38th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival full programme announced

Our festival programmers announce the line-up of the world’s long-standing queer film events in the LGBTQIA+ calendar.

13 February 2024

Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero (2023)

The 38th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, one of the world’s most significant and long-standing queer film events in the LGBTQIA+ calendar, today reveals its full programme. BFI Flare will take place at BFI Southbank, which alongside packed screenings, will be buzzing with special events and DJ nights during the festival. A selection of titles will be available to UK-wide audiences on BFI Player and to international audiences online via Five Films for Freedom – now celebrating its 10th year, in partnership with The British Council. BFI Flare is divided into three thematic programme strands: Hearts, Bodies and Minds and this year presents 33 World Premieres (across features and shorts) with 57 features and 81 shorts from 41 countries. Tickets go on sale on 20th February for BFI Members and on general sale from 22 February.

As previously announced, BFI Flare opens with the European Premiere of LAYLA, Amrou Al-Kadhi’s stunning debut feature which recently had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Deeply personal and engaging, starring Screen Star of Tomorrow Bilal Hasna in the titular role, Layla tells the story of a struggling Arab drag queen whose confident façade hides their desperate desire for love. The festival’s closing night film is the World Premiere of docu-fiction Lady Like by director/producer Luke Willis. Lady Like follows the story of London-born, San Francisco-based drag queen Lady Camden, aka Rex Wheeler, as she is catapulted into the spotlight on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14. In this rags to riches origin story, Lady Camden struggles to manage the demands of her freshly minted international fame, while Rex is forced to come to terms with the troubling childhood he left behind in Camden which drove him to so desperately seek joy, fantasy and escape through the performing arts.

The BFI Flare 2024 Programming team are Grace Barber-Plentie, Jay Bernard, Diana Cipriano, Zorian Clayton, Rhianna Ilube, Darren Jones, Wema Mumma and Brian Robinson.

BFI Flare programmers said:

“This year’s BFI Flare offers something new and refreshing to audiences – film gems aimed to inspire and celebrate the sheer diversity of queer communities around the world. We’ve got a packed programme of screenings, talks and events. Whether you want to make badges, forge friendships or have a boogie, there’s something for all in this festival.”

Further World Premieres being presented in the festival include We Forgot to Break Up - a pitch perfect romantic drama by Karen Knox featuring a trans musician caught in a love triangle with his bandmates as they rise to fame in this love letter to Toronto’s 2000s music scene. Two women hit it off in a lesbian bar, in Kat Rohrer’s What a Feeling – a romantic comedy with real heart that explores migration, class and sexuality in Austria. Several slices of the London queer community talk in depth about what it means to create a family, in What’s Safe, What’s Gross, What’s Selfish and What’s Stupid, a heartfelt DIY debut by Jasmine Johnson.

As previously announced, the European Premiere of the moving drama Close To You directed by Dominic Savage – based on a story by Savage and Elliot Page – screens as a Special Presentation, while BFI Flare also welcomes Page onstage at BFI Southbank on 15 March for a Screen Talk to discuss his remarkable career.

Also included as a Special Presentation is Levan Akin’s impressive fourth feature Crossing, a compelling drama which charts the unlikely alliance forged between two protagonists as they hit the road trying to trace a young trans woman who has vanished in Istanbul.

Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian are mesmerising in Rose Glass’ Love Lies Bleeding. With its World Premiere at Sundance, the gripping and gory follow-up to Saint Maud finds a lesbian couple drawn into a web of violence in 1980s small-town New Mexico.

This year’s programme also features a variety of coming-of-age high school and college grad stories across genres. In Benjamin Howard’s powerful coming-of-age drama Riley, Dakota Riley is a star-player on a football team whose secret gay life threatens to destroy him. The delightful debut feature by Noah Schamus Summer Solstice sees a pair of recent college grads head for the hills on holiday, only to discover that they’ve already drifted apart. In Clare Cooney’s tongue-in-cheek, queer remix of slasher films Departing Seniors, making it to graduation is the least of these high schooler’s problems when there’s a murderer in their midst. A defiant trio of New Zeland schoolgirls battle against their strict matron in Josephine Stewart Te-Whiu’s satirical comedy We Were Dangerous.

