We are in the midst of a global pandemic. With death rates on the rise and public gatherings of more than ten people banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19, performance artists and festival organizers are trying to make the best of a bad situation despite cancellations of their events.

One of the artists trying to make the best of things is Amy Blackmore, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal, The MainLine Theatre, and Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe…This Is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative, socially distanced theatre festival developed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the annual Montreal Fringe Festival.

The Fringe was postponed rather than cancelled because this year would have been the festival’s thirtieth anniversary. Given that participants are chosen by lottery, the artists set to participate in the now-postponed festival were offered the option of formally withdrawing along with a refund of their participation fee or have their participation deferred to next year’s event.

I had the opportunity to speak to Blackmore about This Is Not a Fringe Festival on the phone earlier this week. As I suspected, it was developed as an alternative to the regular Fringe Festival.

“The Fringe just means so much to so many folks and we don’t want to abandon our community,” she said, adding that This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not meant to replace the St-Ambroise Fringe. “We’re not pretending to be the Fringe. You can’t Fringe without all the artists. It just doesn’t work,” she laughed.

In the spirit of Fringe, Blackmore and her team, which includes Kenny Streule, the event’s producer, put together a lineup to satisfy fans of the festival and “fill that Fringe need.” Unlike the regular Fringe, the lineup of This Is Not a Fringe Festival is smaller and a lot more curated, selecting artists based on their experiences running past St-Ambroise Fringe Festivals.

Where the Fringe often has over a five hundred artists participating, This Is Not a Fringe Festival only has about 150 artists involved. The festival was developed and curated paying close attention to what’s been happening online since the theatres have closed due to the pandemic.

The artists for the event were found via a couple of calls for submissions as well as through people Blackmore and other organizers met over the years of running Fringe, mainly festival alumni.

Like Fringe, This Is Not a Fringe Festival has a wide variety of programming. They divided it into a series of strains, with the main one being the Signature Series: a series of events in the evening running from June 11th to the 21st with one or two shows a night.

Performances include an opening concert with Paul Cargnello, Crowd Karaoke and Being Brown is my Superpower in partnership with Fringe Live Stream. Another exciting event is the Fringe fundraiser Lip Sync Bingo in collaboration with House of Laureen. Some of the events are free, others are pay-what-you-can.

“It’s very open this year in terms of money because everyone is in a slightly different situation, we’re finding, so we’re trying to be flexible with that.”

When I asked Blackmore how payments to the pay-what-you-can events would be facilitated. She explained that it would vary from event to event, and that in many cases, just like the now-postponed Fringe Festival, audiences will be able to buy tickets through the MainLine Theatre website.

“Every event has its own needs, so instead of having a blanket approach to everything, we’re trying to really honour that,” Blackmore said, explaining that because This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not as large as the regular Fringe, they are actually able to do that.

In addition to the Signature Series, This Is Not a Fringe Festival also has a strain of events called The Daily Dose in which every day at 11am audiences can get a daily dose of Fringe as the festival release a series of videos. Said videos include a contemporary dance video, a magic act, storytelling videos in collaboration with Confabulation, as well a series of online activities and challenges organized by the Festival Tout Tout Court. Blackmore affectionately refers to this strain as “art in small packages” that people can take in when it’s convenient for them.

As a recent participant in Festival de la Bete Noire’s last Sunday Night Live Scream before the summer, I was curious as to whether the event would be a series of videos submitted by artists or whether it would be live streamed events. Blackmore explained that it would be a combination of both, with, for example, The Daily Dose as a series of videos submitted to them, and some of the events are live streamed. The festival will be a combination of Facebook live streams, YouTube, and Zoom Hangouts depending on what they are.

“I think what people can expect is the spirit of the Fringe, the spirit of our event. I’m expecting folks to participate and have conversations with us,” Blackmore said, mentioning a series at This Is Not a Fringe Festival called The Transformation Series, five talks Blackmore is facilitating on the five current topics including what it’s like to make art during a pandemic, green theatre-making, and work-life balance.

When I asked Blackmore what she felt the overarching theme of the event is, she spoke of resilience and hope.

