The 37th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, one of the world’s most significant and long-standing queer film events in the LGBTQIA+ calendar, today reveals its full programme. BFI Flare will take place at BFI Southbank, and also offer a selection of titles on BFI Player to UK-wide audiences, and to international audiences via Five Films for Freedom – now in its 8th year, in partnership with The British Council. BFI Southbank will be buzzing with special events and DJ nights during the festival, and for the first time will present Flare Expanded for the first 4 days of the festival from 16-19 March. BFI Flare is divided into three thematic programme strands: HEARTS, BODIES and MINDS and this year presents 28 World Premieres (across features and shorts) with 58 features and 90 shorts from 41 countries. Tickets go on sale on 22 February for BFI members and 24 February for general public via bfi.org.uk/flare.
As previously announced, BFI Flare opens on Wednesday 15 March with the International Premiere of Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s resonant documentary THE STROLL which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision Award. The stirring and deeply personal documentary is the definitive story of trans sex workers of colour in New York’s Meatpacking District. The Festival’s closing film on Saturday 25 March is the UK Premiere of Hannes Hirsch’s debut feature DRIFTER, fresh off its World Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film is a scintillating portrait of a young man coming to terms with life, love, sex and relationships in contemporary Berlin. Both films and many in the festival demonstrate the themes of community and friendship running through this year’s programme. In addition, Tünde Skovrán’s intimate documentary WHO I AM NOT will have its UK Premiere as the Centrepiece Presentation. The film is an intimate portrait of the lives of two intersex South Africans and the challenges they face navigating binary sex and gender systems.
World Premiere screenings the Festival will be presenting include John Hay’s illuminating documentary WILLEM & FRIEDA, where Stephen Fry investigates the inspiring and moving story of a gay man and a lesbian who led anti-Nazi resistance in Holland. Timothy Harris’ timely documentary KENYATTA: DO NOT WAIT YOUR TURN follows 31-year-old Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta who takes us along on his race to become the first openly gay person of colour with a seat in the United States Senate. Corin Sherman’s hilarious and heart-warming BIG BOYS is a coming-of-age comedy about a teenage boy experiencing a sexual awakening when he falls for his cousin’s boyfriend on a camping trip. Acclaimed filmmaker Shamim Sarif’s visually arresting feature POLARIZED explores the unavoidable attraction that develops between two women as they navigate the barriers of race, religion and class that have kept them apart. Two new mums navigate questions of intimacy and shifting power-dynamics in this heartfelt exploration of queer parenthood in Emily Railsback’s AMERICAN PARENT. Mandy Fabian’s lively and laugh-out-loud romantic comedy JESS PLUS NONE follows Jess who is at an off-the-grid wedding and must find a way to deal with her ex, her friends and even herself.
The BFI Flare programme features trans filmmakers telling their own stories, with the previously mentioned THE STROLL and also fresh from Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and NEXT Innovator Award, D. Smith’s bold documentary KOKOMO CITY, about Black trans sex workers, that buzzes with passion, energy and intelligence. D. Smith knows what it means to come out as a Black trans woman and lose everything. After a successful career in the music industry ended, she turned to filmmaking, and, in the face of considerable odds, shot this punchy debut that looks into the lives of four sex workers. This is documentary filmmaking that pulls no punches and has no time for politeness.
This year’s programme also features a number of films which showcase a progressive evolution of queer narratives, and trans narratives in particular. SOMETHING YOU SAID LAST NIGHT, supported by BFI Flare main sponsor Campari, is a refreshingly authentic family drama. Director Luis De Filippis’s stunning debut mined her own experiences as a transgender woman of Italian heritage to tease out extraordinary depth in the everyday relationships between twentysomething trans woman Renata and her family on vacation. Trace Lysette (TRANSPARENT, HUSTLERS ) is captivating in MONICA, a beautifully understated family drama, playing a woman belatedly seeking to rekindle a relationship with her estranged mother, magnificently played by Patricia Clarkson. The screening is supported by the Interbank LGBT+ Forum members.
