Entertainment & Arts

Toronto Film Festival 2015: TIFF shines spotlight on LGBT films

Freeheld still Image copyright TIFF
Image caption Julianne Moore and Ellen Page star in Freeheld, based on real events

This year's Toronto International Film Festival features more than 20 films focussing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

It's almost twice as many as 2014's event, but unlike last year - where films on the theme were predominantly documentaries or world cinema films - this year, Hollywood has several big-ticket films shining a spotlight on it.

Following the US Supreme Court's ruling to make gay marriage legal across the country in June, it's a timely release for Julianne Moore's latest film, Freeheld.

Based on true events, the Oscar-winning actress plays police detective Laurel Hester, who fought New Jersey county officials in 2005 to leave her pension to her partner Stacie Andree after being diagnosed with cancer - a privilege not afforded to same-sex couples.

Moore says it's no coincidence many more films on LGBT issues are being made.

"After the Supreme Court decision I do feel like it's art imitating life," she said.

"Things show up often in entertainment and film when there has been either an interest or change in popular opinion."

LGBT advocacy group GLAAD agrees progress is leading the change.

"As acceptance in the US moves forwards for LGBT people, we are seeing more and more stories told on the big screen," president Sara Kate Ellis says.

Image copyright TIFF
Image caption Girls Lost focuses on three teenage girls forced to address their gender and sexual identity

Swedish director Alexandra-Therese Keining's film, Girls Lost, focuses on three 14-year-old girls who are forced to confront their gender and sexual identities when they magically turn into boys at night.

The director credits the rise in LGBT films and the increased awareness of the issue to Caitlyn Jenner's high-profile transition, which has been globally documented by the media and in her reality show I Am Cait.

"Her transition has been beneficial to the whole community thanks to her Vanity Fair cover and the different shows picking up her issues," she says.

"Her show is here in Scandinavia and all over the world [which help raise awareness] - and also shows like Transparent help too.

"I wouldn't say it's a revolution, but there's certainly a movement going on. Maybe it's just a phase - it's so hard to say, but definitely there is something going on which is very positive."

Image copyright AP

Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl - starring Eddie Redmayne as Lily Elbe, one of the first recognised transgender women - also received a gala premiere at the festival.

As a sign of changing attitudes in recent years, the film took more than 15 years to get off the ground. After the film rights to David Ebershoff's 2000 novel were bought, financiers were wary of a film about transgender issues.

"When I thought about it seven years ago, it was considered a difficult film to make," Hooper says. "The fact there has been a change in culture and trans narratives are more acceptable now, is a fantastic shift."

Amber Heard, who also stars in the film, says it is time more LGBT films were being made.

"I would hope this is a reflection on what we, as a society, are demanding and craving to see as a reflection of our world," she says.

"It makes me optimistic we will do more to highlight the largely - until now - forgotten about, ignored and underrepresented facets of our culture."

But while there may be progress on getting more LGBT films made, those in the community are campaigning for more LGBT actors - especially trans actors - to be cast in leading, rather than minor supporting roles.

Hooper came under fire for hiring Redmayne - who he says has a "certain gender fluidity" - in his film rather than a trans actor.

Producer Gail Mutrux told Screen Daily although they had considered trans actors over the years, "unlike now, those great trans actors didn't appear to us".

Image copyright TIFF
Image caption Eddie Redmayne stars as the first recognised transgender woman in The Danish Girl

Although trans actress Rebecca Root has a small part in the film, Hooper admits the industry needs to ensure trans actors have the same opportunities as cisgender (those who identify with their gender of birth) actors.

Freeheld director Peter Stollett says we may be at a pivotal moment in LGBT film-making, but cinema goers also have a part to play in it.

"If audiences don't go and buy tickets, there won't be any more films," he says. "There is more of a democracy in theatrical movie-going than we realise sometimes. If you go to see these films, there will be more films like this made."

Hooper is optimistic more films addressing the issues will help those struggling with their gender or sexual identity.

"I hope it encourages other people who might feel marginalised to take inspiration," he says.

Stollett has bigger hopes for further social change, adding: "I hope it educates in a way that brings tolerance.

"Oftentimes we discriminate against people we don't know out of suspicion or fear.

"But hopefully someone who is a bit intolerant will identify with the characters [on screen] and might open their hearts a bit."

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