“It’s an ode to a festival that never was.”

Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe / This Is Not a Fringe Festival is running from June 11 to 2020 in participation with Fringe Live Stream, MainLine Theatre, and Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE. Tickets and info available through montrealfringe.ca

Even though the 30th Edition of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival won’t happen until June 2021, MainLine Theatre hopes to remain engaged with the community during these difficult times. With that in mind, they are planning This Is Not a Fringe Festival.

“Just because we’re pressing the pause button on the Fringe doesn’t mean that we can’t gather. I’m looking forward to encouraging artists and audiences to connect in new and exciting ways,” said MainLine’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore about the upcoming festival.

In the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, this online socially distanced art festival will take place from June 11-21, 2020. Full programming, which will include micro-dance videos, storytelling events, theatrical parties, community art projects, mail-in art and more – will be announced on June 1.

For more information, please visit montrealfringe.ca

With pretty much every major Montreal summer festival either cancelling for 2020 or rescheduling until the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we can happily report that the Fantasia International Film Festival will take place this summer with only slightly different dates (August 20 – September 2). The only other difference is the festival will take place entirely online.

No, this doesn’t mean that the internationally famous destination genre event will be making this year’s films available for on-demand streaming. Instead, they’ll be replicating the in-person cinema experience as much as possible through Festival Scope and Shift72’s virtual screening platform.

If you buy tickets to a movie premier that starts at 8pm but log on at 8:15pm, you’ll miss any trailers or intro material offered as well as the beginning of the film. They’ll also be limiting tickets to a number comparable to the capacity of the venue that would have, under normal circumstances, played host. The event will also be geo-restricted to Canada.

The security of the platform will allow Fantasia to still offer global premiers. This approach will also mean they can avoid having to compete with other major film festivals that usually run in the fall.

They will also offer as many Q&As with special guests as possible. It won’t be completely the same experience as in years past, but it will be as close as possible to it given the current public health restrictions.

Fantasia runs August 20 – September 2, 2020 and is still accepting submissions, so we don’t have a lineup yet, but we will announce it when we do. For more: fantasiafestival.com

This is the time of year where thoughts start to turn to summer and, in particular, all the shows the season usually brings to Montreal. At Forget the Box, this is when we start thinking about just how we’re going to cover all the festivals (music, theatre, comedy, etc) and what sort of ticket giveaways we may run.

This year, as everyone knows, will be quite different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even if some of the restrictions currently in place are loosened and things get back to some semblance of normal, the summer’s events won’t be coming back until next year, or in some cases this fall.

So there are no shows to cover, but that doesn’t mean we can’t run a contest to give away tickets. You’ll just have to wait a while to pick up your prize.

With everything upside down, what time better than the present to start thinking of the future. If we beat this thing with our social distancing, we’ll have reason to celebrate.

So without any further ado, here’s FTB’s Lockdown Contest:

The Prize

The Grand Prize is two tickets to the show of your choice with some restrictions. Given the huge financial hit the event industry is bound to take this year and the fact that they’re probably all too busy right now to coordinate a contest with us for the future, these won’t be promo passes.

Instead, we’ll be buying a pair of tickets like everyone else and then giving them to the winner free of charge. As such:

  • It can be any concert, play, comedy show, festival, etc, but it must happen in the Greater Montreal Region (if you can get there by bus and metro, it’s in the zone) before the end of 2022.
  • Tickets to the concert or show must be available for purchase to the general public. So if a show’s sold out for the public, it’s sold out for this contest, too.
  • We don’t guarantee your first pick, or preferred seating, but we’ll do our best.
  • Price of a single ticket can be no more than $200. Depending on what you pick, you might get access to an entire indie festival, a day’s worth of top-notch concerts or just one really great show.
  • You must be legally allowed to enter the venue where the show is taking place.