The BFI Flare programme includes a wide range of global perspectives including beautiful slow burn romance Who’ll Stop the Rain, following an art student who experiences first love after joining a protest group in post-martial-law Taiwan by I-Hsuan Su. A landmark film for India is director Onir’s semi-autobiographical tale Pine Cone on how the search for love can change over time, unfolding over key dates for gay rights in the country. A mother’s misguided instincts lead to crime in Toll, a remarkable and impressively shot family drama with a sharp satirical edge by Carolina Markowicz following its Toronto International Film Festival premiere. In YUN Su-ik’s Heavy Snow, teenagers Suan and Seol form a connection on the sandy beaches on Gangneung, South Korea – a place they continuously return to in order to find each other. In the vibrant Bollywood-infused film, The Queen of My Dreams, Fawzia Mirza deftly intertwines the intergenerational dreams of a mother and daughter who are both trying to find their place in the world.

Woman of... (2023)

The programme showcases a number of authentic trans narratives including ambitious odyssey Woman Of by Malgorzata Szumowska that tells the story of a closeted trans woman’s life in small-town Poland and against the tumultuous backdrop of a crumbling Soviet Bloc. A group of visionary hijra in Delhi form a modelling agency to bring the traditional third gender into the 21st century in Ila Mehrotra’s India’s 1st Best Trans Model Agency. Direct from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, Jules Rosskam’s Desire Line a journey through the archives addresses the long-standing phenomenon of trans men developing a gay identity after transition. Inventive documentary by Marek Kozakiewicz, We Are Perfect follows an open audition for a rare trans masculine role that attracts 300 candidates, uncovering both raw talent and a revolutionary spirit.

Following the theme of drag prevalent in the programme is Unicorns, Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd’s stunning romance rooted in two distinct communities. Starring Ben Hardy and Jason Patel, the film is loosely inspired by the real-life experiences of Asifa Lahore, Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen.

BFI Flare will present the World Premiere of Kip Andersen and Chris O’ Connell’s upbeat documentary, Join The Club, exploring the little known story of how the AIDS crisis in San Francisco led to marijuana legislation in America. An act of active resistance, and a fight for LGBTQ+ rights led by Dennis Peron, a pot dealer who outsmarted the police to alleviate the physical and mental suffering of AIDS patients.

Festival favourite Jeffrey Schwarz’s (Boulevard! A Hollywood Story, Tab Hunter Confidential, I Am Divine) returns to BFI Flare with Commitment to Life, his moving star-studded documentary exploring how community action mobilized around AIDS in Los Angeles, featuring revealing insight from ordinary people and Hollywood celebrities alike who kickstarted initiatives, change lives and help make history. This screening is supported by the Interbank LGBT+ Forum members: Bank of America, BBVA, BNP Paribas, DTCC, Evercore, FactSet, IG, Lloyds Bank, State Street.

Sam Sahid’s sumptuously made documentary, Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes, celebrates the sensuous images of George Platt Lynes (1907-55), a renowned celebrity portraitist and fashion photographer who was also the creator of a secret archive of male nude photography. Shahid’s beautiful film is an eye-opening delight that reveals the talents of an exceptional gay artist.

Direct from the 2024 Berlinale, BALDIGA – Unlocked Heart is Markus Stein’s portrait of Germany’s enfant terrible of photography, Jürgen Baldiga, documenting his riotous life and tragic death through his diaries, archives and extensive interviews with those who knew him, illuminating the AIDS crisis in 1980s underground Berlin. An original punk artist from first to last, Baldiga began a visceral series, busting taboos around HIV, documenting his life and death after testing positive in 1984.

Expanding on the careers of these two 20th century originators in gay photography will be ‘Developing Muscles’, an illustrated lecture presented by BFI Flare programmer Zorian Clayton; this homoerotic history of photography will chart some of the queer inspirations and influences on Platt Lynes and Baldiga.

