The 36th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival (16 to 27 March), the UK’s leading LGBTQIA+ film event, closed on 27 March and celebrated being presented back at BFI Southbank after two years of being delivered online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall the festival saw 25,023 attendances across BFI Southbank and on BFI Player, with an additional 4,500 online views of BFI Flare events, which included the festival’s programme launch on BFI Flare Facebook and BFI YouTube. 58% of all ticket buyers were new to BFI Flare.

Partnering for the eighth year, BFI Flare and the British Council made five LGBTQIA+ short films from the BFI Flare programme available to global audiences for the duration of the festival with the ground-breaking Five Films For Freedom. The LGBTQIA+ digital campaign attracted over three million views from around the world with figures from international content partnerships still to be counted. The project allows audiences worldwide to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities living in countries where human rights are restricted and this year’s selection spanned from China, Croatia, India, Panama and the UK.

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Over 12 days between 16 to  27 March, BFI Flare welcomed its audiences back to its home venue with 56 feature premieres and 84 shorts screened from 42 countries. For BFI Player, 10 features premiered virtually and 6 short films were screened for free plus Five Films For Freedom. The festival hosted 6 world premieres, 7 international premieres, 1 European premiere and 25 UK premieres from across the features programme. 

BFI Flare welcomed 174 filmmakers and their teams (106 international, 68 UK-based) in person from 33 countries. Two filmmakers joined the festival virtually.

On BFI Player, each film was available for ticket holders to watch at any time throughout the duration of the festival. 38% of feature film views and 47% of shorts film views on BFI Player came from outside London and included key cities Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Reading. 

Particular favourites at this year’s edition included opening night film Girl Picture, with director Alli Haapasalo presenting the film fresh from its screening in this year’s Berlinale and its World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award win at Sundance. The closing night world premiere of Kevin Hegge’s feature documentary TRAMPS! celebrated the unique cross-fertilisation of British art, fashion, music and film in the early 1980s, foregrounding the queer talent which came out of the London scene. Special guests included Jeffrey Hinton, Scarlett Cannon, Dave Baby, Michael Costiff, Philip Sallon, David Holah, Les Child and Princess Julia who opened the closing night party with a TRAMPS! inspired DJ set. 

Plus there were world premieres of hotly anticipated London themed UK features, Gateways Grind, Jacquie Lawrence’s documentary charting the history of the legendary Gateways club, one of London’s longest running lesbian clubs and Matt Carter’s Gay rugby drama In from the Side, exploring the lives and loves of a London team, both on and off the pitch. 

Festival talking points included uncovering lost or hidden queer family histories, reflected in a thought-provoking collection of documentaries that included Chase Joynt’s Framing Agnes, an intriguing re-enactment of forgotten trans history, the world premiere of Peter McDowell’s Jimmy in Saigon, the filmmaker’s heartfelt journey to understand the truth behind his brother’s mysterious death in Vietnam and Victoria Linares’ It Runs in the Family, following the filmmaker’s discovery that she’s related to a long-forgotten pioneer of Caribbean cinema, Oscar Torres, plus Ultraviolette and the Blood Spitters Gang, Robin Hunzinger’s poetic visualisation of the incredible story of his grandmother’s rebellious lover. 

Other programme highlights included an empowering focus on women in music, including Bobbi Jo Hart’s uplifting Fanny: The Right to Rock, presented by Fanny’s drummer Alice de Buhr, TJ Parsell’s moving documentary, Invisible: Gay Women in Southern Music, letting the unsung heroes of some of Country music’s biggest hits take centre stage, and Sirens, Rita Baghdadi’s lively and loud portrait of all-female Middle Eastern thrash rock band Slave to Sirens, as well as adrenalin pumping sports tales including Lauren Hadaway’s electrifying debut, The Novice, Adam Kalderon’s smart and sexy tale of forbidden love, The Swimmer, Philipp Fussenegger and Dino Osmanovic’s engaging portrait of bodybuilder Tischa Thomas I Am the Tigress, as well as the off and on the pitch rugby drama of In from the Side.

Michael Blyth, senior programmer, BFI Flare, said: “It was such a joy to return to BFI Southbank this year after two years away. Community is at the heart of BFI Flare, and it felt great to have our audiences back together under one roof. But it was also so important for us to continue extending our reach outside of London, bringing Flare to film lovers across the UK with a selection of films available on BFI Player.” 

The events programme included an engaging and informative overview of intersex culture with a talk from intersex columnist and writer Valentino Vecchietti, Intersex Stories: Activism, Resistance and Being, an archive-led discussion, I Can Only Imagine, Lost Films, Censored Stories and LGBTQIA+ History exploring lost and hidden queer cinema stories and LGBTQIA+ film history reimagined, as well as a celebration of LGBTQIA+ women’s role in modern music, Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves: Queer Women in Music.

Highlights from the festival’s industry events programme included The Makers series of talks in recognition of important contributions to LGBTQIA+ cinema and television, and saw conversations with Rikki Beadle-Blair (Stockholm), Chase Joynt (Framing Agnes) and Jacquie Lawrence (Gateways Grind) discussing their craft. Discursive events were also held, including Authentic Authorship – Who Has ‘the Right’ to Tell Which Stories, which asked whether the complexity and nuances of the LGBTQIA+ experience be truthfully told by cis heterosexual writers/directors without queer people playing a major part of the process, and Trans Film Pitch, which saw UK-based trans filmmakers pitch their films to an audience of producers, directors, writers, actors, programmers, distributors, sales agents and industry colleagues.