How to Enter the Contest

Normally with giveaways, we try to keep things simple. This time we’re asking a little more. Here are the details:

  • Send us your best Montreal on Lockdown Story by email to forgetthebox@forgetthebox.net with Lockdown Contest in the subject line before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We’re looking for uniquely Montreal stories – funny anecdotes, personal tales of how you’re dealing with our new reality, interesting accounts of how people are respecting social distancing in their own way, heartwarming tales of community solidarity, whatever you think might inspire, interest or amuse. They could be written, told through photos, or a combination of the two.
  • Share this post either on Facebook or Twitter and tag @forgetthebox also before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We reserve the right to publish the stories we receive and will definitely publish the winner (so please let us know how you would like to be credited – just one name, a name and an initial, your full name, a fake name, etc. – if not we’ll just use your name.

We know that these times are trying and that not everyone is in the right headspace to be positive right now. This contest isn’t designed to preach positivity, but rather to try and give everyone something to look forward to.

The shows will return. This summer will look and feel very different in Montreal, but if we all do our part, we’ll all be partying together at some point – and you can be the one who got in with free tickets!

Yesterday, the Quebec Government requested suspending all public cultural and sporting events across the province until August 31st in order to keep fighting COVID-19 through social distancing. Following the request, Evenko announced that Osheaga, Île Soniq and the new country music festival LASSO won’t take place in Parc Jean-Drapeau late July and during August as originally planned.

“We are truly saddened by this situation, but everyone’s health must remain our top priority,” evenko President and CEO Jacques Aubé said in a press release. “It is too early to specifically announce the status of each of our events. We want to take the time to properly think about each of them and evaluate our options. Of course, we will do everything we can in order to minimize the impacts of this decision on all parties involved, by trying to postpone events, when possible.”

evenko now says it is in “solution mode” and will announce the fate of these events as soon as they work that out. They had already announced months ago, before COVID-19 was a concern, that their other festivals Heavy Montréal and 77 Montréal would be taking a break in 2020. Now we’re waiting to see if the other festivals will do the same or if they will be rescheduled, fully or in some form.

We previously learned that the Montreal Jazz Fest, Francofolies and Fringe Festival won’t happen this year and that Just for Laughs has been moved from July to late September/early October. This request by the Quebec Government, in effect, extends a municipal Montreal decision to cancel all festivals, public events and sporting events until July 2nd. is

It is clear that even if we flatten the curve and social distancing restrictions are loosened and things get back to something that resembles normal, summer in Montreal will look and feel very different this year.

Featured image from Osheaga 2019 by lamyazpixels

Last week, the Montreal Fringe Festival, the Jazz Festival and Les Francofolies all announced that their 2020 editions were cancelled and earlier today the Montreal Grand Prix announced it wouldn’t happen in June. They’re now not the only May and June events cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Montreal announced today that all festivals, sporting events and public events are cancelled until July 2nd. Even if Quebec succeeds in flattening the curve and non-essential businesses are allowed to re-open May 4th as currently planned and more social distancing rules are relaxed in the subsequent weeks, June will look much different in the city known in the summer as Festi-Ville.

This not only means that there won’t be any outdoor concerts or bike races, but there also won’t be any Saint Jean Baptiste or Canada Day celebrations, at least not official ones. Whether or not people will be allowed to celebrate on their own, either at private parties or on Mount Royal, depends entirely on how well we do flattening the curve.

Just for Laughs, a staple of Montreal’s summer festival season and the largest comedy festival in the world, will still take place in 2020, just a little later than  anticipated. Due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have postponed the festival, until fall. Originally slated for July, JFL, which features a large slate of international acts along with local comics, will now take place September 29th through October 11th.

“We are energized by the ability of our teams to adapt to current conditions and present a festival redesigned in its form and content as early as the fall,” Just for Laughs Group President and CEO Charles Décarie said in a press release. “If the situation permits, we will resume work in the interim and thus be able to play an important role in reviving the cultural sector, but also in the social healing that we all need.”

Organizers are looking at several possible scenarios for staging the outdoor portions of the festival, but that will depend,of course, on social gathering restrictions. JFL will honour festival passports purchased for the summer event at shows in the fall.

This information comes two days after the Montreal Fringe Festival decided to postpone its 2020 edition to summer 2021. We also learned today that both the Montreal Jazz Festival and Les FrancoFolies are cancelled for this year.

