Canada an egalitarian gay haven? Think again.
Marcus McCann reports in Xtra.com that Canada Border Services Agency customs officers have seized three gay-themed films en route to Ottawa’s three-day Inside Out gay film festival, which ends tomorrow, Nov. 22. No explanation was given for the seizure – which, of course, is exactly what you’d expect to happen in a true democracy. The films are supposed to remain in custody until they’re watched in full by some border censor or other. (Curiously, the Inside Out website makes no mention of the border incident.)
The three films in question are Adrian Shergold’s made-for-TV Clapham Junction, which follows a group of gay men in Clapham, South London, and which has some nudity; Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight, a Middle East-set lesbian love story starring Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth; and Ella Lemhagen’s PG-rated Patrik Age. 1.5, the story of a gay couple who mistakenly end up adopting a teen thug. All three films have already been screened elsewhere in Canada. All three are Here! releases, a US-based distributor of gay-themed movies.
In the past, Canadian customs officials have been accused of harassing gays, and of arbitrarily confiscating gay literature and movies. Despite the country’s reputation of being more “liberal” than its southern neighbor, its customs cops, obsessed with obscenity, are known as anything but – especially when it comes to homosexuality. In 2000, the Vancouver-based bookstore Little Sister’s sued the CBSA, taking the matter all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the bookstore. Clearly, the ruling hasn’t prevented the agency from going after other gay-oriented venues.
When told about the pending fate of the festival’s three films, festivalgoers booed and hissed upon hearing mention of the CBSA.
Now, the question is: why haven’t those bigots been sued again so they’ll stop – for good – their anti-gay harassment?
‘A Single Man’ Gets Degayified Posters
What’s a “gay movie”?
Brokeback Mountain? Midnight Cowboy? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Milk? Top Gun? Lukas Licks Lodz?
Something directed by a gay man, say, The Philadelphia Story or Midnight or a couple of the biggest action blockbusters made in the last decade or so? Something written for the screen by a gay man, say, A Streetcar Named Desire or The Innocents? Something based on a book or play or short story or poem written by a gay man, say, Brief Encounter or In Cold Blood? Something starring a gay man, say, the 1925 Ben-Hur or Giant?
If you think about it, the label “gay movie” is pretty meaningless. (The label “gay” itself can be pretty meaningless as well.) But most people can’t live without simple-minded labels; else, they’d have to think in terms of complexities, contradictions, and various shades of gray. Who the hell wants that?
We’ve opted for simple-mindedness ourselves in our tags, e.g., “gay movies,” “gay interest”; after all, those shades of gray can get mighty unwieldy. Harvey Weinstein is apparently another one who wants to take no chances with complexities. Certainly not when The Weinstein Company has to push a movie like Tom Ford’s A Single Man, which opens next Dec. 11 in key US markets.
Tom Ford has stated time and again that A Single Man “is not a gay film.” I can’t see why anyone would disagree with him. It’s a film about human beings in crisis; the characters’ sexual orientation shouldn’t be the sole defining aspect of their personhood. I mean, people don’t go around referring to, say, The Twilight Saga: New Moon as “that straight movie.”
Having said that, if you look at the posters above would it cross your mind that A Single Man tells the story of a closeted gay college professor (Venice 2009 winner Colin Firth) considering suicide following the death of his lover (Matthew Goode)?
(In case you’re wondering what Julianne Moore is doing on the degayified posters, she plays a married alcoholic who has a crush on said professor.)
Changing directions here: how would you define a “straight movie”?
How about a movie in which the homosexual side of one (or more) of the characters is completely erased so they’ll come across as non-offensive heterosexuals, say, These Three (1936), Crossfire (1947), The Man Without a Face (1993), A Beautiful Mind (2001)?
Now, how would you define a “straight movie ad”?
