Topline: Lights! Masks! Guest list! Just do your best at TIFF, darling!

Covering the Toronto International Film Festival has reminded me of the power and beauty of being in a room with other LGBTQ2S+ people

Paul Gallant at TIFF

Over here, Jessica, look over here! I’m Paul Gallant, Xtra’s contributing editor responsible for the culture beat, taking some time away from the spotlight, the paparazzi and the red carpets of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to bring you this week’s “Topline.” 

Sorry, did I say red carpet? I think that’s just a red wine stain on my rug. But it’s true. I have attended a few films and even an open-bar party with, of all things, a dress code. Sit down and I’ll recap the gossip. But remember: just like a film trailer, “Topline” is a mere sample of what you’ll find in our newsletter Xtra Weekly, which gives you an up close and personal look at what’s going on at Xtra.

What’s the buzz 🐝?

Like most other people living through the pandemic, I had gotten used to watching movies at home. It’s certainly more convenient. But it was last weekend, at the world premiere of Wildhood, the playful and poignant coming-of-age story of a Two-Spirit Mi’kmaw teenager, that I realized how much I missed the collective film-watching experience. 

The key cast and creatives did a Q&A after the screening and following the first bit of cheerful chat, it was apparent that the star, Phillip Lewitski, a young actor who’s already had a good run in shorts and TV series like Utopia Falls and Vikings, wasn’t saying anything. Co-star Michael Greyeyes chimed in, saying that it was the first time Lewitski had seen the film. With all eyes now on him, a choked-up Lewitski spoke about how hard the film was for him to make, and how he hopes it will help people respect those who are different from themselves. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the cinema. You’ll see more about Wildhood here at Xtra in the future.

What were we thinking 🎬?

Attending a kinda-sorta-maybe post-pandemic film festival is a surreal experience. Full vaccine certification is required to enter any TIFF venue, and then, in screenings, you need to wear a mask at all times. Inside the theatre, it’s assigned seating with nobody immediately in front of you, behind you or on either side of you, and capacity is maybe 40 percent of a typical full house. The press and industry lounge, which would, in pre-pandemic times, be abuzz with people filing stories, sharing film recommendations and networking, has been a sleepy place with just a handful of people scattered here and there, like they are all alone in the world with their screens.


I did get a little taste of pre-pandemic-style partying. Liquid Media Group, co-founded by Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek, The Affair and the new miniseries Dr. Death), pulled out all the stops for their mask-optional, vaccinated-only Big Splash party at Toronto’s swanky Windsor Arms Hotel. It wasn’t quite the Met Gala, but a guy behind us in the queue was not admitted because he was wearing just a T-shirt (he showed up later wearing what looked like a newly bought dress shirt; it was untucked). You could tell that some people, deprived for so many months from showing off their personal style in real time, had gone all out with their looks, hoping to impress any celebrities they might run into and—wouldn’t it be cool!—perhaps befriend.

(Besides Jackson, I spotted only one other celebrity, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, star of the Netflix series Never Have I Ever, who was wearing, I guess I’m supposed to say, a lovely stripey pink-red-black dress; no, I’m not a fashion writer. Afterwards, talking to paparazzi on the sidewalk, I was told that inside there were also two members of the Thomson family, of the Canadian media barony, and some famous guy in a blue shirt who I didn’t recognize and now can’t remember the name of; I’m not a gossip columnist either.)

Standing there in the flattering lighting with the DJ spinning quirky covers of dance classics, stuffing myself with complimentary prosecco, tacos, spring rolls and sliders, I had to wonder: There must be queers here amongst the straights? Doing a quick survey, I noticed there were a lot of people near us setting off my gaydar. The first one I spoke to turned out to be a hairdresser to the rich and famous. His companion was into event planning. Yes, we had found the gay corner. At long last, it was possible for life to feel normal, even if, outside the hotel, it remained anything but. Oh, the pleasure of determining, based on appearances, who was in the entertainment business and who was a bejeweled admin assistant from a mid-sized accounting firm. Oh, the delight of noticing a skirt that tested the limits of good taste and then noticing another homosexual noticing it at the same time.

Near the end of the evening, my friend and I went up to one extraordinarily well-dressed, straight-looking duo and told them, quite sincerely, that they were the best-looking couple there. The female half replied: “We get that all the time.” Kudos to Jackson and his team for reminding me that the exhilarating joy of human accomplishment, and of human vanity, doesn’t transmit very well through a screen.

In other Xtra news 🌎

👉 It’s hard to pick one article out of all of Xtra’s excellent Canadian federal election coverage, but I’ll point you to Tracey Lindeman’s story on the Conservative Party’s worrisome position around conscience rights and free votes

👉I watched Irish horror film You Are Not My Mother only after I had edited Christos Tsirbas’s profile of its director, Kate Dolan. And I concur: the film is scary and Dolan is a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

👉 I have a surefire test to determine if someone of indeterminate age is Gen X or millennial: ask them if they love Mariah Carey. You can quickly figure out which generation columnists Thomas and Tranna belong to by reading their reassessment of the singer-songerwriter’s famed flop, Glitter.

👉Is making friends impossible during the pandemic? Not so, according to Russ Martin.

👉There’s been a boom in trans literature, but that has meant more questions about how trans authors and subject matter are treated by the industry. Eli Cugini lays out the issues succinctly.

👉Want more headlines? Subscribe to Xtra Weekly.


Don’t look at me! Well, sure, look at me!

Kristen Stewart Media GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Paul Gallant

Paul Gallant is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has appeared in The WalrusThe Globe and Mail, the Toronto StarTHIS magazine,, and many other publications. His debut novel, Still More Stubborn Stars, was published by Acorn Press. He is the editor of Pink Ticket Travel and a former managing editor of Xtra. Photo by Tishan Baldeo.

Keep Reading

‘Eileen’ is an adequate adaptation that doesn’t go far enough

REVIEW: The Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie film misses what made Ottessa Moshfegh’s book so compelling
Heather María Ács against a pink backdrop with two intimate film scenes under a purple filter. A clapperboard appears at the bottom left corner of the image.

How Heather María Ács is queering intimacy coordination

The field of intimacy coordination is young—which means there’s still time to help it expand beyond heteronormative standards
Vivek Shraya wears a black sparkly top, hoop earrings and red lipstick; she sits, holding a drink, facing someone with dark hair and a mustard satin top.

‘How to Fail as a Popstar’ asks us to make space for failure

The series follows Vivek Shraya’s desire to become “brown Madonna” and grapples with “what happens when a star isn’t born”

With ‘I Have Nothing,’ Carolyn Taylor dives into queer obsession

Whitney Houston, figure skating, comedy and queer obsession combine in Crave’s comedy doc-series