This summer was supposed to be the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival’s 30th anniversary edition. Now, due to COVID-19, the celebration and theatrical performances by hundreds of groups and performers originally scheduled to run June 1-21 will have to wait until next summer.

“I sincerely feel that as leaders in the Montreal cultural landscape, it is our responsibility to temporarily close our spaces and to postpone the Fringe Festival in order to protect the health and of our artists and patrons,” the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director Amy Blackmore said in a press release. “The conditions for in-person art-making and consumption amid this crisis are significantly challenging since many are unable to rehearse, have been laid off from work and are trying to manage shifting priorities.”

MainLine Theatre, which produces the festival, will also keep its performance and rehearsal space on St-Laurent Boulevard closed until May 31st as per public health directives. The festival will offer alternate online programming this June in place of the public theatre shows.

The Fringe is generally the event that kicks off Montreal’s jam-packed festival season. This year it is the first major summer arts festival to postpone or cancel due to COVID-19.

We will update you if any other arts events follow suit.

When I think of galas, I typically think of old rich people trying to get money from other old rich people for a charity that will use most of the money on itself rather than the people they claim to help. This was not the case at Festival de la Bête Noire 2020’s opening night gala.

In the lobby of the Mainline Theatre on Saint Laurent, snacks were laid out, souvenirs on sale, and festival programs available. A group consisting of performers and fans gathered to celebrate theatre and horror.

Amidst the cheap chocolate of the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, Festival de la Bête Noire is a nugget of heaven for anyone waiting for next Halloween.

The festival is the brainchild of Mylène Chicoine, its Executive and Artistic director who founded it in 2018. She created it because she uses horror to de-stress the way others use comedy. In the months before the festival she and her team picked from among tons of submissions to ensure a variety of shows celebrating the many facets of horror and performance.

The opening night gala is a lot like Montreal Fringe Festival’s Fringe for All. Many people behind the festival’s participating shows have an opportunity to present a skit from their productions to entice audiences to buy tickets.

Unlike Fringe for All, there’s a little more to see. In addition to the skits by performers in the Festival, audiences were treated to storytellers and performances that weren’t part of a larger show.

The Professor, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

The Emcee for the evening was one John David Hickey, a professional storyteller. That night he was in the persona of The Professor, a kind of scruffy Steampunk Victorian wise man in top hat, long coat, and vest.

In addition to announcing the acts with all the gusto and humor his role required despite the poorly written list he was given, Hobbes also treated audiences to ghost stories. He told one at the beginning and a couple more in between.

His style is so compelling and fun and the stories were spooky but not over the top gory or violent. He was the perfect choice to emcee this event and I hope to see him do so at the festival next year.

Another compelling storyteller that night was Stéfan Cédilot, who was there to recite a snippet of his one-man show Slasher with Théatre Sans Fonds. Slasher is about Cédilot’s love of slasher movies. He’s funny, sincere, and such a treat to watch and listen to, I put down my pen so I could give him my full attention.

Triptych by Marissa Blaire, photo by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

Some of the best comedy and horror for me is about contrast, and no one did this better than Marissa Blair and her co-star Jeroen Lindeman. Blair’s show Triptych is about BDSM, but instead of presenting a bit from it, Blair plugged the show dressed as a patient while her ‘surgeon’ worked on her.

When she dies on the operating table amidst Blair’s signature spurts of blood, her doctor began sobbing loudly. As Blair popped up and in an obnoxiously chipper voice began teaching the audience how she cleans up fake blood, Lindeman continued wailing in the background. It was hilarious.

Kay Komizara came on stage with a giant to promote her show Monstrologyka carrying a giant papier mâché goat. It seemed a little cute at first, but then you realized she was talking about how she planned to ‘kill it’ in her show. It was brief but fun and a sure sign of things to come.

One notable dance performance was by Calixta Starr, who’s show Hotel Purgatorio is a dance performance of part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. As she swirled and moved hypnotically to a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire I was riveted.

