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10 films to see at BFI Flare: Europe’s biggest LGBTQIA+ film festival

 (The Stroll, Kristen Lovell, courtesy of BFI Flare)
(The Stroll, Kristen Lovell, courtesy of BFI Flare)

Europe’s biggest LGBTQIA+ film festival BFI Flare is back and will kick off next Wednesday at the BFI Southbank. More than just an array of wonderful queer films from across the globe, this year sees a wealth of interactive installations, DJ sets, archive videography, a VR museum and even a ‘big gay film quiz’ for those interested.

The film programme, which runs from March 15-26, showcases an average of ten LGBTQIA+ films a day over the course of 11 days, with many of them free, or reasonably priced. With so many to choose from, we’ve pulled together some of the most unmissable, from Oscar nominees to 1970s pornos. All screenings are at the BFI Southbank.

The Stroll opens BFI Flare on Wednesday 15th (The Stroll, Kristen Lovell, courtesy of BFI Flare)
The Stroll opens BFI Flare on Wednesday 15th (The Stroll, Kristen Lovell, courtesy of BFI Flare)

The Stroll

Opening night kicks off with a film fresh out of Sundance Film Festival, The Stroll. Directed by Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker, it follows Lovell and other trans women of colour through New York’s Meatpacking district during the 1990s and 2000s. It was the winner of the Sundance Special Jury award, and explores themes of gentrification, sex work, trans rights and, particularly, New York City’s history through the queer lens. The Stroll takes a walk down memory lane, not only focusing on the challenges and injustices, but the highlights, such as finding community and fighting back against discrimination.

Wednesday March 15,18:10 and 20:50

The Fabulous Ones will screen at 18:10 on Monday March 20 (BFI)
The Fabulous Ones will screen at 18:10 on Monday March 20 (BFI)

The Fabulous Ones

The ‘Hearts’ category of BFI Flare is dedicated to love, romance and friendship. Much of queer cinema focuses on themes that, although necessary, can be disheartening and difficult to watch. It’s important that as well as highlighting the challenges faced by the queer community, that queer joy is also celebrated.

The Fabulous Ones is a good example of this, an Italian docudrama that sees a group of older trans women reunite and reminisce on their coming-out days, their wardrobes and how they used to dress each other up. They catch up and check in with one another with heaps of nostalgia, joy and tears too. The film centres around the discovery of a lost letter, left for them by a dearly departed friend who they try to reconnect with by holding a seance.

Monday March 20, 18:10

Polarized premieres on Saturday March 18 (Polarized, courtesy of BFI Flare)
Polarized premieres on Saturday March 18 (Polarized, courtesy of BFI Flare)

Polarized

The most recent film by British novelist and filmmaker Shamim Sarif, Polarized makes its debut next Saturday night, depicting a queer love story between two women that blooms from unexpected places. The film is set in the sheltered Canadian town of Stonewall, and sees two women – one evangelical Christian, one Palestinian Muslim – face individual struggles with their sexual identities while battling with their families, before eventually finding solace in one another. Sarif flips the narrative of what could easily be a sad tale, forefronting female independence, drive and passion.

Saturday March 18, 20:40

Drifter is showing Saturday March 25 (Drifter, photo credit, Salzgeber, courtesy of BFI Flare)
Drifter is showing Saturday March 25 (Drifter, photo credit, Salzgeber, courtesy of BFI Flare)

Drifter

The festival presents a special screening of Drifter, the Berlin-based coming-of-age story that sees main character Mortiz getting to grips with a new city, new friendships and new sexual desires too. His relationship with his boyfriend falls apart when his partner suggests exploring non-monogamy, which ultimately ends up having a positive impact as Moritz discovers more about himself and his own impulses as a result. Drifter is a modern representation of the next generation’s view of what queer relationships can be.

