VQFF 2015: Sports documentary goes behind the Game Face of queer athletes

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      Game Face (USA)

      In the wake of the high-profile coming out announcements of professional athletes like basketball player Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam and former decathalon athlete Caitlyn Jenner, Game Face could not be more topical if it tried.

      This well-constructed documentary by Michiel Thomas goes behind the headlines to share the intimate and emotional stories of two queer athletes: mixed-martial-arts fighter Fallon Fox and college basketball player Terrence Clemens.

      Clemens bore the brunt of homophobia when an unfounded rumour spread about him having sex with a guy. He faced what almost all closeted queer people fear: he was outcast by his teammates and friends. Meanwhile, Fox also experienced one of the worst outcomes of coming out: her parents rejected her when she announced she was transitioning from male to female.

      When Fox is later outed in the media, it becomes clear that her biggest challenge is educating people. Misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion about transgender athletes run rampant, as observers assume that Fox has advantages as a "man" competing against women. Not only does Fox have to steel herself against boos from the crowd, but she also has to raise awareness—and dispel myths—about what being transgender really is.

      The film chronicles Fox's rollercoaster ride, as she trains not only to compete but to persevere against criticism and media attention that distract from the sport.

      "I'm a fighter," she says. "I never take the easy way out."

      Thomas skillfully interweaves the two stories to illuminate the similarities and differences in the challenges that the two athletes face. (Racial identity here is not addressed; both athletes are black.) What appears central to both of their stories is how they appear, initially, to be alone in their uphill struggle as they break new ground.

      Hope, accordingly, comes in the form of support from straight allies and other queer athletes at Pride parades, awards events, and social networking. While LGBT acceptance and rights have made gains overall, coming out in sport remains a risk, as interviewee Jervon Wright relates how he lost his college basketball scholarship when he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

      Although both athletes share the goal of simply being accepted like everyone else, the truth is that as pioneers nothing will ever be simple or like everyone else. Luckily, both appear to be up for what is required of them in the hope that in the future, others will get the chance to live out their dreams.

      Game Face screens on August 23 (7 p.m.) at the Vancouver Playhouse at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival's closing gala.

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