Among the performers who did not have shows in the festival was Seeley Quest, a transgender disabled performance artist. He read some flash fiction and non-fiction on stage.

While the stories themselves were interesting, I wished he had projected and varied his tone a bit more. It was a bit lulling for me – a tad too soothing and soft for so late in the evening.

Another performer was Tommy Toxic who did a form Japanese dance called Puto. In zombie makeup to a recording that seemed more sound than music, his moves were dramatic and interesting but a little artsy. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d seen by the time he walked off stage or if I even liked it, but it was certainly unique.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2020 is over but there’s another festival next year. Whether you’re into horror or not, it’s worth checking out. There is truly something for everyone.

Featured image of Trout Lily Theatre Collective by Louis Jezsik courtesy of Festival de la Bête Noire

It must be said right off the bat that I am a tad biased towards Festival de la Bète Noire. A multidisciplinary horror theatre festival, it runs from February 19-23 at MainLine Theatre. I have the honor of being the illustrator for one of the festival’s shows, Quagmire Productions’ How to the Kill Your Baby 101, a one-woman show about post-partum depression.

Festival de la Bète Noire was founded in 2018 by Mylène Chicoine, who is now its Executive and Artistic Director. It features a wide variety of live performances from solo shows to storytelling to stage plays to dance shows, though it welcomes everything from puppetry to burlesque to shows Chicoine cheerfully refers to as “unclassifiable”. I had the opportunity to sit down with her to talk more about the festival and why she started it.

When Chicoine founded the festival she immediately got to work collecting a team. Among them are Tyla Webster, Assistant Director and Artist Liaison, Technical Director Eric Wrazen, Christian Menard, Finance and Director and “Professional Boring Guy”, and their Administrative Assistant Robin Friedman.

I’m not a horror fan so I was curious as to whether Bète Noire is truly for everyone. Chicoine says that it’s for anyone who wants to experience something truly unique.

“Part of the reason I put this festival together is because I use fear the same way other people use laughter. For me it is a form of therapy, it is a form of catharsis, it’s a way to deal with those deep dark hidden things inside that you don’t want to deal with but then you put it on the stage and you deal with it together.”

She compares the Bète Noire to the Montreal Jazz Festival, noting that you rarely actually hear any jazz at the Jazz fest. She points out that horror is a huge and diverse genre that includes everything from murder mysteries to psycho thrillers to ghost stories and not just blood and gore.

When asked if there would be blood in these productions, Chicoine admits there will be blood and maybe guts, but nothing will be sprayed on the audience. She also adds that there will be content and trigger warnings and things that are meant to push boundaries, adding that some shows are scarier than others.

“But once you do it, you did it, and you survived.”

The Festival’s offerings this year include the aforementioned How to Kill Your Baby 101, Marissa Blair’s BDSM horror piece Triptych, The Malicious Basement’s Maintenance on cyberspace, Kay Komizara’s Monstrologyka about monsters and witches and many more. You can see the full lineup on the festival’s Facebook page.

The shows vary in length but are generally about an hour long. Chicoine said that she has not seen the shows yet. Her and her team selected participants based on the overall message and boundary pushing.

“Something that’s a little out of the ordinary as opposed to ‘here’s some horror’.”

Applications took place online, with people submitting a blurb of about 25-50 words. Though she admits the team knows some of the artists and has seen their shows, the overall criteria was interest with her team taking votes on what to include in Bète Noire.

In addition to the shows themselves, the Festival includes open mic Fright Nights, the Opening Night Horror Gala featuring horror skits, an art exhibition throughout MainLine theatre, as well as horror trivia night – about ALL horror, not just movies. Originally started as fundraising efforts to cover the costs of the Festival, these events adjacent to the festival have become a way to bring the community together.

When I asked Chicoine if there’s one thing she could say to prospective audiences, she invited people to join her on this journey.

“Go check it out. Go fight your demons. Go love them. Go embrace them. That’s what the Festival is for.”