Greece is one of the most popular LGBTQIA+ holiday destinations in the world, with a long history of same-sex relationships dating back to the Greek poet Sappho. This year’s Festival sees a number of Greek titles explore the country’s sun-soaked landscapes, rich cultural history and LGBTQIA+ narrative connections, with an industry event also delving into the region.

Aligned, Apollo Bakopoulos’ beautiful and engaging drama, follows the story of two male dancers who forge an artistic and sexual bond while training with a dance company in Greece. The intoxicating power of physical discovery and a shared love of Greek culture are vividly revealed in this love story partly played out through music and movement.

BFI Flare presents the World Premiere of Lesvia, Tzeli Hadjidimitriou’s initimate documentary, a blissfully nostalgic yet impressively complex insight into the hidden stories of Lesbos, birthplace of Sappho and meeting place for lesbians since the 1970s. From the unique vantage point of being a lesbian from Lesbos herself, Hadjidimitriou expertly balances the perspectives of the women looking for a place to connect and relax alongside the wary locals they often encounter.​​​​​​

The Summer with Carmen (2023)

Ravishing to look at, Zacharias Mavroeidis’ seductive and smart gay comedy The Summer with Carmen is a memorable, sharply written dissection of filmmaking, friendship and sex. Demosthenes and Nikitas are trying to write a gay film script while on holiday on one of the Greek islands. Sex and relationships are key, but family and friends often get in the way. Also screening is Krysianna Papadakis’s lesbian short, Bearcave, where two lovers on the hills of rural Greece have their romance interrupted when one of them gets pregnant.

Triggered by the recent death of a Cameroonian activist, filmmaker Appolain Siewe journeys back to his home country to investigate the roots of homophobia within the local psyche in Code of Fear. Siewe initiates uncomfortable conversations within his community regarding homosexuality and ostracised by his family, he finds himself confronted with the steep cost of African allyship.

10 years after its release, Jim Chuchu’s award-winning anthology Stories of Our Lives continues to be a landmark film in the realm of queer African cinema. A compilation of five shorts – snapshots of queer Kenyan culture, from the perspective of queer Kenyans – these cinematic stories feel as fresh as ever. Stories of Our Lives screens with The Archive: Queer Nigerians, Simisolaoluwa Akande’s award-winning short, a living audio-visual archive which chronicles the lives of five queer Nigerians, working to reconcile their diasporic lives with their indigenous cultures.

Stephen Soucy’s Merchant Ivory is a wonderfully entertaining and insightful film that honours two exceptional creators – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and the films they created, as told by their collaborators. In Sav Rodgers’ Chasing Chasing Amy, a film fanatic explores their enduring love for Kevin Smith’s 90s bisexual romcom, uncovering a little more than they bargained for.

The programme pays tribute to queer musical icons with two documentaries. Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero follows Lil Nas X, behind his witty and occasionally controversial online presence, as he embarks on his first live tour in a world where being an openly gay Black rapper still feels like a rarity by Carlos López Estrada and Zac Manuel. By Stuart Pollit, Don’t Ever Stop is the amazing story of legendary DJ and record producer Tony de Vit, who changed many lives with his music as he kept the ’90s generation dancing through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic.

Stories of Our Lives (2014)

Replete with excellent archival footage and great music, Marc Saltarelli’s riveting documentary Studio One Forever journeys back in time and spans the disco era to the AIDS crisis, offering insights into dance and celebrity culture in the 70s as Studio One blazes a trail as the first and largest gay disco in the USA. Music plays an important role in a number of narrative features. Chloé Robichaud’s Days of Happiness is a carefully wrought study of an unforgettable queer artist, a rising-star conductor in Montreal who navigates the intense power dynamics related to her role, with a musical score that will both delight and haunt for days after. In the urgent I Don’t Know Who You Are by M.H. Murray, musician Benjamin races against time on an increasingly desperate odyssey across Toronto to procure funds for HIV prevention treatment following a sexual assault. Reas, an empowering documentary-musical hybrid by Lola Arias where a group of prison inmates re-enact their lives and sentences, balancing memories with fantasy.

