TIFF 2023 | National Anthem (Luke Gilford, US) — Centrepiece

By Saffron Maeve

Luke Gilford’s pastoral re-spin manifested first through his own history with the International Gay Rodeo Association (queering Americana since 1985), then as a photo series, art exhibition, pictorial, and now a feature film, helmed by the photographer himself. Dylan (Charlie Plummer) is a 21-year-old construction worker supporting his unaffectionate, alcoholic single mother and parenting his younger brother. Completely deflated in sensibility and without a social life of his own, Charlie takes on a job at a secluded ranch, which he soon discovers to be queer-run. He continues his labour (despite his mother cautioning against “one of those flags” hanging on the porch), in large part because of an attraction to Sky (Eve Lindley), a trans horse jockey who seems to pull at the gossamer of Dylan’s identity. 

Gilford integrates dreamy photo shoots into his film, by way of Dylan’s sexual fantasies: Sky on a horse, Sky wearing a flag, Sky in the canyons. Plummer is quite extraordinary, with his pained, suppressive demeanour and rare full-bodied smiles. Finding queer utopias in traditionally Americanized disciplines is moving, and beautifully realized by Gilford, but it also gestures to a sort of opportunistic flag-waving that doesn’t always befit the viewer. Whether the filmmaker craves a more holistic American dream or a new one altogether is unclear.