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12 Queer Films From TIFF 2023 That You Need To Add To Your Must-Watch List

The 48th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs from Thursday September 7 until Sunday September 17...

Movie fans, studio reps, internationally recognized celebrities, and global media personalities will all descend upon the city of Toronto soon to mark the commencement of yet another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Spanning 11 days, this renowned event showcases a compelling array of international and Canadian films. Ongoing SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes will undoubtedly affect some opportunities for fans to interact with their favorite actors. However, the festival will still host some of the biggest premieres of the year. This time, the slate of Queer offerings at TIFF includes mainstream movies, buzz-worthy shorts, and indie darlings sure to dazzle audiences worldwide. Here are 12 films from TIFF that should secure a spot on your list of must-watch movies.

Director: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Audra McDonald

Executive Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, co-written by Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black, and directed by Broadway legend George C. Wolfe, Rustin stars out Emmy Award-winner Colman Domingo as 1960s civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Relegated to historical secrecy because of his sexual orientation, Rustin created the 1963 March on Washington alongside Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The film will feature an original song called “Road to Freedom” by Lenny Kravitz and will surely be a contender this awards season.

Strange Way of Life
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar has never shied away from telling LGBTQ+ stories through his films and has catapulted the careers of several high-profile stars like Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz. The Oscar winner debuted his new short film, Strange Way of Life, at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it was nominated for the Queer Palm. He brings the movie about a pair of Old West gunslingers and former lovers who reunite 25 years later to TIFF via the festival’s series, In Conversation With…Pedro Almodóvar. The director will discuss his lengthy career, present Strange Way of Life, and converse with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey about how the queer film fits into Almodóvar’s eclectic filmography.

Director: Carolina Markowicz
Starring: Maeve Jinkings, Kauan Alvarenga

Director Carolina Markowicz will be honored with the TIFF Emerging Talent Award presented by MGM Studios this year, partly because of her groundbreaking work on Toll. The film details the struggles of a Brazilian toll booth attendant who works with a gang of thieves to rob wealthy drivers. Suellen (Maeve Jinkings) decides to take on a new life of crime in order to afford an expensive gay conversion workshop she mistakenly believes will help her son. Toll explores the aftermath of Suellen’s choices and how these choices affect those she loves the most.

Summer Qamp
Director: Jen Markowitz

Bullying of LGBTQ+ teenagers is no laughing matter, and the kids who encompass the Canadian documentary Summer Qamp make it known how much they need a community of support surrounding them. Filmmaker Jen Markowitz brings this heartwarming analysis of life outside heteronormativity to TIFF via the campers of a rural Alberta camp. Camp fYrefly is a safe space for queer, non-binary, and trans teenagers to work through their issues, meet other kids just like them, and learn from counselors that relate to their individual journeys. Typical camp activities combined with a supportive environment make for a summer these kids will never forget.

Next Goal Wins
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Kaimana

TIFF is a haven for international storytellers to present intimate and explosive concepts to audiences on a grand scale. For New Zealand director Taika Waititi, this is something he takes to heart, as he first debuted 2019’s JoJo Rabbit at TIFF before the film became a box office success and won Waititi an Academy Award. This year, the Thor: Ragnarok helmer is taking Next Goal Wins to TIFF, which tells the true story of the American Samoa soccer team and their uphill battle to make it to the World Cup. Starring Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss, Next Goal Wins highlights this underdog fight by focusing on real-life non-binary team member Jaiyah (played by non-binary actor Kaimana) in what will surely be a star-making role.

Days of Happiness
Director: Chloé Robichaud
Starring: Sophie Desmarais, Sylvain Marcel, Nour Belkhiria

Writer-director Chloé Robichaud is the pride of Montreal, and her collaboration with actor Sophie Desmarais has proven to be a professional relationship worth noting. Their newest drama, Days of Happiness, thrusts audiences into the chaotic world of a young orchestra conductor (Desmarais) who begins a romance with a female cellist (Nour Belkhiria), much to the dissatisfaction of her controlling manager father (Sylvain Marcel). The conductor’s life and career are thrown for a loop as she discovers more about herself and her achievements than she initially thought was possible.

