The 37th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival opens tonight with Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s outstanding The Stroll which received its world premiere in the US Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, going on the win that section’s Special Jury Award for Clarity of Vision. It tells the collective history of the transgender women of colour who worked “the stroll”—a section of 14th Street in Lower Manhattan’s now hyper-gentrified Meatpacking District—from the 1970s until the early 2000s, and highlights the intrinsic role that trans sex workers have played in the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Across the feature and shorts programs, BFI Flare will presents 28 world premieres with films from 41 countries. With screenings taking place at BFI Southbank—and a selection of titles on BFI Player available to UK viewers—the 2023 edition of Flare runs until Saturday, March 25th, closing out with the UK premiere of Hannes Hirsch’s debut feature Drifter, a scintillating portrait of a young man coming to terms with life, sex, and relationships in contemporary Berlin. The festival continues on Sunday, March 26th with encore screenings of some this year’s most popular BFI Flare titles.
“For the past 37 years, BFI Flare has brought audiences the best, most innovative and boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ stories from across the globe. But as our audiences constantly grow and evolve, the festival must grow and evolve with them. This year, in addition to our world-class showcase of contemporary queer film, we will take audiences beyond the cinema screen with BFI Flare Expanded, a free programme of queer immersive art guaranteed to offer new insights and shift perspectives”, comments BFI Flare’s senior programmer, Michael Blyth.
When two-time Grammy nominated songwriter-producer D. Smith had an idea for a film centering Black transgender sex workers and examining their place within the Black community, she approached several filmmaker friends with the concept. They all turned her down, so she decided to pick up a camera herself, resulting in the raw, intimate, and provocative feature documentary Kokomo City, which received its world premiere in the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival going on to win the NEXT Audience and Innovator Awards. The refreshingly unorthodox, thrilling and strikingly photographed doc will receive its UK premiere at BFI Flare. Other trans focused features screening at Flare include Luis De Filippis’s observational family vacation drama Something You Said Last Night, and Andrea Pallaoro’s Venice Film Festival award-winner Monica starring Trace Lysette as a woman belatedly seeking to rekindle a relationship with her estranged mother played by Patricia Clarkson.
Another Sundance title receiving its UK premiere at BFI Flare is bio-doc Little Richard: I Am Everything. If you’re going to make a film about Little Richard, it’d better be electrifying, complex, and queer. That’s exactly what Oscar-nominated director Lisa Cortés delivers with this feature documentary, executive produced by Dee Rees. Cortés says she was inspired by the singer to “colour outside the lines”, as she proves with this ambitious work that traces the musician’s journey to stardom as an out gay man and his later rejection of both his sexuality and even the style of music he helped to create. It convincingly reasserts his legacy as “the architect” of rock ‘n’ roll, peeling back the whitewashed layers of music history to uncover its Black queer origin story.
International features at BFI Flare include writer-director Maryam Touzani’s Queer Palm-nominated and Cannes Un Certain Regard FIPRESCI Prize-winning The Blue Caftan about a married tailor who falls for his younger apprentice in a richly textured, sweepingly beautiful exploration of love, desire and tradition.
This year’s BFI Flare programme takes a closer look at two iconic queer literary women. Madeleine Lim’s Jewelle: A Just Vision is a celebration of the achievements of Jewelle Gomez, whose vampire stories and engagement with Black and Indigenous histories were well ahead of their time. Eva Vitija ’s beautifully textured Loving Highsmith explores the private life of the woman behind Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Carol. Audiences will be able to discuss the film and Highsmith’s legacy at the event We Need To Talk About Loving Highsmith in the BFI Library.
Shaun Dunne and Anna Rogers’s profoundly moving and inspiring documentary How To Tell A Secret explores the stigma of living with HIV in Ireland. The film is cleverly constructed around Dunne’s stage play, Rapids. Actors speak the words of people who can’t acknowledge their HIV status in public, contrasting with activists—young and old—determined to break down the need for the secrecy around HIV. The lack of education around the topic, the terror of first diagnosis and the search for community support, are themes explored by this cast of performers, friends, ex-lovers and healthcare professionals. Courage, friendship and a passionate engagement with history are all on display in this moving and compelling film. Read our exclusive conversation with one of its subjects, Irish drag star Enda McGrattan aka Veda.
