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I Am Michael James Franco
‘Try-anything-once’ James Franco plays a gay-rights activist who swaps his “queer lifestyle” for that of a decidedly heterosexual Christian pastor after finding religion in "I Am Michael"Courtesy of BFI

What to watch: BFI Flare Edition

The BFI’s Flare fest is a glittering eruption of gay bingo, with everything from S&M to James Franco

Last year, the ‘Lesbian and Gay Film Festival’ became simply ‘BFI Flare’, in order to recognise and reflect the dynamism and inclusivity of the LGBTQ community. This year, that dynamism is reflected in their incredible range of queer cinema from around the globe. But to save you time diving into the deep well that is the BFI Flare's programme, we’ve collated the best of the bunch, from Peter Strickland's kinky art-house masterpiece to the sacred document on the last golden era of the East End drag scene.


Before Harry Styles there was Tab Hunter – the blue-eyed, 6ft-tall Hollywood teen heartthrob, who also happened to spend most of his acting career in the closet. In this documentary, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz (I am Divine, Vito Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon) we get to hear his story for the first time. “It’s been very difficult for me my whole life, talking about that side of me,” says Tab Hunter, now an 83-year-old man. “For me to come out of myself like this is extremely difficult… what the heck! I’m an old man and this is my life. Big deal.”

Showing on March 21, March 22, and March 24


Forget Fifty Shades of Fuck-all, this gorgeously shot, hyper-real love story between a lepidopterist (a professor of moths and butterflies, FYI) and her maid is the only S&M film worth watching this month. Cat’s Eyes lend a spectral, baroque-soaked film score to Peter Strickland's kinky art-house masterpiece, whilst the meticulously crafted melodrama recalls the Italian trash cinema of the 1970s. “I have no idea how people who are into that sort of thing are going to react,” Strickland admitted to Rolling Stone. “But in the end, the relationship in the movie is based on intense trust and love. Why would I make fun of that?”

Showing on March 27 and March 28


With London’s alternative gay nightlife fading quicker than you can swipe left on Tinder, this colourful and anarchic debut from Colin Rothbart, produced by World of Wonder (Rupaul’s Drag Race, Party Monster) feels like a sacred document on the last golden era of the East End drag scene. The film follows a handful of queens over the past few years in a glittering eruption of gay bingo, drag balls, boob jobs, underground club performances, as well as candid attempts to exorcize personal demons, and rise above personal tragedies. “So what if my balls are hanging out of my Bikini?” says Jonny Woo, one of London’s most prolific drag queens. Too right.

Showing on March 22, March 23, and March 25


Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams swaps the sword for the school uniform in this psychological puzzle about an epidemic of fainting teenagers and sexual awakenings, all played out in the Gothic oak walls and plunging green grounds of an English girl's school. The film score is a spectacular swirl of stately instrumentation and expressive space, bringing the repressed emotions of the film bubbling to the surface.

Showing on March 20 and March 21


A vibrant look at what it means to be part of transgendered and drag communities of Puerto Rico, in all it’s candy-coloured, sparkling glory. It is the first feature film by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini as a directing duo and the project follows activists, sex workers, business owners and a vivacious drag collective called ‘The Doll House’, as they reconcile their internal identities with external forces.

Showing on March 23, March 24, and March 25


In Kenya, ‘same-sex’ acts are still classed as a criminal, meaning that discrimination against LBGTQ people remains rife in the country, putting many of their lives continually at risk. According to their website, this film aims to “tell stories that are not often heard, stories that characterize the queer experience in Kenya”, with their scripts based on stories they had collected, as part of a wider project. It’s all filmed on a single Canon DSLR camera, and the result is a poetically constructed collection of black and white vignettes that manage to tap into the universal desire to be free.

Showing on March 26, March 28, and March 29


A “coming out” story doesn’t usually get told this way round – but then again, who cares about usually. Hollywood’s favourite ‘try-anything-once’ polymath James Franco plays a gay-rights activist who swaps his “queer lifestyle” for that of a decidedly heterosexual Christian pastor after finding religion. The film is the feature debut of Justin Kelly, under the wing of Gus Van Sant (Elephant, Milk, My Own Private Idaho) – cinema’s master of society’s marginalized. Oh, and it’s all based on true events.

Showing on March 19, and March 20


It’s not just London’s best cultural spaces that are being traded in for the sort of boring buildings that make an area more expensive. In this case, it’s New York’s oldest black-owned gay club Starlite, and this documentary follows the plight of the renowned club following the news it would be knocked down to make way for an off-licence. Interviews with the Starlite’s first patrons are interspersed with strobe-dotted clips of the dance floor over an omnipresent soundtrack of forgotten disco tracks. The result is a love letter to the all-inclusive club that existed long before Stonewall, and acted as a blueprint for some of our favourite clubs today.

Showing on March 24, March 26, and March 27


Both effortlessly erotic and confessional, this intimate portrait of an Argentinian football team was filmed by a teammates older brother Martin Farina, who uses his camera to frame their boyish masculinity in an almost fetishized, yet richly beautiful light. The result makes you question not only Martin’s point-of-view behind the lens, but also the gaze of the viewer, as you act as another intruder, observing these young footballers during their vulnerable moments ahead of the game.

Showing on March 21, March 22, and March 24


Sydney Freeland, the writer and director of this three-pronged narrative feature, was born and raised on a Navajo reservation, dubbed ‘Drunktown’. This is her authentic portrayal of reservation life, told through the three interlinking stories of Nizhoni, Sick Boy and Felixia, who is a transgendered woman. “I am a member of both the Native community and the LGBT community,” Freeland told Filmmaker. “My thinking is, if I can get someone from New York City to relate to the plight of a Navajo transsexual on an Indian reservation, then that kind of negates the need for labels. That to me is the beauty of filmmaking.”

Showing on March 28 and March 29

BFI's Flare Festival runs from 19-29 March; book tickets here