Highlighting AIDS, asexuals, and Elizabeth Taylor

The year 2011 will undoubtedly be cemented in the queer community’s consciousness for two main reasons: the death of Elizabeth Taylor and the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS.
The two are practically interconnected. The Academy Award-winning siren who made us bow to her feet with Cleopatra and who scared the hell out of us with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was not just an actress, but also a vocal proponent of HIV/AIDS research, raising millions of dollars to combat a disease that was once known as gay-related immune deficiency.
This link between devastating illness and screen goddess is not lost on the organizers of the 24th annual image+nation LGBT film festival, which will feature several documentaries on AIDS, as well as a special tribute to Taylor.
”She’s certainly a gay icon. She really was one of the first public figures to start talking about AIDS,’’ said director of programming Katharine Setzer.
The homage to Taylor will include two of her gay-themed films projected on the big screen: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), a lesser known Taylor film co-starring ’50s and ’60s Hollywood hunk Marlon Brando as a repressed gay man.
Suddenly, Last Summer, which dealt quite explicitly – at least for the 1950s – with the topic of homosexuality and which co-starred real-life gay actor Montgomery Clift, did not make the cut, although Setzer indicated that the movie has been shown at previous editions of the festival.
Running under the theme ”Share your stories with the ones you love,” this year’s image+nation festival aims to ”encourage members of the queer community to bring their loved ones, their families, friends, and co-workers to the movies,” said Setzer.
Films that will be shared with festival goers include David Weissman’s documentary We Were Here, which, through testimonies from those who were there in the very beginning, chronicles the development of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. Film critic and Concordia professor Matthew Hays will also deliver a clip lecture showing the onscreen history of the disease.
Setzer also pointed out the significantly large number of international films that will be playing at this year’s festival, including three British movies taken from literature. The first, The Night Watch, is based on the Sarah Waters novel of the same name, while Christopher and his Kind, by Geoffrey Sax, focuses on the days of the British-born American novelist Christopher Isherwood spent as a young man in Berlin, which, perhaps surprisingly, was quite the gay-friendly locale in the 1920s and early ’30s. Isherwood’s writings on Berlin would eventually inspire the Liza Minnelli (gay icon anyone?) blockbuster Cabaret. The final film from the trio of British productions is Daphne, based on the life of novelist Daphne du Maurier, about whom numerous rumours of bisexuality have swirled since her death in 1989.
”There’s a certain maturity to queer cinema. I would say that over the last 10 years it has certainly become more vibrant on the international front,” said Setzer. ”The basic reality now is that it’s much easier to make a film, at least economically speaking. More stories are now being told, which is wonderful.”
The stories that will be projected on the screen at image+nation are ones that Setzer hopes will ring true for the diverse audience. Image+nation will play a special presentation of the 1990 film Paris is Burning, which documented the gay and trans performers of New York City’s ball culture of the 1980s. Other notable films that touch on the grey areas of sexuality include Phoebe Hart’s Orchids: My Intersex Adventure and Angela Tucker’s (A)Sexual, looking at the oftentimes forgotten group of people who just don’t have sex period.
”Seeing yourself reflected on the screen and watching it with members of your community is pleasurable,” said Setzer about the kind of experience she hopes festival goers will have at Canada’s oldest LGBT film festival. ”Through representation also comes awareness and even understanding, and that’s what we’re hoping for with our theme.” 

Image+nation is happening from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6. Student tickets are $8. A complete list of films and venues can be found at www.image-nation.org.

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