Three films by York professors hit theatres this week

Three York professors have movies hitting screens at film festivals near and far this spring. Visual arts Professor Nancy Nicol’s The Queer Nineties makes its world premiere at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival on the weekend, while visual arts Professor Katherine Knight’s Pretend Not To See Me – The Art of Colette Urban has been nominated for a Golden Sheaf Award at the Yorkton Film Festival, which runs May 21 to 24 in Yorkton, Sask.

Film Professor John Greyson’s Fig Trees will also be screened at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Film and Video Festival, tomorrow at the Isabel Bader Theatre, hot on the heels of its screening at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (see YFile, April 21).

The largest event of its kind in Canada, the 19th annual Inside Out Festival showcases a diverse selection of over 200 films and videos from across Canada and around the world until May 24. More than 32,000 people are expected to attend the 11-day festival.

Right: A scene from Katherine Knight’s film

From the defeat of same-sex relationships recognition in Ontario (1994) to Surrey School District No. 36’s ban of three children’s books which depicted same-sex parents in BC (1997), The Queer Nineties (2009, 91 minutes) examines an amazing decade in the struggle for lesbian and gay equality in Canada. The documentary provides an in-depth study of the complex relations between social movement activism, legal and political change, and the capacity of ordinary people to take up extraordinary challenges to overcome injustice.

The film completes Nicol’s award-winning documentary series From Criminality to Equality. Encompassing 40 years of lesbian and gay rights movement history in Canada, the series blends the voices of activists, community leaders and human rights lawyers with a rich resource of rarely seen archival materials. The other films in the series include Stand Together (2002, 124 minutes), Politics of the Heart (2005, 68 minutes) and The End of Second Class (2006, 90 minutes).

The series will be released with a study guide at the film’s premiere screening, Saturday, May 23 at 12:30pm at the Royal Ontario Museum cinema. The date marks the 40th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexual acts in Canada. Nicol will be joined by a panel that will include Tom Warner, Douglas Elliott, Dr. Alan Li, Gareth Henry and Susan Ursel, following the screening.

Left: A scene from Nancy Nicol’s new film

Sharing overlapping dates with the Inside Out Festival but almost 2,000 kilometres away, the 62nd annual Yorkton Film Festival is the longest running film festival in North America. Specializing in Canadian short films, the juried festival presents 26 awards in categories ranging from multicultural, experimental and drama to a variety of documentary styles. All nominated films will be honoured at the Golden Sheaf Awards Gala on Saturday, May 23 at Yorkton’s Gallagher Centre.

Knight’s Pretend Not To See Me, the Art of Colette Urban (2009, 52 minutes), nominated for a Golden Sheaf Award in the Documentary Arts & Culture category, witnesses 13 enigmatic performance artworks by Colette Urban, restaged and filmed on location on her remote Newfoundland property.

In the barns and fields of Urban’s spectacular oceanfront farm, the artist becomes a half-woman, half-bear, dances a tango while strapped into bungee cords, wheels nonsensical record contraptions and turns herself into a parody of consumer goods. She uses her body like kinetic sculpture to explore themes of identity and social convention.

Knight paints a portrait of the artist as resilient, determined, self-aware and funny as she balances everyday living with the world of imagination set against the rugged beauty of the rocky coast.

Pretend Not To See Me is one of several films Knight has directed and/or produced through her Site Media Inc. production company. Established in 2006, the company specializes in documentaries chronicling the changing world through portraits of creative artists and extraordinary places. Productions include Annie Pootoogook (2006, 24 minutes), Goh Poh Seng…A Poet in Newfoundland (2008, 15 minutes) and Behind the Scenes at Kinngait Studios, which is currently in production and scheduled for release in 2010.