Adapted from Eileen Atkin’s 1994 play of the same name, Vita and Virginia is based on the real-life romance between aristocratic socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf. With a scandalous romance, the glamour of the 1920s, and famous works of literature, Vita and Virginia’s story in the right hands could have been a very special film. Unfortunately, despite some strong acting and beautiful cinematography, this film is an uneven mess that never quite comes together.

When we first meet Vita (Gemma Arterton) it’s hammered into us that she’s a thoroughly modern woman; she drives her own car, wears pants, declares proudly that “Independence has no sex.” When Vita goes to a party hosted by, as her mother (Isabella Rosselini) describes,  “bohemian communist socialists” that she meets the elusive Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). 

It’s made clear from their first meeting that their relationship will be a sexual one; Vita observes Virginia dancing from across the room with a decidedly male gaze. Virginia, as the object of desire, acknowledges that gaze and welcomes it.

Arterton and Debicki do what they can to save the film with their performances. Arterton is more than capable of showcasing the charm and insatiable lust of Vita, who while in an open marriage, had affairs with both men and women alike. And Debicki (who should have broken out after the criminally under-seen Widows) gives the strongest performance in the film. She is so good here she makes you forget all about a certain Australian actress who won an Oscar for portraying the same woman.

But despite these performances, the film falls apart under the direction of Chanya Button. While the melodic electro score (by Isobel Waller-Bridge) is beautiful and perhaps meant to show these women were not of their time, it takes you out of the story. The same goes for the decision to have the women read their letters to each other aloud while looking directly at the camera. It’s overly stagey and completely unnecessary. 

And then there’s the magical realism that’s thrown in to show Virginia’s increasingly unstable mental state. If it had been used all throughout the film perhaps it would have made more sense, but only used a few times it doesn’t work. Not to mention that Debicki is a more than capable performer who could have showcased Virginia’s bipolar disorder without a scene where a flock of birds who aren’t really there attack her.

The real-life Vita and Virginia continued a friendship long after their romance fizzled, until Virginia’s death in 1941, which for some reason, Button decided not to mention in the final title card was a suicide, although Virginia talks about death throughout the film.

Their relationship inspired one of Virginia’s most popular books, Orlando. If you’re curious about these fascinating women and their influence on each other, I recommend you read that book (or see the 1992 Tilda Swinton film adaptation) instead.

Anne + is a web series where Anne (Hanna van Vliet) has just moved into her first grown-up apartment after graduating university in Amsterdam. While out on an errand, she runs into her ex-girlfriend and first love Lily (Eline van Gils). The encounter makes her ruminate on her ever-evolving dating life since their break up four years earlier.

Split into six stories running about ten minutes each, the episodes explore how all of Anne’s relationships have helped define the person she has become. While the main character is queer, the relationship issues she experiences are universal; your first big romance fizzling out, falling in love with someone who just wants to be casual (or the other way around), being attracted to someone’s wild personality but then getting overwhelmed by it.

The series is run by Maud Wiemeijer and Valerie Bisscheroux, two Dutch lesbians who wanted to create more authentic media for queer women. And in that goal they absolutely succeed; although your window into each of Anne’s relationships is brief, they feel real and lived in. And each episode builds off the last so, by the end, you really feel like a world has been created.

My personal favourite episode was Anne+ Esther, where she has an affair with an older boss. After a devastating infatuation with a woman who didn’t love her back, Anne is giddy sleeping with Esther (Kirsten Mulder). She’s getting off on the secrecy of it all and assumes Esther just wants to keep things casual. Especially since she’s already in an open but committed relationship with someone else. But when she discovers that’s not the case, now it’s Anne’s turn to let someone down. 

The series really works because of the appeal of its lead, Hanna van Vliet. She’s a character you immediately root for, even when she dumps sweet Lily for wild Janna, or feels no shame about sleeping with her married boss.

While there are a few supporting characters that show up throughout the season like her friends Casper (Alex Hendrickx) and Jip (Jade Olieberg) it’s mostly Anne who carries this show, and van Vliet does easily. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Anne’s exploits (they’re currently filming season two) in the future. 