BFI Flare celebrates the rediscovery of Wallace Potts’ lost masterpiece of 70s gay adult movies, Le Beau Mec, featuring camerawork by acclaimed cinematographer Néstor Almendros (Days Of Heaven, The Blue Lagoon, Sophie’s Choice).
The late pioneering gay British filmmaker Ron Peck’s Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II will be screened at this year’s BFI Flare in his memory. Peck’s 1979 feature film Nighthawks told the story of a gay schoolteacher and his relentless search for a partner. 13 years later, Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II comprises outtakes from the first film, as Ron gave an account of his life as a young gay man growing up in 1960s and 70s Britain and details the making of NIghthawks, itself a product of the gay liberation movement. The screening will include Peck’s 1974 short Its Ugly Head. Peck’s Nighthawks and What Can I Do With A Male Nude? are also available to subscribers on BFI Player. Among the festival’s wide range of events, talks and debates, Flare will host Remembering Ron Peck, an intimate library event which will provide the chance to learn more about this unassuming yet driven auteur and gay rights champion.
Flare will screen four previously released films including, Laura Poitras’ Oscar and BAFTA-nominated All The Beauty And The Bloodshed; Elegance Bratton’s Independent Spirit Award-nominated The Inspection; Halina Reijn’s millennial whodunnit horror Bodies Bodies Bodies; and Georgia Oakley’s BAFTA-nominated debut Blue Jean, about a physical education teacher living in the north-east of England at a time when Thatcher’s government fostered renewed aggression against queer people.
This year’s Flare sees the return of #FiveFilmsForFreedom in partnership with the British Council. This landmark initiative presents five films for free to audiences globally, and invites everyone everywhere to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. Since its launch in 2015, Five Films for Freedom films have been viewed by 20 million people, in over 200 countries and principalities. The selection of films, chosen by the British Council from BFI Flare’s programme, explores subjects such as violence and security, love across borders and shifting identities. The films in 2023 are:
All I Know by Obinna Robert Onyeri (Nigeria/USA) – Two friends meet for dinner, one goes to meet a stranger for a hook-up date while the other goes home. We follow a man’s search for his friend that puts him at risk of revealing life-altering secrets they both share. Obinna is a Los Angeles based filmmaker, born in Lagos, Nigeria. He studied Film at the University of California, Los Angeles, receiving the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Directing Fellowship award and the George Burns and Gracie Allen Scholarship.
Butch Up! by Yu-jin Lee (South Korea) – “Stop being miserable.” After hearing her ex’s last words to her, Mi-hae, a lead singer of an independent band, cannot get herself to sing the band’s most popular song, “Oppa’s Girl”. Yu-Jin Lee studied film directing at the Korea National University of Arts. Her first short film, A Good Mother, was the most talked about queer film of the year in Korea.
Eating Papaw on the Seashore by Rae Wiltshire and Nickose Layne (Guyana) – A coming-of-age film about Asim and Hasani, two queer Guyanese boys, navigating their feelings in a homophobic society. Rae studied literature and linguistics at the University of Guyana. As a playwright, he won Best New Guyanese play at Guyana’s National Drama Festival in 2015, he recently won the Guyana Prize for Literature in Drama, 2022, for his play Don’t Ask Me Why. Nickose is a playwright, poet and actor. studied Theatre Arts at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago.
Just Johnny by Terry Loane (UK, Northern Ireland) – Maria and Dermot’s straightforward family life takes a sudden turn when their son Johnny announces that he wants to wear a dress for his Holy Communion. Both parents are keen to do what is best for Johnny, but their different opinions almost pull the happy family apart. Terry was born and bred in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and studied photography at Ulster University. He began designing for film in 1996 on the Oscar-nominated short Dance Lexie Dance, and in 1998 he wrote and directed his first short film comedy, Cluck. The film was written by non-binary actor Gerard McCarthy.
Buffer Zone by Savvas Stavrou (UK/Cyprus) – Two young soldiers across enemy lines fall in love and find escape from their oppressive environments through music. Savvas was born in Cyprus and studied Film at the University of Westminster, London. He works as a director across advertising, music video and short film, and he is developing his first feature. He is a Sundance Lab alumnus.
Watch the Five Films For Freedom on the British Council’s YouTube channel.
