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Lights, Camera, Diversity

As it turns 40 years old this month, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is offering one of the most promising batches of LGBT-interest films in its history.

In a year that has already had an atypically large number of quality queer and trans-themed films from other festivals—in particular, Sean Baker’s Sundance premiere Tangerine (in theatres now) and Todd Haynes’ Cannes hit Carol (coming out in November)—TIFF just might turn into 2015’s LGBT MVP. Here are six films that could end up proving why:

Closet Monster
The programming team at TIFF clearly has a lot of faith in Canadian filmmaker Stephen Dunn’s first feature film, Closet Monster. They’ve placed it alongside work from some of the world’s most established filmmakers and, come the festival, it’s yours to discover. Described by TIFF as “an imaginative twist on the coming-of-age drama,” the film stars up-and-coming Canuck Connor Jessup as a Newfoundland teenager struggling with his sexuality, his dysfunctional parents and flashes of a horrific gay bashing he witnessed in childhood.
Assisting him along the way? A talking hamster named Buffy, who is played by none other than Isabella Rossellini.
Yes, you read that right.

The Danish Girl
A year after his The Theory of Everything had its premiere at TIFF and went on to earn him an Academy Award for best actor, Eddie Redmayne will likely generate Oscar buzz once more for The Danish Girl. Could he go two for two? His role in director Tom Hooper’s latest film certainly makes the case for it on paper. Based on the novel by David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl is a fictionalized account of the life of Lili Elbe (Redmayne), one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
It’s set in early 1920s Copenhagen and portrays Elbe’s transition through the support of her wife, illustrator and artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander). Director Hooper knows how to bring out great performances—he led Colin Firth and Anne Hathaway to Oscars for The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, respectively. If Redmayne were to win again, he’d become only the third actor—after Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks—to win back-to-back best-actor Oscars.

Fire Song
“Two-spirited” is an umbrella term used by some First Nations communities to describe people who are seen as having both male and female spirits within them. Cinematic depictions of two-spirited people are sadly rare, with Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song one of the very first examples. Calgary-born Jones–who has made more than 20 short films, including a few that have screened at TIFF–makes his feature-film debut with Fire Song.
The movie follows a young Anishinaabe man who is forced to choose between staying in his community or exploring the possi­bilities of the world outside. In a festival that tends to be known more for its Hollywood fare than homegrown breakouts, Fire Song, like Closet Monster, is a potential hidden gem that should definitely be on your TIFF radar.

Freeheld
In 2005, Laurel Hester was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A police officer in the U.S. state of New Jersey’s Ocean County, Hester repeatedly appealed to the county’s freeholders board to attempt to ensure that her pension benefits would go to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree.
This tragic, powerful story, which played a significant role in the recent LGBT rights advancements in the United States, is being brought to the screen this year in Peter Sollett’s Freeheld. In fact, TIFF will mark its world premiere. Julianne Moore (who, like Eddie Redmayne, won an acting Oscar last year and could be in the race again this time around) and Ellen Page play Hester and Andree, respectively, while Steve Carell, Michael Shannon and Luke Grimes round out the cast.
You should definitely consider packing some serious facial tissues for this one.

Stonewall
Not many people would expect the director of disaster movies like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow to bring one of the most pivotal events in the history of gay and lesbian rights to the big screen. But that’s indeed the case with Stonewall. Openly gay director Roland Emmerich—a go-to for Hollywood movies about blowing up the recognizable—has taken on the 1969 Stonewall riots in this fictionalized account.
Emmerich has already taken some heat: Protesters have been calling for a boycott of the film since mid-summer, calling it out for whitewashing a story that in large part belongs to trans people of colour. The film makes the protagonist a cisgender white boy.
Stonewall will have its very first public screenings at TIFF, with controversy already certain to surround them.

Women He’s Undressed
If you’ve never heard of Orry-Kelly, you’ve probably still seen his work. During Hollywood’s golden age, the three-time Academy Award winner designed costumes for more than  289 films, including such classics as Some Like It Hot, Casablanca and An American In Paris. Gillian Armstrong’s new documentary, Women He’s Undressed, uses clips, interviews and recreations to explore the Australian’s rather unappreciated life.
He was uncompromising in his sexuality during a deeply closeted era of the movie business. Orry-Kelly was known as a “keeper of secrets” to the many incredible women he dressed, a list that includes Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine and Natalie Wood.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10th through the 20th. For ticket and other information, visit www.tiff.net.

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