The 35th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival (17 to 28 March) unveiled its full programme this evening with a launch event on BFI Flare Facebook and BFI YouTube. One of the world’s most significant and long-standing queer film events, this year’s BFI Flare will deliver virtual festival premieres of the best new LGBTIQ+ cinema from around the world via BFI Player to UK-wide audiences. 

The most accessible version of the festival yet will include 26 features and 38 free shorts from 23 countries, with closed captioning (supported by Mishcon de Reya) and audio description on English-language films. Tickets go on sale via bfi.org.uk/flare on 2 March. 

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As previously announced, BFI Flare will screen the international premiere of Jump, Darling. Phil Connell’s directorial debut, a heartfelt family drama about a drag queen reconnecting with his ageing grandmother, features a stunning performance from the late Hollywood legend Cloris Leachman in her final starring role. 

Additional early announcements included 2 exciting world premieres from the UK: Peeter Rebane’s lavishly told feature debut Firebird, a touching love story set at the height of the Cold War, where a troubled soldier (Tom Prior) forms a forbidden love triangle with a daring fighter pilot (Oleg Zagorodnii) and his female comrade (Diana Pozharskaya) amid the dangerous surroundings of a Soviet air force base. Harri Shanahan and Sian A. Williams’ rousing feature documentary Rebel Dykes is a joyful and colourful history of post-punk dyke culture in the UK. Harnessing the anarchic energy and creativity of London in the early 1980s, Rebel Dykes mixes first person testimonies, animation and unseen archive to tell the stories of those artists, performers, musicians, sex workers and activists who lived it, and together, found their chosen family. Also from the UK is Marley Morrison’s smart and funny debut feature Sweetheart.

One of the key themes emerging from this year’s programme is strong representation of significant individuals and communities whose lives and work have had an impact on queer history and the ongoing fight for change and equality. This year’s programme celebrates and elevates individuals whose lives and accomplishments are perhaps less well known but who deserve to be championed, such as Gloria Allen, Connie Norman and Billy Tipton. Activists and campaigners Dr Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings are also featured, as well as queer icons including ground breaking German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Moomins creator Tove Jansson. Highlights that celebrate the legacy of these trailblazers include:

  • A Los Angeles Act-Up organiser is remembered for her fierce resistance to both transphobia and the AIDS virus in AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman (dir. Dante Alencastre).
  • Cured (dirs. Patrick Sammon, Bennett Singer) – This astonishingly rich documentary explores the campaign by key US activists to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of mental illness.
  • Mama Gloria, director Luchina Fisher’s endearing documentary portrait shows how fighter, organiser and survivor Gloria Allen has become a local hero to younger Chicagoan trans women.
  • The fascinating story of pioneering trans jazz musician Billy Tipton is brought thrillingly to life in No Ordinary Man (dirs. Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt), a celebratory documentary portrait.

“From snappy shorts to sprawling features, BFI Flare is a true celebration of the best in contemporary queer cinema, here to showcase extraordinary filmmaking talent, and to entertain and inspire audiences,” says Michael Blyth, BFI Flare’s Senior Programmer. “In among the many stories on offer, this year’s programme shines an essential spotlight on a host of pioneering LGBTIQ+ icons that have come before, reminding us all that we must understand our past if we are to change our future.”

“Facing the first lockdown last spring, and with days until launch, we moved BFI Flare online – one of the first Festivals around the world to do so,” says Tricia Tuttle, BFI Festivals Director. “Now, a year on, we are launching our second digital edition and Flare’s spirit of community, solidarity, defiance and celebration is more precious than ever, and we’re excited to be able to share that with audiences everywhere in the UK.” 

Now in its seventh year, the BFI Flare x BAFTA Crew Mentoring programme in partnership with BFI NETWORK offers a group of emerging LGBTIQ+ filmmakers an opportunity to strengthen and develop their industry knowledge and professional connections, providing mentoring from a senior industry figure, alongside a bespoke programme of masterclasses and discussions, and access to BAFTA’s year-round events programme. Previous mentors for the programme have included Luca Guadagnino, Oliver Hermanus, Isaac Julien, Desiree Akhavan and Russell T Davies.

