BFI Flare, London’s major LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, is back with a bang, with 28 World Premieres (across features and shorts), 58 features and 90 shorts from 41 countries being screened at the festival which begins today.
Over 37 years, BFI Flare has become one of the most important events in the LGBTQIA+ calendar, showcasing the work of both established and new artists and filmmakers from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom explore different elements of the queer experience.
The festival runs from March 15 – 26, and its films have been broken down into three categories: Hearts, Bodies and Minds.
Senior Programmer Michael Blyth said: “For the past 37 years, BFI Flare has brought audiences the best, most innovative and most boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ stories from across the globe.”
As well as the films, there will also be a free programme of immersive art for the first four days of the festival, called BFI Flare Expanded. There will also be a special event dedicated to the late and great filmmaker Ron Peck, DJ sets, a Big Gay Film Quiz and panel discussions such as one about Bisexual representation in film and television, and another with film curator Tara Brown about queerness and disability in film.
With so many incredible films to choose from, and so much to do, we thought to share our pick of some of the best films to look out for.
Opening Night - The Stroll
The festival opens with the international premiere of The Stroll, a documentary from filmmakers Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision Award. It follows the lives of trans sex workers of colour who are working in New York’s Meatpacking District and has been described by Flare as “deeply personal”. Drucker is a trans activist as well as an Emmy-nominated producer, which means the tough and educational film also acts as a call to arms.
Centrepiece Presentation - Who I Am Not
The lives of intersex individuals infrequently make it to the screen, which is what makes this gala presentation film such a rare treat. Who I Am Not is an intimate documentary from Romanian-American filmmaker Tünde Skovrán. Fresh from SXSW, and enjoying its UK premiere at Flare, Who I Am Not follows two intersex South Africans as they navigate the gender systems that they live in.
Closing Night - Drifter
The festival will close with the UK Premiere of Hannes Hirsch’s debut film, Drifter, coming fresh from its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The story is about 22-year-old Moritz who moves to Berlin with his boyfriend, only to be dumped two weeks later. Now alone in the new city, Moritz gets drawn to the city’s infamous techno scene. The story is about his journey through the city, his new experiences, the fluidity of queer millennials, self-discovery, love, sex and community.
British South-African filmmaker Shamim Sarif has spent her career exploring themes of gender, race, and sexuality. Here, she continues this study as she looks at the relationship that develops between two women from different backgrounds, races and religions. Sarif, an award-winning novelist as well as screenwriter and director, made the cult 2008 British rom-com I Can’t Think Straight. It told the story of a London-based Jordanian of Palestinian descent who had an affair with a British Indian woman.
Chroma 11 comes as part of Flare’s expanded programme of XR and VR work. A less than happy story, this beautiful film from Tsang Tsui-Shan is about Ix Wong Thien-pau (Malaysia) and Aaron Khek Ah Hock (Singapore), a dance duo who are both dealing with health issues: one has cancer, the other has HIV. While they are filming a short documentary, Aaron dies.
Chroma 11 is a virtual dance duet between the two friends made up of Ix’s memories and old videos. A version of the film was shown at the Venice Biennale last year. Tsui-Shan said: “It explores the ideas of love, the conduct of life, technologies, and—more importantly—egolessness and formlessness. In immersive storytelling, the screen frame we are familiar with no longer exists.”
Jess Plus None
This feel-good rom-com from award-winning director Mandy Fabian’s Jess Plus None, is about Jess, a young woman who attends an off-the-grid wedding. But her ex is there and suddenly the weekend away becomes much more than she bargained for as she’s forced to face up to her past and her own insecurities. Abby Miller (Mad Men), Marielle Scott (Lady Bird) and Rory O’Malley (Dreamgirls) star.
Lotus Sports Club
Cambodian documentary filmmaker Vanna Hem and producer Tommaso Colognese direct this moving documentary about a 61-year-old trans football coach in Cambodia. Shot over five years, the film follows Leak, who plays football for the under-21s women’s team for one of Cambodia’s central provinces, Kampong Chhnang and their relationship with coach Pa Van.
Many of the young people in the team are homeless and/or have had difficult upbringings, and Pa Van becomes a father figure to many of them, even opening up their home to them. The film is about chosen family – one of Flare’s central themes – freedom and identity.
Wolf and Dog
Portuguese filmmaker Cláudia Varejão is best known for her documentary films, 2016’s AMA-SAN, about a community of fisherwomen, and 2020’s Amor Fati, about love in all its different shapes and sizes.
This time the documentarian turns her hand to a fictional story about queer best friends Ana and Luís who are from a seaside community on a small Portuguese island. Exquisitely shot, this coming-of-age tale is about spirituality, community and young love.
XX + XY
Korean director Soh-Yoon Lee’s comedy XX + XY is a unique film for many reasons. Not only is it about an intersex teen navigating high school, but the film is celebratory and open about sex and teenage sexual desires – an angle that’s rarely taken in coming-of-age films.
Life in Love: Cinthia & Robyn
Part of BFI Flare’s shorts series, It’s Not You, It’s Me, is Life in Love: Cinthia & Robyn, a 12-minute love story from director Abel Rubinstein. An investigation of closeness, connection and desire, Cinthia and Robyn, one of whom is asexual, have been together for two years. They meet up with friends Kenya and Pete and they all end up speaking about their relationships.
BFI Flare runs March 15-26; Tickets for BFI Flare are available here