The Critic
Director: Anand Tucker
Starring: Ian McKellen, Gemma Arterton, Mark Strong, Ben Barnes

The world premiere of director Anand Tucker’s The Critic arrives at TIFF this year, starring out actor Sir Ian McKellen and Gemma Arterton set in a pre-WWII England whodunit. Based on a novel by Anthony Quinn and adapted for film by Notes on a Scandal scribe Patrick Marber, The Critic exposes a thrilling plot devised by theatre critic Jimmy Erksine (McKellen) to save his job amidst a world full of anti-gay police raids and hostility towards Erksine’s life as a gay man during a time when such a thing was legally reprehensible. This thriller costars Mark Strong, Ben Barnes, and Lesley Manville as part of its ensemble cast.

Dicks: The Musical
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Bowen Yang, Megan Mullally, Megan Thee Stallion, Nathan Lane, Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp

From the wildly entertaining minds of Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, based on their two-person show, comes the newest comedy to hit TIFF called Dicks: The Musical. Costarring Jackson, Sharp, and a ragtag group that includes Megan Mullally, queer icon Nathan Lane, and Megan Thee Stallion, Dicks: The Musical borrows a playbook from The Parent Trap and updates it for an LGBTQ+ audience. The film concerns identical twins (Jackson & Sharp) who try to reunite their deranged mother (Mullally) and closeted father (Lane) to absolute absurdity. A movie musical to possibly end all musicals, Dicks: The Musical bills itself as “proudly queer as fuck” with narration from Saturday Night Live cast member Bowen Yang and direction from Borat filmmaker Larry Charles.

National Anthem
Director: Luke Gilford
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Eve Lindley, Robyn Lively

Making its way through the film festival circuit this year is National Anthem, having world premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The debut film from photographer Luke Gilford tells the story of Dylan (Charlie Plummer), a young man who takes odd jobs in construction to support his family in rural New Mexico. Based on Gilford’s real-life experiences growing up around the queer rodeo, Dylan’s worldview becomes picturesque when he takes a job at a homestead run by queer rodeo performers and ranchers. His relationships with these rodeo performers come to a head when he strikes up a romantic entanglement with barrel dancer Sky (Eve Lindley), who is already partnered with ranch owner Pepe (Rene Rosado). National Anthem takes the obscure lens of queer rodeo and propels it into the forefront in a sexy and stylish fashion.

Close To You
Director: Dominic Savage
Starring: Elliot Page, Hillary Baack

Canada’s own Elliot Page co-writes and stars in Close To You, the newest film from director Dominic Savage. Page plays Sam, who runs into a blast from his past (Hillary Baack) while traveling home by train for a family reunion he isn’t quite prepared for. The chance encounter with his old friend and the dread of knowing his extended family will treat him differently after his transition, haunts Sam to his core. Close To You presents themes of acceptance, fear, and being one’s true self in the face of emotionally charged disapproval.

Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero
Director: Carlos López Estrada, Zac Manuel
Starring: Lil Nas X

Musical sensation Lil Nas X has never shied away from controversy, whether he’s redefining the genres of country and hip hop or living his truth as a member of the queer community. At 24, the rapper has a lot of life left to go as he continues to break records and make headlines for his music. The “Old Town Road” singer might be one of the most famous names in music today, but directors Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel are letting fans into the artist’s mind through their new documentary, Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero. Following the superstar on tour, audiences will get a glimpse into the life-changing apparatus of fame while getting to know the gay superstar known for his flamboyance and perceived confidence.

I Don’t Know Who You Are
Director: M.H. Murray
Starring: Mark Clennon, Nat Manuel, Anthony Diaz

Marked as an Official Selection at TIFF is the directorial debut of Canadian filmmaker M.H. Murray, I Don’t Know Who You Are. Mark Clennon co-writes and stars in the drama as Toronto-based musician Benjamin, who experiences a sexual assault and hides the trauma from his loved ones and the man he’s currently dating (Anthony Diaz). Fearing the worst that he might have been exposed to HIV, Benjamin spends a weekend attempting to earn enough money to buy HIV-preventive medication before time runs out. Inner conflicts, anxiety, and Toronto’s shifting community dynamics pull into focus in I Don’t Know Who You Are, with original songs sung and written by Mark Clennon.

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