For professionals working in the film and screen industries, this year’s BFI Flare Industry Programme moves online and will focus on delegate networking with dedicated events and a new industry networking platform supported by the High Commission of Canada in the UK. Press and industry screenings and the digital viewing library will be delivered on the dedicated virtual press and industry screening platform powered by Shift72.

Once again, BFI Flare will be in partnership with the British Council for Five Films For Freedom, which makes 5 LGBTIQ+ themed short films available for the world to watch online for free for the duration of the festival. Available internationally via the British Council’s YouTube channel, Five Films For Freedom has been running since 2015 and the programme has seen nearly 15 million people viewing the films in more than 200 countries and principalities, including many parts of the world where homosexuality is criminalised, and in some cases, punishable by the death penalty. 

BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, 2021 full programme

BFI Flare is divided into 3 thematic strands: Hearts, Bodies and Minds.  The full programme is detailed below.

Hearts

Hearts includes films about love, romance and friendship. Two young men fall for each other over the course of a single day in Boy Meets Boy, a disarmingly tender debut from director Daniel Sánchez López. Jonathan Wysocki’s 90s-set teen dramedy Dramarama is a delightful throwback to those most awkward of years, while in Thomas Wilson-White’s The Greenhouse, a woman discovers that traveling back in time may help her come to terms with her present. 

Boy Meets Boy (2021)

Cultures clash and family secrets are revealed when Shira brings home her new girlfriend in the delightful first feature Kiss Me before It Blows Up, from director Shirel Peleg; and amid the grief of losing her mother, sheltered teen Claudia discovers friendship and love for the first time in Katie Found’s beautiful and sublime debut, My First Summer. 

Rūrangi, the hit New Zealand episodic drama from Max Currie is a moving and entertaining account of a trans man’s attempts to reconnect with his Māori roots and to rebuild the relationships he had left behind; BFI Flare favourite Eytan Fox returns with Sublet, an entertaining and heart-warming film about the encounter of a middle-aged gay man (The Normal Heart’s John Benjamin Hickey) with a young, aspiring filmmaker (stunning newcomer Niv Nissim); and AJ discovers it’s not so bad being on a family holiday when she meets flirtatious lifeguard Isla in Sweetheart, a smart and funny first feature from director Marley Morrison. Peeter Rebane’s Firebird will also screen in the Hearts strand.

Bodies

Bodies includes stories of sex, identity and transformation. A mesmerising portrait of a family grappling with teenage gender dysphoria, Alexa Bakony’s Colors of Tobi is an uplifting documentary that exudes the defiant message that love is all you need; in Anna Kerrigan’s gripping thriller Cowboys, a father (Steve Zahn) and son attempt to escape a mother who is unwilling to accept her child’s gender dysphoria; while a nurse questions the intentions of his handsome new colleague in The Dose, a taut and chilling psychological thriller from Martín Kraut. 

Well Rounded (2020)

Having screened to great success at last year’s BFI London Film Festival, I Am Samuel, Pete Murimi’s moving documentary portrait of a Kenyan gay couple facing danger and hardship, will be co-presented with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. A young African-American man is forced to repeatedly endure the fatal day of his shooting in Ali LeRoi’s riveting drama, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson; young trans activist and Brazilian YouTube star Thiessa Woinbackk leads a superb cast in Valentina, the impressive debut feature from Cássio Pereira dos Santos that sees a tough transgender teen demand her rights; and body positivity, race, activism and queerness harmonise with full fat ferocity in Shana Myara’s documentary Well Rounded. Phil Connell’s Jump, Darling and Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s No Ordinary Man will also screen in the Bodies strand.

Minds

Minds features reflections on art, politics and community.  The life and loves of celebrated filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder are laid bare in Oskar Roehler’s Enfant Terrible, an engrossing, unconventional biopic starring Oliver Masucci (Look Who’s Back). Recommended viewing, the Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection is available to subscribers on BFI Player featuring 8 films including the recent inclusion of his final film Querelle.

