image+nation 35 Montreal LGBT2SQ film festival

On the evolution of Montreal’s LGBT2SQ film festival image+nation, 35 editions later

An interview with the director and head programmer at image+nation, as well as the filmmaker behind its opening film, about the festival’s legacy and retaining the hybrid model for 2022.

When image+nation emerged in 1988, most films were still shot on tape. Queer stories and filmmakers presented their low-budget and radical visions, and they quickly found an audience.

“As you can imagine, at first, the festival was born out of necessity,” recalls Charlie Boudreau, image+nation’s festival director. “Thirty-five years ago, the representation of gays and lesbians was not positive.” The festival opened up the door for artists and filmmakers to change that. “The first years, it became a place to tell our stories. People flocked to it. At one point, we’d have four screenings at once, all with lines around the block.”

Over time, of course, the scope of the films and the festival has only widened, but it remains an important meeting point. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, this year’s image+nation festival will run from Nov. 17 to 27. After two years of being relegated to an online-only format, the festival will be a hybrid this year. While other festivals have dropped the online component entirely, image+nation saw it as an opportunity. “COVID is horrible, but it helped us achieve this dream we’ve had for a long time of having image+nation online,” says Boudreau. “It’s a lot of work, and many other festivals have dropped it, but it’s worth every minute of work to help make the festival more accessible to more people.” 

For Kat Setzer, the festival programming director, one of the most remarkable things about the festival is the evolution of storytelling. “At first, it was mostly coming out stories and stories of first love. Not to discount the importance of those stories — claiming your identity is crucial to anybody’s life — but what we are seeing is this wonderful evolution of the kinds of stories and characters we see; the nuance of different families and the evolution in the past 20 years of trans and non-binary characters and identities.” 

Rosie Gail Maurice

This year’s opening film, Rosie, almost feels like kismet, bridging the gap between the festival’s origins and its sense of community. For director/co-producer Gail Maurice and lead actor/co-producer Mélanie Bray, the film is almost a return home. In 2018, image+nation presented Bray’s short film of the same name, which would become a feature film. Set in Montreal in the 1980s, the film centres on the experiences of a suddenly orphaned Indigenous child and her experience of finding and integrating into her chosen family. 

Though the film deals with heavy material, including grappling with the impact of the Sixties Scoop, Rosie maintains a positive vibe. “We do it in a way that you’re laughing and crying at the same time,” says Maurice, “because in Indigenous culture, it’s everything. Even though your whole world is ripped out from underneath you and your whole heart is shattered, you can still laugh. You have to go on and fight.” The film pays tribute to resilience and hope, all against a colourful and musical backdrop.

The film will be presented at the Imperial on opening night, and will be one of the first times in the festival’s history that so much of the cast and crew will be in attendance. “It’s like a real opening night,” says Boudreau. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.” 

The program features a wide selection of films, including a focus on Ukranian cinema, a spotlight on Indigiqueer cinema and a series of Iranian shorts focusing on the lives of women. As always, the festival caters to community and discussion, providing inclusive and welcoming spaces and venues for festivalgoers to meet and chat.

After 35 years, Canada’s original LGBT2SQ film festival continues to grow and evolve. A long way from its humble beginnings, it’s now a vibrant international festival that features films from a plethora of countries and experiences. “I’ve heard over the years people saying they brought their family, their brother or mother,” says Boudreau. “People come with their colleague who then comes out.” The festival is more than just a tribute to films but a celebration. “It’s our occasion to share the great diversity of the many ways of being.”

4 picks from the image+nation 2022 program

Stop Zemlia Montreal

Rosie (Dir. Gail Maurice)

After a sold-out premiere at TIFF, Rosie returns to image+nation for the festival’s opening night. Inspired by Maurice’s experiences growing up queer and Indigenous in the 1980s, the film is set on the streets of Montreal as a young girl grapples with her mother’s death and discovers the resilience and hope of her newfound family. With an incredible soundtrack and colourful aesthetic, the film promises to make you laugh and cry. 

Stop-Zemlia (Dir. Kateryna Gornostai)

Screening as part of the spotlight on Ukraine, with guest curator Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival, Stop-Zemlia won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. As it blurs the line between documentary and fiction, Gornostai’s feature debut focuses on young people navigating growing up in Ukraine during their last year of high school. Radical and authentic, Stop-Zemlia captures the bewildering strangeness of adolescence with sincerity and sensitivity. 

My Father Is My Mother’s Brother (Dir. Vadym Ilkov)

Also screening as part of the Ukrainian Spotlight, My Father Is My Mother’s Brother is a documentary portrait of artist/singer Tolik, his sister Anya and his niece Katya, whose struggles through daily life are filled with love, soul searching, loneliness and illness. 

This Place (Dir. V.T. Nayani)

Nayani’s feature debut, starring Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs) and Priya Guns, is a queer love story about two young women living in Toronto and dealing with difficult family questions. With dialogue in Mohawk, Persian, Tamil, French and English, This Place represents the diversity of the Canadian urban experience as it examines the joys and challenges of holding onto your culture and paving your own path.

This article was originally published in the November 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

For more on image+nation 2022, please visit the festival’s website.

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