deeper: his own internalized homophobia. The survey of gay celebrities (David Sedaris, Dan Savage), linguistic experts and speech coaches, reveals a system of codes and cues that lie beneath the frothy question.

One of the researchers Thorpe consulted is retired University of Toronto professor Ron Smyth, a specialist in phonetics, sexual orientation and gender, and some street scenes were shot in Toronto's gay village, where Thorpe asked the question in the title of the film. As for the issue of where nurture and nature intersect, Thorpe says he's happy to accept a certain degree of mystery, and realized the issue wasn't about his voice but self-acceptance: "I will never entirely erase my self-consciousness or sometimes feeling like a pariah," he says. But he has come to terms with the idea that how he talks represents his authentic self, not the macho voice he can learn to put on.

Thorpe's not-really-frothy film is also a reminder that "gay" is a coping mechanism for dealing with its opposites: fear and isolation. Close to home, we have Martin Edralin's short film, Hole, which won a jury prize at Locarno, starring Ken Harrower as a man with a severe disability, struggling for same-sex intimacy through one of those holes in the wall in a peep-show arcade.

And then, screening tonight, there's Stories of Our Lives, an anthology of short dramas by a Nairobi arts collective, whose members removed their names from the film for fear of reprisal. The movie is based on an archival project, chronicling the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people living in secret in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal and subject to a multiyear prison sentence. These five black-and-white vignettes of love and fear aren't just gay stories, they're paradigms of the fight between love and light and hatred and life in the shadows. Today, the filmmakers will reveal their names before a Toronto audience for the first time. That's because this is a festive, and gay, event. Not that there's anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld's famous expression of grudging tolerance. In fact, there's something very right about it.

  • Stories of Our Lives screens Fri. Sept. 5, 9 p.m. at AGO Jackman Hall; Sun. Sept. 7, 8:45 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sun. Sept. 14, 6 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre.
  • Pride screens Sat. Sept. 6, 2:45 p.m. at Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres Visa Screening Room; Sun. Sept. 7, 12:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre.
  • Hole screens in the Shortcuts Canada, Program 3, Sun. Sept. 7, 9:45 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre; Mon. Sept. 8, 4:15 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre
  • Do I Sound Gay? screens Sun. Sept. 7, 12 p.m. with David Thorpe and Dan Savage in conversation at Ryerson.
  • The Imitation Game screens Tues. Sept. 9, 6 p.m. and Wed. Sept. 10, 3 p.m. at Princess of Wales.

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