Based on a true story, Poppy Field, Eugen Jebeleanu’s probing Bucharest-set drama, weighs up the professional demands on a closeted police officer when his work clashes with his personal life. When a cache of letters written by 1950s New York drag queens was discovered in 2014, filmmakers Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera tracked down the authors to hear their story in P.S. Burn This Letter Please, while Tove is a lyrical and romantic biopic of beloved Moomins creator Tove Jansson, directed by Zaida Bergroth and featuring an incredible central performance by Alma Pöysti. 

P.S. Burn This Letter Please (2020)

Dante Alencastre’s AIDS Diva: the Legend of Connie Norman, Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer’s Cured, Luchina Fisher’s Mama Gloria and Harri Shanahan and Sian A. Williams’ Rebel Dykes will also screen in the Minds strand.

Exclusive Q&As and introductions with the filmmaking teams will be presented for each of the features. This year’s BFI Flare will also include Screen Talks via BFI YouTube and a discursive events programme, the details of which will be announced in the coming weeks. Plus a special online edition of the legendary BFI Flare Big Gay Film Quiz will be back to test your queer film knowledge!

Shorts programme

This year’s BFI Flare Shorts programme is split across 7 thematic selections. 

Beginnings and Endings

From an unexpectedly eventful train journey, to the end of the world, this stunning collection of shorts explores the trials and triumphs of being your true self.

  • Buck (dirs. Elegance Bratton, Jovan James) – In an attempt to deal with his depression, Lynn goes out into the night looking for a good time.   
  • Cosmopolitan (dir. Moran Nakar) – Jacob faces racial prejudice when he attempts to enter a gay nightclub. 
  • Escaping the Fragile Planet (dir. Thanasis Tsimpinis) – In the final few hours before the world ends, 2 men meet and form a connection. 
  • Listening In (dir. Omer Sterenberg) – A young soldier in an intelligence unit questions himself while spying on a Palestinian gay couple.   
  • The Night Train (dir. Jerry Carlsson) – On an overnight train journey home, a young man locks eyes with a fellow passenger.   
  • Pool Boy (dir. Luke Willis) – River Gallo stars as a non-binary pool cleaner who attracts the attention of a former high school athlete.

For the Record

Traversing a wide range of subjects, this inspiring selection of short form documentaries is guaranteed to provoke and inspire in equal measures.

  • Above the Troubled Water (dir. Joe Cohen) – Three Nigerian men are scattered across the globe after escaping homophobic violence.
  • All I Need Is a Ball (dir. Elena Molina) – Freestyle champion Palermo and her grassroots campaign to create a female league of freestylers in her native Spain.  
  • Being Sascha (dir. Manuel Gübeli) – In this discerning mini-doc, Sascha beautifully articulates and illuminates life as a trans non-binary person in the small city of Basel.   
  • Son of Sodom (dir. Theo Montoya) –  Selected for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, this portrait of a beautiful, young, rebel queer explores his life in the bohemian circles of Medellin.   
  • Tracing Utopia (dirs. Catarina de Sousa, Nick Tyson) – Young queers connect in a sci-fi dream world to build a war machine of love and a virtual manifesto for the future.   

Heart’s Desires

History, geography and personal circumstances may change but challenges facing the heart are timeless and universal.

  • The Act (dir. Thomas Hescott) – One young man faces up to the joys and perils of living a gay life amidst the sexual repressiveness of pre-1967 London.
  • Baby Lies Truthfully (dir. Joseph Ingham) – A love letter to the late David Robilliard – a collage of his poems and archive visuals, with a voice- over by Russell Tovey.   
  • Eden (dir. Sven Spur) – A sexually-driven man cruises the parks, saunas and streets of an unnamed city at night, seeking to satisfy his relentless lust.
  • Isaac and the Ram (dir. Jason Bradbury) – A tense encounter between a young man in distress and his reluctant saviour.
  • Land of the Free (dir. Dawid Ullgren) – A group of gay men enjoy a late- night birthday party in the park, but an encounter with 2 straight couples creates a situation.
  • Of Hearts and Castles (dir. Rubén Navarro) – When 2 lonely men meet they discover something revealing about each other and themselves.

