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ImageOut: The Rochester LGBT Film Festival 2018

Program 36: Canary (Kanarie)


Directed by Christiaan Olwagen

Subtitled, Narrative Feature, Saturday, Oct. 13 / South Africa / 2018 / 120 mins / Afrikaans with English subtitles

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Program 36: Canary

Dryden Theatre (George Eastman House)
October 13, 2018 7:00 pm Buy Tickets


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Music is my life,” 17-year-old Johan says during his audition for a coveted spot in the South African Defence Force Church Choir and Concert Group, also known as the Canaries. A New Wave-loving misfit with a passion for Queen, Kate Bush, Depeche Mode, and his beloved Boy George, Johan clings to their music like a lifeline; the lens through which he processes (and sometimes shields himself from) the world around him.

Living in South Africa at the height of the country’s cruel apartheid regime, there’s good reason for Johan to want to protect himself. But as he begins his two years of military training, Johan and his fellow Canaries are put through the rigors of boot camp. During their service, the boys will be serving god and country not through combat, but by spreading the gospel through song, as they step into their roles as “singer, savior, and soldier.”

Despite their differences, the boys have no choice but to form a tight-knit unit to make it through. Along the way, Johan forms a friendship with the outgoing and effeminate Ludolf, and bonds with the adorkable Wolfgang, over their shared tastes in pop music. But as his relationship with Wolfgang grows beyond simple friendship, Johan is forced to confront his identity headon for the first time.

Director Christiaan Olwagen films his movie in stunning long takes, using musical performances – both real and imagined – as a means to explore Johan’s erratic mental state. The songs become a way to express all the joy, trepidation, and occasionally torment Johan experiences on the difficult road toward self-acceptance.

Canary is a powerful and beautifully theatrical comingof-age story about the liberation that comes only through living openly and authentically. It’s a story that reminds us that we have to find our own voice before we can spread our wings and truly soar.

— Adam Lubitow



  • OFFICIAL SELECTION, CENTERPIECE – Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival
  • OFFICIAL SELECTION – Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival

Dates & Times

Program 36: Canary

Dryden Theatre (George Eastman House)
October 13, 2018 7:00 pm Buy Tickets