Another gay movie seized in Canada: Trevor Anderson’s comedy short ‘Dinx’
December 2009 update: Weeks after the outrage sparked by Canadian border guards’ decision to seize three gay-themed films headed to Inside Out Ottawa LGBT Film Festival a couple of weeks ago – Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t See Straight, Adrian Shergold’s Clapham Junction, Ella Lemhagen’s Patrik, Age 1.5 – Jenn Ruddy reports at the gay-oriented xtra.com that another gay-themed film was held up by Canadian authorities for more than a month: Dinx, a short film directed by Edmonton-based filmmaker Trevor Anderson.
According to the report, when Anderson called the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to ask why his film had been held up, “he was told that a customs official at the border in Emerson, Manitoba[,] had not known what it was and decided to investigate it.”
And what would the overly cautious customs official have found? A comedy about an unhappy bartender at a men’s burlesque club who relives a day from his childhood. Last year, Dinx won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at Fairy Tales (website), Calgary’s international gay and lesbian film festival.
Checking the ‘obscenity box’
“I guess the fact that it was called Dinx and coming from the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (website) was enough for them to check the obscenity box,” Anderson told xtra.com. “… It concerns me that the determination of what gets into our country is in the hands of individual border guards.”
In other words, any CBSA agent in uniform is apparently allowed to seize a film, a book, a magazine at will.
And gay-themed materials – whether coming from or going to gay film festivals, gay bookstores, gay individuals – clearly make for some very attractive targets for border cops who dislike, fear, despise, hate (or are ignorant about) gays. And who clearly have both way too much time and way too much power in their hands.
Either Canada should give up its progressive credentials – with Stephen Harper in power that shouldn’t be too hard – or Canadians, gay or otherwise, should make sure they’re protected from their obscenity-crazed border cops.
I would expect this in a country that still binds and gags and kills people for being who they are. But Canada? Shamim and Hanan’s films are the epitome of universal connection, regardless of social status, religion and sexual orientation. The characters in her films are representatives of the world, struggling with “human” feelings and an evolution of themselves-themes anyone can relate to. The films have connected world-wide with audiences-gay and straight and have won dozens of film festival awards. To be truly enlightened, see them both and decide for yourself. Canada: You are supposed to be one of the leading epicenters of World Cinema, equality and liberation. Set an example for that for which you stand, in all areas, except this-this is truly hypocritical and not conducive to progression. Your citizens are free-and with that freedom comes exposure to experience lives and stories other than our own. Shamim and Hanan at Enlightenment Productions, have broken down all kinds of barriers around the world,with their cinematically beautiful films and luckily through their own experiences they know and have conveyed the indispensible value of personal freedom. Watch the films, and support these two progressive film makers & perhaps you’ll transgress your own mindset as many others have.
Canada is an extremely progressive country and there is no justification for the seizure of Shamim Sarif’s multi award-winning films, moreso when one of the main actors, Lisa Ray, is a famous Canadian actor. Lisa Ray is suffering from multiple myeloma and her worldwide fans help fund her Canadian charities with tens of thousands of dollars to find a cure for the disease.
To serve some rainbow coloured icing cake to the border services folks, it might help to cross the Canadian border carrying both “The World Unseen” and “I Can’t Think Straight” DVDs. Make a flashy flier showing Shamim Sarif’s picture, her bio, synopses of her two films, pictures of the films, the awards they have received, list where they were screened in North America, and the link to Enlightenment Productions (all information is available at ). Declare the DVDs at customs together with the flier as “personal possession” or “daily dose of personal entertainment and relaxation”. Have the ICTS Soundtrack playing in your ear or on the car stereo. Wear the ICTS T-shirt should you own one. Remain patient, polite, and smiling while at the border crossing.
Thanks and Cheers!
This is really sad.
I live in Vancouver and have ordered one of the movies listed above plus books and they came with no problem.
Why cause problems for people who are celebrating the art of film making and increasing awareness?
Doesn’t make any sense, especially in Canada.