BFI Flare is programmed by Grace Barber-Plentie, Jay Bernard, Michael Blyth, Zorian Clayton, Brian Robinson and Ulrich Schrauth has curated the BFI Flare Expanded programme. The BFI has also appointed two new programmers this year: Rhianna Ilube and Wema Mumma.
BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, 2023 Programme Highlights across its Hearts, Bodies, and Minds sections
“HEARTS” includes films about love, romance and friendship”:
CHRISSY JUDY (Dir. Todd Flaherty) – An exploration of what happens when you break up with your (platonic) soulmate.
THE DREAM SONGS (Dir. CHO Hyun-chul– Teenage longing, emotional immaturity and a lesbian love triangle combine to produce this hazy South Korean fever dream.
EGGHEAD AND TWINKIE (Dir. Sarah Kambe Holland) – A young Asian American girl and her hapless best friend hit the road to meet her online crush in this delightful road movie.
GOLDEN DELICIOUS (Dir. Jason Karman) – An Asian Canadian teenager grapples with his identity when he falls for the boy next door. But what will his family think? And how will he tell his girlfriend?
HORSEPLAY (Dir. Marco Berger) – A group of young men test each other’s boundaries in this provocative chamber piece.
LIE WITH ME (Dir. Olivier Peyon) – A captivating drama finds an author experiencing powerful emotions as he looks back to his first, youthful love affair.
MAYBE SOMEDAY (Dir. Michelle Ehlen) – Caught in the painful process of separating from her wife, non-binary photographer Jay embarks on a trip to reconnect with the past and find a fresh start.
SILENT LOVE (Dir. Marek Kozakiewicz) – The intimate documentary follows Aga, who moves back home to Poland to care for her brother whilst hiding her relationship from the authorities.
THREE NIGHTS A WEEK (Dir. Florent Gouëlou) – A young photographer meets outrageous drag queen Cookie Kunty and nothing will ever be quite the same again.
UNINDENTIFIED OBJECTS (Dir. Juan Felipe Zuleta) – A little person and a sex worker embark on a mission to find aliens in an utterly compelling road movie like no other.
“BODIES” includes stories of sex, identity and transformation:
BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND (Dir. Trevor Anderson) – A hilarious and nail-biting rollercoaster ride through teen angst, crushes and friendships in this 1980s high school comedy drama.
BREAD AND SALT (Dir. Damian Kocur)– A young Polish pianist returns to his small hometown for the summer, where he witnesses the mounting conflict between his friends and the town’s newcomers
FIERCE: A PORN REVOLUTION (Dir. Patrick Muroni) – A group of young women and non-binary people start a porn company with the intention of creating new images of themselves. The result is Oil, a porn collective that aims to educate as much as titillate.
THE FIVE DEVILS (Dir. Léa Mysius) – Adèle Exarchopoulos stars in this magical queer French thriller about a young girl with special powers whose world is upended with the arrival of a mysterious relative.
HOW TO TELL A SECRET (Dirs. Anna Rodgers, Shaun Dunne) – Confronting the stigma of living with HIV in Ireland, the film explores the experiences of a generation who are fighting back.
LE BEAU MEC (Dir. Wallace Potts) – Rudolf Nureyev’s last lover Wallace Potts directed hunk Karl Forest in this Parisian porn flick. Surviving only in decaying VHS tapes, collector Gerry Herman’s lengthy search finally uncovered this lost gem.
MEL (Dir. Inna Sahakyan, Paul Cohen) – One of Armenia’s most decorated athletes is faced with leaving his country and career behind when his transition unexpectedly hits the headlines.
MONICA (Dir. Andrea Pallaoro) – Trace Lysette is captivating in this beautifully understated drama.
NARCISSISM – THE AUTO EROTIC IMAGES (Dir. Toni Karat) – Intimate and intense, this is a deep exploration of autoeroticism and self-love, featuring many of the famous faces from Berlin’s radical porn and sex-positive scene.
PEAFOWL (Dir. BYUN Sung-bin) – Steely Shin Myung is a fierce trans queen on the Seoul nightclub scene who reconnects with her Buddhist heritage in this defiant dance debut.
RULE 34 (Dir. Júlia Murat) – A Brazilian woman explores the vastness of her erotic desires at home, while during the day works on sexual violence cases
SOMETHING YOU SAID LAST NIGHT (Dir. Luis De Filippis) – This 2022 TIFF Changemaker Award-winning film follows a twentysomething trans woman Renata in this refreshingly authentic family drama.
