The annual Toronto Inside Out Film Festival wrapped in June, with another stellar lineup giving voice to queer storytelling and sharing LGBTQ+ experiences from around the world. But once the red carpet is rolled up, Inside Out does not simply disappear – the 28-year-old charity manages a multitude of programs aimed at developing and promoting LGBTQ+ films throughout the year. Community One Foundation has awarded them numerous grants in the past for such programming, and in 2016 gave a Foundation Rainbow Grant to Inside Out for their Community Engagement initiative that screened LGBTQ+ films in various communities throughout Toronto.
“The idea for this program came about from noticing that there were neighbourhoods in Toronto that didn’t have much access to LGBTQ programming, and that it could be hard for their residents, especially youth, to get downtown during our festival dates to see films,” said Inside Out Volunteer Coordinator Steen Star. “The key success of our project was in being able to provide underserved communities with access to LGBTQ cinema arts.”
2016’s film festival lineup included such entries as the coming-of-age drama Being 17, documentary Major! and the acclaimed film Spa Night. Considering the breadth of diversity offered in just these three films alone – themes of homophobia and bullying, trans activism and Asian-American LGBTQ experiences – the emphasis on showing these films to a wider audience becomes more critical, but as Star notes, it also presented a challenge.
“Because we were programming in underserved areas, we also encountered some resistance to our programming, which meant that we had to devise some best practices and some community engagement skills in order to proceed,” they said. “In some cases we revised our programming strategy to allow communities themselves to better define what they needed. In other cases we kept the engagement up and repeat screening events eventually had better attendance and response.”
Despite that initial resistance, Star saw a great response from some communities. “In areas such as Etobicoke and Scarborough, youth especially were thrilled and excited with the material we presented.”
The 2016 screenings were part of an ongoing community engagement initiative that Inside Out is still dedicated to today. Initially funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, various funding streams such as Rainbow Grants have allowed them to develop and grow the program, leading to their current initiative – building an LGBTQ media arts database so that educators, activists and facilitators could access to LGBTQ programming, which in turn helps promote the content to underserved communities.
“Support from Community One meant that we could do work that was still within our mandate but served communities beyond our usual Festival,” said Star. “This project helped Inside Out further understand the need for LGBTQ media arts resources, especially in underserved communities, and gave us the inspiration to develop a more comprehensive database that would be available not just to Toronto communities but to those in far reaches of the province, and eventually nationally and internationally. It has also helped raise the profile of Inside Out as an organization and a festival, and some of the attendees at the Community Screenings organized groups of young people to attend the Toronto Festival.”