Saturday March 25, 18:40 and 21:10

Who I Am Not is this year’s centrepiece film (BFI)
Who I Am Not is this year’s centrepiece film (BFI)

Who I Am Not

This year’s centrepiece presentation Who I am Not focuses on a community within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum that is shamefully underrepresented, the intersex community. A deeply honest and intimate vérité documentary, it portrays the lives of two intersex people living in South Africa – one a beauty queen and one an intersex rights activist.

The film raises the question of gender identity and who really gets to define it. We are invited into incredibly private settings to discover hard truths and the challenges faced by intersex people throughout their lives.

Tuesday March 21, 18:05 and Wednesday March 22, 15:10

An interactive experience: We Are Here Because Of Those Who Are Not. (BFI Flare)
An interactive experience: We Are Here Because Of Those Who Are Not. (BFI Flare)

We Are Here Because of Those That Are Not.

Showing for free, daily between March 16 and 19, We Are Here Because of Those That Are Not. is a British immersive project by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley that pays tribute to those who have been erased from the history books, in particular, Black queer and trans people. Brathwaite-Shirley uses collective memory to create an archive that showcases Black trans existence and legacy. This year, BFI Flare is introducing several immersive projects for the first time, involving a selection of virtual realities, screen-based installations and 3D-scanning.

March 16-19

Life Unrehearsed is showing on Thursday March 16 at BFI Flare (BFI Flare)
Life Unrehearsed is showing on Thursday March 16 at BFI Flare (BFI Flare)

Life Unrehearsed

From Korean director Jieun Banpark, Life Unrehearsed is a witty portrayal of two retired nurses letting loose in Berlin. After meeting at a German summer camp in 1986 they immediately click and know that they’ll be together no matter what, as a result, leaving behind friends and family and abandoning Korea for a new life in Berlin. Flash forward, and the couple are in their seventies, thriving in the German capital and regularly participating in activism and championing queer rights. A charming, heart-warming, observational documentary.

Thursday March 16, 18:20

Le Beau Mec falls under the ‘Bodies’ category of BFI Flare (BFI Flare)
Le Beau Mec falls under the ‘Bodies’ category of BFI Flare (BFI Flare)

Le Beau Mec

The festival also features a category dedicated to ‘Bodies’, focusing on sex, identity and transformation. Within that, falls ‘a lost masterpiece of vintage gay porn’, 1979 French film Le Beau Mec. Directed by Wallace Potts (who was the last lover of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev) the X-rated movie features the dashing Karl Forest, with movement choreographed by Nureyev himself. While some may see it simply as a porno, others will see a cinematic masterpiece – with camera work by Néstor Almendros, known for Sophie’s Choice and The Blue Lagoon.

Saturday 25 March, 16:15

Blue Jean is showing on Sunday March 26 (Film handout)
Blue Jean is showing on Sunday March 26 (Film handout)

Blue Jean

This year marks the 20th anniversary since Section 28 was repealed. The clause, introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, censored the LGBTQIA+ community and banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities. Not only was queerness a taboo, it was not legally allowed to be shown and certainly not mentioned in schools.

Blue Jean is set in 1988, the year that Section 28 came into effect, and is named for the film’s title character Jean, a PE teacher living in the north-east of England. Due to the knock-on effects and homophobia that followed Section 28, Jean is forced to hide her sexuality and faces hostility from colleagues at work, a depressing, regular occurrence for teachers between 1988 and 2003.

Sunday March 26, 13:00

The Oscar-nominated Nan Goldin documentary will show on Sunday March 26 (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed)
The Oscar-nominated Nan Goldin documentary will show on Sunday March 26 (All the Beauty and the Bloodshed)

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Slightly more well known than some of Flare’s other offerings, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is being hailed as the best documentary of the year – and is up for an Oscar too. The film, directed by Laura Poitras, centres around the life of celebrated American photographer Nan Goldin, whose work frequently brings LGBTQIA+ subcultures to the forefront.

Following her recent mission to hold the Sackler family accountable for their part in the opioid crisis, as well as growing up during the sixties, her extraordinary career, addiction and activism too, this documentary is a must watch if you haven’t already.

Sunday March 26, 17:40