This year’s programme features narratives that explore the experience of being a person of faith in the LGBTQIA+ community. Set near a rapidly eroding coastline in a small southern Thai town, Solids by the Seashore follows Shati, a local Muslim woman, who grabbles with her feelings for Fon, a visiting artist, after they meet by chance and quickly develop a friendship in Patiparn Boontarig’s striking debut feature. The World Premiere of Jeremy Borison’s intriguing and important drama Unspoken focusses on a closeted Orthodox Jewish teen who discovers his grandfather might have loved another man, prompting a journey towards self-discovery. Sexual identity and family collide in Nadir Moknèche’s complex drama You Promised Me the Sea, which explores the arranged marriage of Saïd and Hadjira, who are forced to confront the implications of Saïd’s secret sex life as his online cruising results in no shortage of takers. To compliment these films, this year’s events programme features a panel discussion about representations of religion in LGBTQIA+ films with speakers from different religious communities (read more in events).

BFI Flare will also screen four of the best queer films from the past 12 months including: Eight-year-old Lucía takes a trip with her mother in Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20,000 Species of Bees, a sensitive portrait of three generations of women spending a summer together in the Basque Country, just as the youngest comes out as transgender. Andrew Haigh received a BAFTA nomination for directing All of Us Strangers, a dreamlike and intense meditation on life, loneliness and gay experience, beautifully conveyed by a stellar cast led by Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. Emma Seligman’s hilarious second film Bottoms which sees Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri play the school’s ‘ugly lesbians’ who start a fight club to hook up with cheerleaders and lose their virginities before they go to college. Colman Domingo is rightfully sweeping-up award nominations for his incredible performance in George C Wolfe’s Rustin as an African American Civil Rights activist who is finally given the recognition he deserves here, as we follow his pivotal contributions amidst the scrutiny of homophobia from his colleagues, including his role in the 1963 March on Washington.

Commitment to Life (2023)

This year’s BFI Shorts programme is split across over a dozen thematic selections and features with themes including Tender hearted: Shorts from UK & Ireland, A Taste of Spain and Methods of Facing a Hostile World.

As previously announced, this year’s Festival sees the 10th year of #FiveFilmsForFreedom in partnership with the British Council. This landmark initiative presents five films for free to audiences globally and invites everyone everywhere to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. The 2023 LGBTQIA+ digital campaign attracted over three and a half million views from around the world with a quarter of views coming from parts of the world where freedom and equal rights are limited. The project allows audiences worldwide to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities and the 2023 selection spanned from Guyana, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Nigeria, South Korea, with each story celebrating love as a human right. Since its launch in 2015, Five Films for Freedom films have been viewed by 23 million people, in over 200 countries and principalities. The Five Films for Freedom shorts will be available to watch for free UK-wide on BFI Player, as well as a special BFI Flare event and screening celebrating 10 years of the groundbreaking initiative and this year’s selection.

BFI Flare x BAFTA in partnership with BFI NETWORK, the successful professional development programme, also returns this year for its 10th edition with a new cohort of six filmmakers. Made possible thanks to National Lottery funding, it was established to showcase and support LGBTQIA+ UK filmmakers with a programme that aims to explore the realities of producing LGBTQIA+ work in the UK today, and to develop and strengthen professional networks. Over the last nine years it has supported 53 LGBTQIA+ filmmakers, and includes an impressive list of alumni who have since built sustainable careers in the industry, including numerous BAFTA-wins and nominations.

For anyone working in a professional capacity in film production, distribution or exhibition, the BFI Flare Industry Day on Saturday 16 March, will focus on creating stronger opportunities for industry professionals to build and develop industry connections and be inspired through informative panel discussions and an industry networking event. Topics under discussion will include how different roles can provide support for production teams to ensure their sets are safe and supportive places for all, prioritising cast and crew wellbeing and creating a positive working culture as well as an in depth look at the representation of queer sex on screen and the practicalities of shooting intimate scenes.

The 38th BFI FLARE: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival takes place from 13-24 March 2024 at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player.


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