You can watch all of the Anne + episodes (some of the episodes already have subtitles, other episodes you have to fiddle with the settings) on the show’s official English website

Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin’s third feature And Then We Danced is about sensitive dancer Merab (real-life dancer Levan Gelbakhiani making an impressive acting debut) coming to terms with his homosexuality in the conservative, hyper-masculine world of Georgian dance. While that may sound like a giant bummer, the film manages to retain a sweet optimism throughout. 

When we first meet Merab, his dance instructor is chastising him for being ‘soft’. It’s clear that while Merab is extremely passionate about dance, he doesn’t quite fit in this world. He’s too expressive with his movements, too sensual.

But still, Merab is desperate to please. He comes from a long line of dancers and despite his father’s warnings that the profession can destroy you, wants to take it seriously.

Merab’s life changes when newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishivili) arrives. Irakli is brash, talks back to the instructor, and immediately becomes a rival for dance numbers.

They eventually do become friends, and then more, when members of the dance troupe go away together for the weekend. I mean who wouldn’t want to experiment with their sexuality when you’re drinking wine and dancing to Robyn shirtless in the woods? 

Lesser films would have focused solely on the melodrama of Merab and Irakli’s ill-fated romance. Yes, Merab is devastated at how it works out, but the story isn’t focused on that.

The real focus is about how that experience helps him become the man he’s truly meant to be: He meets some new like-minded friends and has an epic night out. He’s able to come clean to his longtime dance partner/sort-of girlfriend Mary (Ana Javakishvilli) about who he really is.

But most importantly, Merab dances the way he wants to dance, not the way his instructors have tried to drill into him. There’s no big Flashdance moment where Merab impresses the dance company so much they completely change their minds about him, but as he walks offscreen for the last time, you can’t help but feel it’s off to a much better future.

An adaptation of Fiona Shaw’s novel, Tell it to the Bees has plenty going for it. There’s a strong cast, led by Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger, beautiful Scottish countryside locations, and dreamy period costumes.

While there’s nothing revolutionary here (small-town people were prejudiced in the 20th century!), for most of the film the story works. That is until the unfortunate third act, where the screenwriters lean into the outdated cliche that a story like this can only end in tragedy and sadness.

At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a grown-up Charlie (voiced by Billy Boyd, heard but never seen) as he reflects on growing up in Scotland in the 1950s. There we meet young Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) who’s being bullied at school. After a fight with his schoolmates, Charlie is brought to the local doctor by family member Annie (Outlander’s Lauren Lyle).

It is here Charlie meets Dr. Jean Markham (Paquin) who has just inherited her father’s medical practise and estate. Sensing that Charlie needs more than just medical care, she befriends the young lad, eventually becoming friends with his mother Lydia (Grainger) as well.

Both Lydia and Jean aren’t new to town gossip: Lydia is in the middle of splitting up with Charlie’s dad Rob (Emun Elliot) and Jean left town many years earlier after she was caught kissing another woman.

As Lydia and Jean’s relationship progresses, especially after Lydia becomes Jean’s housekeeper and she and Charlie move into Jean’s house, the town becomes increasingly hostile towards them. But even so, the two women find themselves falling in love.

Paquin and Grainger have excellent chemistry together; their scenes are without a doubt the highlight of the film. When they do finally consummate their relationship, it’s a moment that both feels earned and is very sexy without getting too Blue is the Warmest Color.

And then the unfortunate third act arrives. A film that spent most of its time being a gentle love story suddenly has moments of rape, domestic violence, and a scene where Annie is forced to get an abortion after her family discovers she’s gotten pregnant by a coloured man.

There was no reason for this horrific scene except to ramp up the melodrama and it feels really forced. Eventually, Jean and Lydia are separated for good, and as an audience member, we’re left wondering why we spent time investing in this relationship in the first place.

Tell it to the Bees plays at Université Concordia Cinéma Alexandre de Sève on November 24th as part of IMAGE+NATION and is available to watch on Netflix.

Returning for its 32nd edition, the LGBTQ Film Festival Image+Nation will be running from November 21st to December 1st in downtown Montreal.