SWALLOWED (Dir. Carter Smith) – The first film to be produced under Carter’s All the Dead Boys banner, sees the filmmaker return to the world of small town Maine where his Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning debut short Bugcrush was set. It’s a backwoods set queer body horror thriller which sees two best friends fighting to survive a nightmarish ordeal after a drug deal goes awry, starring Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Jose Colon, and horror legend Mark Patton. Read our exclusive interviews with Cater Smith, Cooper Koch and Jose Colon.
WINTER BOY (Dir. Christophe Honoré) – Paul Kircher, Vincent Lacoste and Juliette Binoche star in Christophe Honoré’s (Sorry Angel) semi-autobiographical teen drama, which tells the story of a young man in emotional freefall who embarks on a journey of sex and self-discovery.
WOLF AND DOG (Dir. Cláudia Varejão.) – Young queer best friends Ana and Luís attempt to traverse life on a small Portuguese island in this intimate, stunningly shot drama.
“MINDS” features reflections on art, politics and community:
100 WAYS TO CROSS THE BORDER (Dir. Amber Bay Bemak) – A fantastic odyssey through the world of radical artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, reflecting on 40 years of performance art and border activism.
1946: THE MISTRANSLATION THAT SHIFTED CULTURE (Dir. Sharon Roggio) – This moving documentary explores the personal stories of LGBTQIA+ people and their allies who have used sophisticated Bible scholarship and translation to uncover the revelation that the first time the word homosexual was included in the Bible was 1946.
AFEMINADAS (Dir. Wesley Gondim) – Five Brazilian performers represent a dazzling encounter with variations of masculine femininity.
THE EMPRESS OF VANCOUVER (Dir. David Rodden-Shortt) – A treasure trove of never-seen-before archives illuminate queer Canadian history through the extraordinary life of a local legend, Oliv Howe.
IT’S ONLY LIFE AFTER ALL (Dir. Alexandria Bombach) – The story of the classic lesbian duo The Indigo Girls is told with humour and heart, through a blend of archival material and camcorder footage shot by Emily Saliers herself.
LOTUS SPORTS CLUB (Dirs. Vanna Hem, Tommaso Colognese) – A trans football coach becomes a father figure to LGBTQIA+ homeless youth, building a team that flourishes into a family.
MY NAME IS ANDREA (Dir. Pratibha Parmar) – The life of Andrea Dworkin, a controversial figure in the feminist sex wars, is presented through her own writing and speeches.
This year’s BFI Flare Shorts programme is split across 12 thematic selections. View the full shorts lineup on the BFI Flare website.
BFI Flare will also include a wide range of events, talks and debates, which include:
WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE!
This event highlights the importance of queer disability representation within the landscape of film and culture and includes leading people in the movement for accessibility and queer disability on film. It features rare clips that highlight the fact that queer disabled folk have always been here. Afterwards, film curator Tara Brown will lead an in-depth panel discussion about the intersections of queerness, disability and film.
BISEXUAL VISI-BI-LITY IN FILM & TELEVISION
A panel of out and proud Bisexuals look at the industry’s poor track record when it comes to portraying bisexuality. It will highlight some of the problematic bisexual stereotypes and discuss how bisexuality on film and television has begun to evolve as filmmakers and showrunners begin to eschew outdated tropes.
BIG GAY FILM QUIZ
Fancy yourself a queer cinema buff? Then test your big screen prowess with the world’s best LGBTQIA+ film quiz! (Last year The Queer Review did pretty well in the first round, before having to run to a screening!) Form your own team of up to four people or grab a solo ticket and pair up with fellow quizzers on the night. The annual event promises “prizes, surprises and more fun than you could imagine”.
BFI Flare’s DJ NIGHTS return on Wednesday 15th, Friday 17th, Saturday 18th, Thursday 23rd, and Friday 24th March at BFI Southbank’s BFI Bar with DJs including Jonathan & Sadie, Bar Wotever, Club Kali, Frankie Goes to Flare, and Fèmmme Fraîche. Flare’s Closing Night Party will take place on Saturday 25th with Unskinny Bop + The Batty Mama.
Films screen at BFI Southbank, with a selection of free shorts screening online on BFI Player available across the UK March 15th – 26th March, 2023. For the full BFI Flare programme and to purchase tickets head to bfi.org.uk/flare.
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