Topline: Representation still matters

With “Small Town Pride” premiering at Inside Out, co-director Chelle Turingan reflects on the power of representation and queer cinema

Mabuhay, lovelies! It’s Chelle Turingan and I’m in the newsletter hot seat this week. In addition to being Xtra’s managing producer for video, I am also the co-director (alongside Riley Sparks), producer (alongside Rachel Giese) and editor of Xtra’s first full-length documentary feature film, Small Town Pride.

Teamwork makes the dream work, folks! I’m excited to share more about this ambitious project with you all, so let’s dive right into the newsletter!

And remember, “Topline” is just a tasty morsel—don’t forget to subscribe to Xtra Weekly to get the full newsletter experience.

What’s the buzz 🐝

This Monday, we were thrilled to finally announce that the world premiere of Small Town Pride will be screening at Inside Out—Canada’s largest LGBTQ2S+ Film Festival. The festival will run online from May 27 to June 6. If you’re in Ontario, you can reserve your FREE tickets here.

Small Town Pride offers an intimate look at the joys and challenges of being queer in a small Canadian town. Filmed in Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories over the summer of 2019, the documentary follows LGBTQ2S+ people and allies as they prepare for their local Pride celebrations. Organizing in church basements, classrooms and around kitchen tables, the various collectives take on conservative town councils that won’t fly a rainbow flag, and bend rules to create safe spaces for youth to come out. Despite experiences of isolation and discrimination, they love their communities and strive to make them places where everyone, no matter who and how they love, can live and thrive.

Ava Pope, Sean Todd and Zeynep Tonak from Small Town Pride

What were we thinking 🎞️

My partner grew up as a closeted queer teenager in the 1990s, in a small town nestled in the Ottawa Valley. This was before GSAs existed in high schools or the internet and social media made it easier for us to connect with each other. In 2018, her hometown of Smiths Falls celebrated its very first Smiths Falls Pride. The event moved her to tears, and she said to me, “I never thought I’d see this happen in my hometown.”

Immediately, I knew how meaningful this moment was, to witness this massive progress within her lifetime, and it made me curious to know what was happening in other small towns across Canada. That is how Small Town Pride came to be. It’s a love letter to all the queer and trans folks who grew up or will grow up in small towns—past, present and future. The film offers a chance to reflect on where we are now and where we still need to go, and serves as a reminder that the LGBTQ2S+ community is so much larger than our downtown enclaves.

Now, I came out in my teens in the 1990s. And like many of us do when we take our first steps into the queer world, I was on an insatiable quest for LGBTQ2S+ knowledge: Where do I find resources, where can I connect with my community and where can I find queer representation in my everyday life? Tolerance was the best we could hope for back then, let alone acceptance, so the beginning of this lifelong journey started pretty lowkey.

But I am fortunate to have an older sibling who also identifies as gay and we both had ready access to the resources and communities we needed as young queer people. At the tender age of 16, my brother took me on the subway from our Scarborough, Ont., suburb to Church Street, Toronto’s Gay Village. We walked to the infamous “Second Chance” steps outside the former Second Cup coffee shop and he explained to me how the stoop was a hotspot for cruising people-watching. He told me about Glad Day Bookshop and showed me copies of print editions of Xtra. And he took me to see my very first queer film at the Carlton Cinema.

The movie was All Over Me, a coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old girl who falls in love with her best friend, set in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. One of the initial scenes of the film shows Claude (Alison Folland) and her BFF Ellen (Tara Subkoff) wearing ringer tees and skater chains, quietly playing unamped riffs on their beat-up electric guitars in Claude’s bedroom. Ellen stops to get ready to meet her boyfriend. She borrows one of Claude’s tank tops and leaves.

At that moment, everything clicked inside me: A teenage girl, growing up in a rough neighbourhood, playing angry riot grrrl music, watching her straight bestie fall in love with a douchebag of a guy?! The similarities between my own life and Claude’s were uncanny—this was the representation I was looking for. Film has always spoken to me in a way that no other medium can. And I wanted more. That’s when I found Inside Out.

When I watched All Over Me, there were less than ten people in the theatre. I remember sitting in one of the back rows, trying desperately to hide from other movie-goers. But when I went to see films at Inside Out, every single screening was packed. When I scanned the audience before each film started, I didn’t see people slinking in their chairs. People sat with large groups of friends: Girls with edgy haircuts, boys with flamboyant style. I heard chatter and laughter. There was no hiding here; I was with my people. 

It feels incredibly special to have Small Town Pride premiering at this film festival. I’ve been attending Inside Out for more than 20 years now and have had the opportunity to watch some of the most beautiful and important queer films of the last two decades, from all over the world, some of which I’ve not been able to see again since. My only hope is that our documentary will reach as many people as possible—perhaps folks just like me, searching endlessly to see themselves reflected back—and that it will touch their lives in the same way queer cinema has touched mine.

In other Xtra news 🌎

👉While capitalism may wreak havoc on the most marginalized in our communities, we still have to live in a capitalistic society. Queer financial gurus offer up simple ways LGBTQ2S+ folks can become money.

👉To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pink Triangle Press and ahead of our upcoming series “Protest and Pleasure,” Xtra’s editorial director Rachel Giese spoke to Chanelle Gallant about what work still needs to be done in an LGBTQ2S+ sexual revolution.

👉Winnipeg punk trio Tunic’s non-binary drummer Dan Unger spoke with Jesse Locke about breaking free from toxic atmospheres, and using music to connect with themself and other queer artists.  

👉Xtra contributor Niko Bell explains how a polyamorous triad in B.C. changed legal and societal conventions of parenting after gaining equal rights to their child.

👉In our newest episode of Ask Kai: Quick Tips for the Apocalypse, a trans reader asks Kai Cheng Thom how to talk to their boss about using their name and pronouns as they start their transition

👉Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.


Light and love, y’all 🔥❤️

Chelle Turingan is a video journalist and filmmaker based in Toronto, ON. Their work has appeared in Maclean’sChatelaine, and Today’s Parent. They are also co-director / producer / editor of Xtra’s documentary film, Small Town Pride.

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Culture, TV & Film, Xtra Weekly

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