Into the Unknown

The blurred lines of love and friendship between women are explored in these poignant and beautiful short films.

  • The Cost of Living (dir. Alice Trueman) – Lily is stuck in a state of ennui, until Death comes along in the form of a beautiful woman and entices her to live.
  • From A to Q (dir. Emmalie El Fadli) – Figuring out you have feelings for your best friend is half the battle.    
  • Girls Shouldn’t Walk Alone at Night (dir. Katerine Martineau) – Stranded at a remote beach, friends Delphine and Chantal lay their feelings bare to each other. 
  • Hello, Goodbye (dir. Sarah Rotella) – Sometimes love just isn’t enough to hold 2 people together.    
  • Love Is a Hand Grenade (dir. Jessica Benhamou) – Mixing drink, drugs and a friendship on eggshells was always going to be an explosive mix in this bittersweet British mini drama.   
  • Wings (dir. Jamie Weston) – Virginia McKenna and Miriam Margoles star as former Land Army Girls who reconnect in their twilight years.   

Queer as in Question Everything

Here’s a collection of funny, sweet and strange shorts for the natural contrarian. 

  • Acrimonious (dir. Olivia Emden) – Hilarious, heart-breaking and relatable all at once – how to bounce back when a breakup crashes you back down to earth?    
  • Bodies of Desire (dir. Asawari Jagushte) – In a conservative society, this is a passionate love poem to genderless intimacy.    
  • Pure (dir. Natalie Harris) – Whoever you are, whatever your desires, you too shall go to the prom!    
  • We Two (dir. Grace Porter) – A smart, meditative take on the gulf that emerges between ex-lovers.

Shapes We Make, Spaces We Take

Our relationship to our bodies and our homes have become more complex than ever. These 5 shorts up the ante, exploring where, how and with whom we feel at home.

  • Is It Me? (dir. Christopher McGill) – Body dysmorphia takes centre stage in this highly visual examination of the selves we invent to navigate the world.   
  • Space / Walk (dirs. Tarik Elmoutawakil, Amina Yousif, Carmen D’Cruz) – Two queer people talk intergenerational experience down on England’s south coast.   
  • Subjekträume / Subject Spaces (dir. Katharina Voß) – The fall of the Berlin Wall changes the political landscape for this cool dyke space.   
  • This Is an Address (dir. Sasha Wortzel) – Familiar footage of Sylvia Rivera by New York’s harbour, remixed as commentary on gentrification.   
  • Transitions II: Movement in Isolation (dir. Tobi Adebajo) – Aesthetically bold, visually rich – a beautiful non-linear encounter with the physical and social dimensions of chronic pain.

Striving to Be Seen

Inquisitive tales of resilience, memory and enlightenment in this largely fictional selection, traversing an expanse of trans experience across Europe and the Americas.

  • Dustin (dir. Naïla Guiguet) – A wild drug-fuelled ride and the long morning after follows the highs and lows of a Parisian party queen.   
  • Kind Of (dir. Noah Schamus) – Cute gay trans-masculine couple have a little lovers’ tiff over polyamory and penis envy, featuring rising star Garcia (Tales of the City).   
  • The Lights Are On, No One’s Home (dir. Faye Ruiz) – Familial grief gives sunshine to this beautiful film about finding your home on shifting sands.   
  • Trans Happiness Is Real (dir. Quinton Baker) – Young activists in Oxford wage a trans-positive graffiti war after discovering TERF stickers dotted around the city.   
  • Unliveable (dirs. Matheus Farias, Enock Carvalho) – Those close to a missing trans woman join forces to search for her, until a strange canister points towards an extra-terrestrial mystery.   
  • Victoria (dir. Daniel Toledo) – A florist receives a surprise visit from her ex-wife, uneasy at the next round of coming out.   

Virtual press and industry screenings on Shift72 begin Monday 15 March through Sun 21 March and the digital viewing library of features will be available from 22 to 28 March for accredited press and industry delegates.

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