Alongside the previously mentioned WHO I AM NOT Soh-Yoon Lee’s XX + XY follows an intersex teen and their friends navigating the complex feelings and urges that come with adolescence, in this unique coming-of-age comedy. The film is a fresh, funny and sex-positive spin on the high-school comedy, giving a voice to those whose stories are all too often overlooked by this genre.
Over the first four days of the Festival, we will be presenting BFI FLARE EXPANDED – a selection of four immersive art and virtual reality works from boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ artists, working across emerging technologies such as interactive Virtual Reality, screen-based installations and 3D-scanning. Exploring themes of identity, belonging, self- expression and vulnerability, these powerful and visionary works aim to shift perspectives and give new insight into our increasingly complex world.
The festival sees a fascinating selection of features and documentaries which tell the story of queer elders including Aseneth Suárez Ruiz’s CLARA that follows a filmmaker who returns home to Colombia to find out about her mother’s past love and encounters unexpected twists along the way. Jieun Banpark’s LIFE UNREHEARSED is a captivating and witty portrayal of two retired Korean nurses living their best lives in Berlin. Roberta Torre’s THE FABULOUS ONES follows a group of older trans women, who reunite following the discovery of a lost letter containing the last wishes of a dearly departed friend. In addition, AGEING WITH (OUT)YOU is a strand of shorts that features queer elders of various ethnicities and orientations experiencing the unique challenges – and blessings – of ageing, with or without a partner.
Following the well-received World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Lisa Cortes’ LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING is a fierce, fun and glitter-flecked documentary exploring the real and complex story about the life of the architect of rock and roll, with contributions from a host of famous faces including John Waters, Billy Porter and Elton John who try to find the man behind the self-created myth. A pioneer for Blackness and queerness in music who never got his dues, Little Richard was also someone who was at war with his sexuality and religion throughout his life. Also at Sundance, IT’S ONLY LIFE AFTER ALL recounts the story of the classic lesbian singer-songwriter duo the Indigo Girls, told with humour and heart, through a blend of archival material and camcorder footage over the last three decades, shot by Indigo Girl Emily Saliers herself. Country music at its queerest: big hair, big heart and a truck load of guitar.
The BFI Flare programme features a wide variety of films with a global perspective including THE BLUE CAFTAN, set in Salé, one of Morocco’s oldest medinas, The film tells the story of a married tailor who falls for his younger apprentice in Maryam Touzani’s richly textured and sweepingly beautiful exploration of love, desire and tradition. Set in Bhopal, India, Ektara Collective’s A PLACE OF OUR OWN is a sensitive portrayal of two Indian trans women’s fight to find a place to live after the sudden eviction from their home by a prejudiced landlord. Set in Slovakia at the turn of the twentieth century, Mariana Cengel Solcanská’s THE CHAMBERMAID is a fast-paced, sexy and witty period film about the love between two teenage girls from opposite sides of the social ladder. Unfolding over a single day in Seoul THE DREAM SONGS is CHO Hyun-chul’s South Korean hazy fever dream of teenage longing, adolescent emotions and a lesbian love triangle. Sex is political in Julia Murat’s sensually directed RULE 34. The Brazilian Winner of the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival, focuses on a young woman who explores her erotic desires at home as a camgirl by night, while during the day working on sexual violence cases as a law student. A young man in emotional freefall embarks on a journey of sex and self-discovery in Christophe Honoré’s richly textured, semi-autobiographical teen drama, WINTER BOY, supported by BFI Flare official partners Mishcon de Reya and PGIM Real Estate.
This year’s BFI Flare programme takes a closer look at two iconic queer literary women: Madeleine Lim’s sensitive documentary 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 LOVING HIGHSMITH is a beautifully textured study revealing the rich and troubled private life of the woman behind Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Carol. Loving Highsmith reveals some disturbing truths about the much- loved writer, audiences can discuss this further at the event WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LOVING HIGHSMITH in the BFI Library.
This year’s BFI Flare Shorts programme is split across 12 thematic selections, including the strand I NEED I WANT I WILL, a collection of UK produced shorts offering a thrilling miscellany of experience and imagination.
This year’s Festival will see 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. Full details of the five selected films and how to access them to be announced separately.
For more information about the festival, and to book tickets, please go here: whatson.bfi.org.uk/flare/Online/default.asp