Sophie Ward selects the best of the film fest
For 10 days in March BFI Flare, the LGBT film festival will be the best place in London. Only a year ago, such a festival of queerness might have seemed a luxury item, an amuse bouche in a menu of delectable celebrations, a crouton in the sapphic soup of splendidness that we were all enjoying as our marriages, children, lovers and general civil rights rose upon the crème fraîche of success.
This year, things look a little different. This year we are teetering atop a gruel of strangely-shaped vegetables, wondering whether we are all just about to slide back into the abyss of inedible homophobia, while a mournful band of underpaid waiters distracts the crowd with renditions of White Cliffs Of Dover on Union Jack accordions. This year we are marching for civilisation. This year we need the festival.
To help you navigate the extensive programme of films on offer, the festival is divided into three strands: Hearts, Minds and Bodies. First up, in Hearts, is A Date For Mad Mary, a poignant com- edy from Ireland which won Best Irish Film at the Galway Fleadh and features two honest central performances from Seána Kerslake and Charleigh Bailey as friends whose relationship is tested. Hearts is also home to the brilliant Moonlight, which may be in receipt of several Oscars by the time it screens at Flare, including one for Naomie Harris as the troubled mother of a gay African American boy growing up in Miami.
Teenage passion is just as confusing in Austria’s Siebzehn (Seventeen). Set one summer in a contemporary, postcard-pretty town, the schoolgirls seem more Mädchen In Uniform than modern women as they struggle through misplaced passions and repressed desires. It’s only the second feature from director Monja Art, whose other work also centres on queer identities, friendships and teenage anxiety. With a handsome and natural cast, the film captures well the tortuous emotions of thwarted desire that threaten to darken the most cloudless skies.
I haven’t seen South Korea’s Yeon-ae- Dam (Our Love Story) but I will definitely try to get to both this and Japan’s Seihokusei ( West North West), two feature films that deal with conflicts in lesbian relationships once the fantasy of a romance becomes an unwieldy reality.
Another strong contender in the Hearts section is Heartland, the directorial debut from Maura Anderson. Set in rural Oklahoma (the “heartland”), the film centres on Lauren ( Velinda Godfrey) who has to go back to live with her homophobic mother after Lauren’s girlfriend dies. The impossibility of grieving in a house where your relationship has never been acknowledged, let alone respected, adds to Lauren’s sense of claustrophobia and displacement. And anyone who has had to lead a double life at home will feel the familiar ache of the pretence, and the excruciating embarrassment of the burgeoning relationship between Lauren and her brother’s new girlfriend. Oh, and there’s one scene in a river that provoked distinct memories for me of my role in 90s TV drama A Village Affair, though with more clothing.
Hearts also features Lovesong starring the wonderful Riley Keough
Teenage passion confuses in Austrian feature, Seventeen
from American Honey, directed and written by So Yong Kim (For Ellen). Not the only film in the festival to visit lesbian love on the eve of a woman’s heterosexual marriage, Lovesong looks as though it makes the most of the tension. And Rosanna Arquette is in it, so the film has a head start.
There are several programmes of short films in all the sections and in Bodies, a chance to see The Handmaiden on the big screen, if you haven’t already. I reviewed this stunning Korean adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith for DIVA back in January and still think it was one of my favourite films of the last year, though not the easiest of watches.
The Bodies section of the festival features many different aspects of trans experience with The Trans List, Female To What the Fuck, Raising Zoey and Măe Só Há Uma. And plenty of lesbian and queer erotica with Below Her Mouth, Snapshot and “queer vampire porn movie” Enactone. You can catch discussions after some of these screenings as well as Sexit: What The Fuck Is Happening With UK Porn Laws?, a panel event that tackles questions of censorship in the UK, with particular reference to the unequal treatment of queer and feminist sexualities.
The Minds section fields a strong documentary showing with director Jacqueline Gares looking at the incarceration of Cece Mcdonald after she was found guilty of murdering her racist, homophobic attacker, in Free Cece. In Southwest Of Salem: The Story Of The San Antonio Four, Deborah S Esquenazi follows the persecution of hundreds of LGBTQ people who were wrongfully jailed for sexually abusing children in the 1980s, and four women in particular who spent up to 16 years in prison before they were exonerated of abusing the children in their care.
Also in Minds, if you’re feeling knowledgeable or want to join a team of know-it-alls, you can get tickets to The Big Gay Film Quiz, which looks an awful lot more fun than your average pub spectacular.
The festival opens with the world premiere of Against The Law, in which Daniel Mays plays Peter Wildeblood who was imprisoned in the 1950s under the same British legislation that saw Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in Reading gaol over 50 years earlier. Coming in the year that finally saw the pardoning by Royal Assent of 49,000 gay men who had been convicted of now-abolished crimes in consensual relationships, the film shows the public shaming and official cruelty that was suffered under previous laws.
Of special interest to DIVA viewers will be the premiere of the much-anticipated lesbian web-series Different For Girls. Produced by Jacquie Lawrence from her book of the same name, DFG is directed by Campbell X and stars Guinevere Turner, Rachel Shelley, Victoria Broom, Tuyen Do, Sophie Ottley, Helen Oakleigh, Nimmy March, Sarah Soetaert, Charlie Hardwick and Caroline Whitney Smith – every one of whom must be a real-life lesbian or bi woman by now, if they weren’t before. After all, isn’t that what happened to all involved in Orange Is The New Black?
The closing night gala film is Signature Move, a touching and funny portrait of how Zaynab, a quiet Pakistani Muslim in Chicago, manages to cope with her community and her mother when she falls in love with passionate Mexican Alma. Stuck in a respectable community with the weight of societal expectation heavy upon your breast, when an exuberant rebel revives your frozen heart? I can’t relate to that at all.
A panel tackles censorship and the unequal treatment of queer and feminist sexualities
Director Maura Anderson explores familial homophobia in her debut feature, Heartland SOPHIE WARD SELECTS HER DON’T-MISS MOVIES FROM THE ANNUAL LGBT FILM FEST’S PACKED PROGRAMME
Remember the tortuous emotions of your teens with Austrian feature Siebzehn ( Seventeen)