Summer weekends in downtown Sudbury, Northern Ontario are usually quiet and lazy. This is the kind of place where folks skip off work Friday after lunch to go to “camp” (not the cottage!): only a short drive away at one of 300 nearby lakes. This won’t be the case on the weekend of August 19-22 when two annual cultural events collide to take over the downtown, kicking COVID to the curb, creating a funky mix of queer culture and urban art, with outdoor adventure at your doorstep. Pack your suitcases, adventurous queerios: Queer North Film Festival meets Up Here Festival and Sudbury is the place to be.
This cultural convergence was in the stars for 2021, with the long-anticipated reopening of Sudbury’s renown single screen art house cinema, Sudbury Indie Cinema, rebooting their programming in August with the fifth edition of Queer North Film Festival to run concurrently with the urban art/emerging music festival Up Here. If you are an LGBTQ traveler itching to head North, you can blend feasting on top queer cinema, then step outside the theatre to get swept up into the street life of Up Here with free concerts and exciting art installations. This weekend is also the ideal double header for those who yearn to paddle, fish, hike or mountain bike as lakes, trails and bush are easy to access from this rugged patch of ancient boreal forest.
Launched in 2016, Queer North remains Northern Ontario’s only LGBTQ+ themed film festival, bringing the best in queer cinema to the big screen for their Northern Ontario premieres. While Sudbury’s 2SLGBTQ+ communities are small, the festival attracts queers and cinephiles from across the region, as well as the USA and larger cities like Toronto and Ottawa- a mere half day drive from the Nickel City.
Queer North screenings run all from one venue, a 180-seat movie house, with breaks to grab a bite and check out the action downtown. While the programming is edgy, the event is friendly and personable. The festival organizers even plan eating places for Queer North attendees to head to together en masse!
This year’s features include Sundance darling, I CARRY YOU WITH ME, and France’s official Oscar’s submission DEUX/TWO OF US. The shorts programmes always offer provocative delights and sexy surprises with an eclectic blend of trans, non-binary and queer stories from up-and-coming filmmakers from across the globe.
Outside the cinema, there’s plenty to keep you busy. The coolest thing about this gritty Northern mining town is that it punches above its weight. With lots of cool patios offering food and drink, Sudbury’s walkable downtown streets keep buzzing under the stars. Check out the Laughing Buddha’s oasis courtyard for a quiet lunch, the Fromo or the Cedar Nest for people watching, or the Alibi Room for sinfully delicious handcrafted cocktails. Across the street, wine lovers will appreciate the Wander Wine Bar with its changing small plate pairings. Respect is Burning is the granddaddy of downtown dining, with superb country Italian cuisine on a bustling dining deck that literally takes over the street. Next door, Oscar’s Grill is a favourite Queer North patio eatery with gourmet burgers and fancy fries.
Everybody knows about the Big Nickel – a selfie must for any self-respecting road-tripper. But did you also know that, thanks to Up Here, we have the world’s largest mural, by world-famous urban muralist, RISK? You won’t want to miss a photo opp at this controversial five-storey-high make-over of an old hospital overlooking Ramsey Lake. With its unabashedly rainbow-themed riot of colour and giant butterflies, any keen observer has to ask if he intended it to be the queerest urban artifact in Canada!
Up Here Festival’s unofficial motto is “Stay weird, Sudbury” and it always delivers on its promise with an eclectic mix of mayhem, music and murals by artists from around the globe. Concerts pop up in oddball locations: rooftops and alleyways are the perfect spot to stroll after catching a double feature at Queer North a few blocks away.
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To rev up the next day, choose between some local coffee shops all with their own special vibes: Old Rock, Kuppajoe or the new kid, Knowhere, then head out for some forest bathing at one of the many wilderness parks within the city limits. Kivi Park, within the city, features stunning trails and vistas for hikers or mountain bikers: you can even rent a kayak to paddle out onto a quiet lake for quiet contemplation. Lake Laurentian Conservation Area offers 40km of rough terrain, lakes and vistas for the more adventurous hiker, while the Bell Park boardwalk appeals to the urban stroller who want to stay close the downtown at Ramsey Lake. A not-to-be-missed daytrip is Onaping Falls and the AY Jackson Lookout, named after the Group of Seven painter who captured it on canvas.
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Sunday brunch for the festival crowd will be at the superb brunch spot The Motley Kitchen, but be sure to slide back into your seat at Sudbury Indie Cinema for The Best of Queer Shorts Programme at 1pm which will feature AMPLIFY a short doc shot by local Black Lives Matter activist Isak Vaillancourt commissioned by the folks at Up Here. AMPLIFY had its festival premiere at Toronto’s Inside Out, but this will be its first big screen premiere with filmmaker and doc subjects in the house for a Q&A.
Last but not least, your weird, wonderful and queer Sudbury getaway should be easy on the wallet. Queer North all-access festival passes (10 screenings + party) are a mere $60, and Up Here is free. Queer North festival goers can book discounted hotel rates at the Clarion Hotel, a 5 min. walk from the cinema and downtown action. When your friends ask why the hell you’re going to Sudbury, just tell them you’re “going to camp!”