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Inside Out's COVID Edition 2.0 provided more access to films and filmmakers this year while supporting entrepreneurs and independent creators with new initiatives.

Since 1991, Inside Out has been bringing Ontario’s communities together for one of the largest LGBT+ film festivals in North America. But its fans would have understood if this year’s film festival in Toronto was another pared-down affair. Instead, the digital-only version of the event was as jubilant as ever — and featured a new initiative “to help jump-start the queer economy.”

From features to shorts, 143 works were shown at Inside Out’s COVID Edition 2.0 this May and June, along with virtual artist talks and digital dance parties.

“There was so much energy and excitement, there was so much love from audiences and filmmakers” during this year’s festival, says Executive Director Lauren Howes.

Featuring family friendly programming and various online panels — including one supporting youth coming into their own identities — the big, surprising, silver lining of this year’s festival was accessibility.

In average years, a young person living in a small town in Ontario may not be able to find a way to reach Downtown Toronto — and it’s not just the expense or distance that could be a barrier. “They may not even be fully out yet,” Howse explains.

But when the Inside Out festival went online because of the pandemic, it meant isolated youth had new opportunities to seek out voices that speak to them; it meant people across the province could find fresh ways of sharing genuine moments with others.

This is something that won’t be forgotten moving forward. “We know we are reaching people in rural and small towns,” Howse explains, “and we want to keep some form of digital film platform.”

Helping independent creators access new audiences

In other years, a much-loved feature of Inside Out is the festival lounge marketplace, where attendees can buy creators’ art and crafts. This year the marketplace became the Inside Out online shop: The Closet.

Featuring prints, washi paper linocuts and beautifully handcrafted tables, the online marketplace “has been such a success,” Elie Chivi, Inside Out Director of Development, says. According to Chivi, 100 per cent of the proceeds made through the Creators Closet goes directly to these “brilliant, queer small businesses.”

That support is vital given the difficulties artists have been facing in the pandemic. Patrick Hunter, an acclaimed 2 Spirit Ojibway artist, has t-shirts, masks, prints, and cards available in the online shop, and describes the experience of selling with Inside Out as “too good to be true.”

“When you’re an entrepreneur, finding opportunities to share your work is always important,” Hunter explains. “It’s said a bunch, but it’s true, visibility of our community is super important.”

“So much can be gained by celebrating diversity in business,” says Hunter. “I’m so grateful to live in a time where that is changing at an amazing rate, and I’m so pumped I get to be a part of that change.”

How RBC and LGBT+ entrepreneurs “Keep it Queer”

To help support LGBT+ businesses, RBC, the lead sponsor of the festival for the past 13 years — helped launch the Keep it Queer program with the non-profit.

Under this banner, the bank is providing entrepreneurs with business and banking advice on how to maneuver through the pandemic, free business banking, and workshops through summer. “It’s been great to have RBC by our side, helping the queer community in new ways,” Chivi says of the new initiative.

Supporting LGBT+ entrepreneurs, filmmakers, creators, and everyone in-between, thanks to Inside Out’s creativity throughout the pandemic, more people are getting the chance to feel seen and celebrated. That’s a silver lining indeed.