“As we live through times of social change in the world, image+nation 32 proudly brings new films from countries that share stories through LGBTQ cinema’s newest voices,” states Programming Director, Katharine Setzer, “with an emergence of exciting Eastern-European filmmaking, the cream of local talent, and even a pioneering Guatemalan production, this year, more than ever, we’re bringing the best new and innovative storytelling to Montreal.”

Below are five films that I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival.

This is Not Berlin

Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical epic of adolescence in 1980s Mexico City. Outsider Carlos (Xabiani Ponce De León) finds his life changed when he gets swept up in a punk-filled world of sexual liberty and drugs. Navigating the storms of his sexual awakening in the process, Carlos finds himself faced with a choice; the comforting inclusiveness of popularity, or being true to himself.

Tell it to the Bees

Charlie, a young boy in 1950s Scotland befriends the new doctor in town, Dr. Jean Markham. Concerned about this relationship, Charlie’s recently single mother Lydia confronts the doctor.

When she subsequently falls on hard times, Dr. Jean invites her to come work for her and live in her home. While Lydia begins as Dr. Jean’s cleaning lady, the relationship quickly becomes something more when the women realize their undeniable chemistry.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

This documentary explores how 1980s horror films, in particular Nightmare on Elm Street, were in part a backlash against Reagan conservatism and the terrors of the AIDS epidemic.

The Prince

Based on a pulp novel, this 1970s homoerotic prison drama follows Jamie, a new inmate who gets the nickname “The Prince” by an older inmate he forms a friendship with.

Vita and Virginia

A fictionalized version of the real-life romance between London socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf.

Image+Nation runs November 21 through December 1, tickets and full schedule available through image-nation.org

If you walked into Noah Baumbach’s latest drama Marriage Story without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a love story. It opens with the leads Nicole (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) talking about each other’s greatest qualities; she is a good mom, dancer, is attentive even to strangers. He is a good dad, eco-conscious, self-sufficient.

But then the rug is quickly pulled from under you. These lists were created after a marriage counsellor suggests they read them to each other.

Charlie passive-aggressively offers to read his first, Nicole doesn’t want to read hers at all. That’s when you realize this isn’t going to be a movie about a hip New York theatre couple. This is a movie about a frustrated separated couple that will soon become a divorced one, and the brutal road it takes to get there.

This is Baumbach’s second foray into directing a movie centred around divorce. The 2005 film The Squid and The Whale was inspired by his parents’ divorce and in that story, Jesse Eisenberg was clearly the Baumbach stand-in.

This time it’s Adam Driver’s turn, in a story based on his own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Because Baumbach is using moments from his own life to write and direct this story, it’s perhaps not surprising that Driver gets more of the focus in the film.

While I did want to see more of Nicole’s side of things, honestly focusing on Charlie didn’t ruin anything for me. I’ve loved Driver ever since he was the horny weirdo on Girls and in this film he delivers a career-best performance in a career that’s already filled with really great ones.

The scene about half-way through the film when Charlie and Nicole decide they need to have a sit-down in his temporary LA apartment he’s begrudgingly rented to spend more time with his son stands out especially. It’s a 10-minute one-act play in many ways.

It begins with the couple tensely but calmly expressing the desire to work out their issues, and increasingly escalates until people are punching the walls, sobbing uncontrollably, and wishing the other person was dead. It’s a master class in acting and guaranteed to get Johansson and Driver both Oscar nominations. In Driver’s case, I think he has a really good chance of winning.

Neither Charlie or Nicole is a blameless victim in this split. Yes, Charlie cheated, but Nicole has also taken their son across the country to LA and has no intentions of sending him back to New York.

Their lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) go from trading witty barbs to brutal punches as they try to paint their clients as the victims or heroes in this story. But we know that neither is really the case.

While this all sounds like a monumental bummer, I assure you the film isn’t all non-stop heart-wrenching drama. There are in fact plenty of humorous moments in between all the serious ones to give you some breathing space in between the more intense scenes like the one I mentioned above.

The product of all this is without the best film I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, and so far my pic to win all the awards this season.

Marriage Story will have a limited run in theatres before streaming on Netflix December 6th