Your guide to this year’s BFI Flare, Europe’s most significant LGBTQ film festival
One of the largest and most significant celebrations of queer cinema in Europe, the 32nd edition of acclaimed LGBTQ film festival Flare, returns to the BFI Southbank from March 21 to April 1 this year. Featuring a powerful, thought-provoking and eclectic mix of features, shorts, discussions, talks, workshops and club nights, this year’s festival reflects on themes of family, identity, displacement and disability, whilst also exploring the way film has refined and shaped our understanding of HIV/AIDS over the decades.
Opening with the eagerly anticipated My Days Of Mercy, a poignant love story between two women of polarising political beliefs, featuring standout performances from Ellen Page and Kate Mara; and closing with Postcards From London, a vibrant, neon-lit vision of Soho starring Beach Rats’ Harris Dickinson; this year’s Flare features more than 50 full-length features and 90 shorts by filmmakers from across the globe. To help navigate the days of back-to-back viewing you’d need to watch all of them, we spoke to Flare programmer Michael Blyth, to help shortlist a selection of unmissable screenings.
We’re debuting the world premier of this Canadian documentary, which is super, super exciting. It’s a film which I really love and had an incredibly strong emotional response to. Love, Scott tells the true story of a musician who was left paralysed and in a wheelchair after a brutal homophobic attack. Following Scott for a full year after the attack, it explores how he starts to rebuild his life, come to terms with his changed body, and in some ways makes peace with his attacker. It’s an intimate, personal and unquestionably heartfelt piece of work. I really urge everyone to come and see it. For me personally, as a white, able-bodied gay man living in London, I feel safe a lot of the time. I don’t immediately encounter homophobic violence or abuse on a day-to-day basis and sometimes you forget that that’s a privilege you need to remain conscious of. It has such a deep well of empathy in it which leaves you completely devastated.
A DEAL WITH THE UNIVERSE
Another world premier, A Deal With The Universe is the debut documentary from BFI alum Jason Baker. The film charts his tumultuous journey to conceive as a trans-man and start a family. It’s made up of home video footage which Jason shot over 15 years, it documents him and his partner Tracey as they try to get pregnant the setbacks they face, the decisions they have to make and the challenges they overcome along the way. It’s a fascinating piece of work and a hugely personal film. It’s equal parts sad and uplifting, intimate yet very far reaching in its broader concepts. It’s an excellent example of personal, affecting documentary filmmaking that ultimately celebrates this truly inspiring couple. The honesty with which it confronts the changes Jason had to undergo, both mentally and bodily, to conceive this child which they’d both anticipated his partner Tracey would carry is astonishing. You can’t underestimate what a huge, huge decision this would have been. It really is a remarkable film.
Another one that I’m really excited about is Hard Paint which just won the Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. It’s already starting to develop a reputation as a vital, new piece of queer storytelling. It’s a Brazilian movie about a webcam performer, it’s a character study, quite a bold one at times, quite thrilling and exciting which deals with big issues like love and family. It has a really strong social conscience too. It gives you a lot to think about when you’re watching it, particularly around Brazilian society and its approach to queerness. It looks completely beautiful too, it has this amazing neon palette. It’s a really special film.
SILVERLAKE LIFE, THE VIEW FROM HERE
This is one of the archive screenings that we’re showing. We have a special presentation of 120 BPM and as part of that are looking at the evolution of how AIDS has been represented on screen. How cinematic depictions have helped shape and refine our understandings of the disease. This is a 90s documentary, and one of the films in my life that’s affected me the most I think. When I first saw it I wept, I sobbed, this wasn’t brushing away a stray tear. It tels the story of two men living with AIDS, documenting them, their lives and the end of their lives.
It’s intimate in its style, as with many films about this topic, but the connection you feel with these men, the relationship you build with them, the sense of history that they share together, the pain that they go through makes it absolutely extraordinary. It’s so exciting to be able to include this as part of the festival. It’s one of those queer films that really deserves to be known. Part of why we’re doing this, and part of why we want to have a discussion about AIDS on film, is not only to look back, but also to educate, to rethink things, to bring younger audiences to these stories. Our shared history is so invaluable to us as queer people. Our community now is fundamentally different, people are united in different ways now and they’re fractured in different ways, but the fundamental the reason I want to do something like this is because it’s important that we remember our history.
Another Brazilian film, but a completely different one to Hard Paint. It occupies a very, very different space. It’s one of those movies where the less you know about it, the better, so it’s hard to talk about. Part of the joy of this film is discovering it as you’re watching it. I will say that it’s part-social realism, part-lesbian fairytale, part horror movie and it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. It’s genuinely queer to it’s very core. It’ll provoke people, it’ll astound people, it’ll probably perplex a few people too. It’s definitely a film that’ll divide audiences, there will be people who love it and people who don’t get it at all, but you definitely won’t have seen anything else like it. I’m here with a big smile on my face trying to explain it. If you like something like Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, they’re nothing like each other in terms of content, but they’re similar in how they push the genre in different ways.
This, I think, is likely to be one of the big audience favourites of the festival, it’s a crowd pleasing, beautifully-made indie drama. Tony award winning broadway star Lena Hall plays a singer songwriter who, following quite an upsetting breakup, has to move back home with her mum, who’s slightly conservative, in the small town that she grew up in. While she’s there she meets a married woman who’s slightly unsatisfied with her life, and the two of them begin a relationship which of course leads to much drama. It’s insightful, and warm and witty, and has a really genuine emotional core to it. Lena Hall is absolutely knockout in the lead role, she’s really brilliant. This is quite possibly a lesbian classic in the making.