Toronto’s 2023 Inside Out Film Festival highlights the best queer films worldwide

Toronto’s 2023 Inside Out Film Festival kicked off at TIFF Bell Lightbox to celebrate queer films from Canada and around the world. (Courtesy: Inside Out LGBT Film Festival/Facebook)


Following a three-year hiatus, Toronto’s 2023 Inside Out Film Festival kicked off at TIFF Bell Lightbox to celebrate queer films from Canada and around the world. 

The Inside Out festival is considered one of the largest events of its kind in Canada, spanning multiple cities with year-round programming over 11 days. The event aims to be a leader in the promotion and production of film made by and about 2SLGBTQ+ people of all ages, races and abilities. Additionally, Inside Out advocates and creates an inclusive space for Canadian 2SLGBTQ+ communities. 

On Thursday evening, Now Toronto attended Inside Out’s opening night red carpet  and spoke with some directors whose films are included in the festival.


I Used to Be Funny is a dark drama-comedy about a young woman named Sam Cowell who is an au pair and an aspiring stand-up comedian, who struggles with PTSD. The story balances the present, where Sam is trying to recover from her trauma, and the past, where she is haunted by memories of Brooke, a missing teenage girl she used to be a nanny for. 

The feature film first premiered in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest film festival and is making its Canadian premiere in Toronto where it was created. Writer and director Ally Pankiw is a renowned, Canadian queer filmmaker known for directing popular TV shows, such as the first season of Netflix’s, Feel Good, and blocks on Shrill and The Great.

Pankiw shares the underlying messages of her film that she hopes the audience will take away.

“I think my film is a lot about how there’s no antidote or real cure for trauma. You know, connection and community are as close as we can get and really important. And I think a realistic portrayal of recovery from trauma, especially for young women, it’s often missing in the conversation in pop culture. So I wanted to come be with my queer community here at Inside Out and showcase those themes and aspects of the film,” she said.


Directed by Loveleen Kaur, Leilani’s Fortune is a feature length documentary that stars queer, immigrant Ethiopian-Eritrean artist Witch Prophet as she thrives in the music industry. After a decade of making music, Ayo Leilani, who goes by the stage name Witch Prophet, is on the heels of critical acclaim and nominations. But throughout her journey, she is also battling with gatekeepers and glass ceilings. 

Kaur says the film is about acknowledging up-and-coming, marginalized artists, such as Leilani. 

“We want to celebrate our heroes in this city. It’s not just about the Drakes and The Weeknds. When everybody in the world is looking at Canada, where are the Black, queer, different genres, different ways of telling your stories, strong messages, they deserve a light on them as well,” she said.

Instead of waiting for her moment, Kaur decided to give Leilani her recognition and her well-deserved time on the throne in this film. 


A Queer’s Guide to Spiritual Living is about the surprising intersections of queerness and faith through the lives of four queer folks who come from different religious backgrounds. The film uses conversations with friends, poetry, and journal entries to show how faith and queerness are connected along the spiritual journey. 

Directors Ari Conrad Birch and Michal Heuston describe the documentary as one without much conflict. A film that uniquely displays the ease and beauty of two topics which are normally in strife. 

“I certainly would love for people to walk away from the film feeling like these two identities are compatible when it’s such a common belief that they’re not compatible. And walking away with a sense of community and connection and dreaming up a future that maybe once felt far fetched,” Heuston said.

“When you do usually see them together, it’s usually talking about how hard it is to exist like that, right? And what we did with this doc is celebrate the times when it’s easy and beautiful. So that people would feel like things are just possible that they didn’t feel were possible,” Birch said.

Birch added that people who are not religious but are queer can also pay attention and learn how to make more space for spiritually queer people. 


To commence the festival, Inside Out chose a screening of 2023 French romance drama film Passages. 

Directed by Ira Sachs, the film follows what happens when one half of a male couple, who has been together for fifteen years, has an affair with a woman. It is a complicated and toxic story of love, jealousy and narcissism, starring Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, and Adèle Exarchopoulos. 

Since its premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the film has garnered rave reviews and a rating of 91 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The Inside Out Film Festival runs until June 4. 

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12.75 for students and seniors. 

For screening times, click here. 



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