Opening and closing night films announced for BFI Flare LGBTQIA+ Film Festival 2024

The European premiere of Amrou Al-Kadhi's Layla will open the festival, with the world premiere of Luke Willis’s Lady Like to close.

30 January 2024

Layla (2024)

The 38th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival (13 to 24 March at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player) today announces its opening night gala is the European premiere of Layla, Amrou Al-Kadhi’s confident debut feature, and its closing night gala is the world premiere of docu-fiction Lady Like by director/producer Luke Willis. Filmmakers are expected to be in attendance. 

The European premiere of Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Layla, which recently had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, opens the festival on Wednesday 13 March. 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. When their performance at a belittling corporate Pride event turns into a transgressive takedown, they are surprised to catch the eye of marketing executive Max, whose attentions sweep Layla off their feet. The two start an intoxicating romance, but as Layla starts altering who they are to keep Max’s interest, they both face uncomfortable truths.

The closing night gala on Saturday 23 March is the world premiere of Lady Like, which 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.

Lady Like (2024)
Photo by Matt Burke

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.

“We’re thrilled to be bookending BFI Flare with home-grown talent,” say the programmers. “Our opening night film, Layla, welcomes drag queen and filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi back to the festival, with their debut feature about a British-Palestinian drag queen learning to embrace their identity. And we close the festival with Luke Willis’s Lady Like, an intimate portrait of RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist, British-born Lady Camden and her journey to success. These films are reminders of the power of drag in a world that deliberately misunderstands it in order to persecute the queer community.”

Written and directed by Amrou Al-Kadhi and produced by Savannah James-Bayly, both alumni of 2017’s BFI Flare x BAFTA (run in partnership with BFI NETWORK), the festival’s annual professional development programme, Layla is their debut feature. Developed and financed by Film4 and the BFI Filmmaking Fund (awarding National Lottery funding), executive producers include Farhana Bhula, Louise Ortega, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Kevin M. Lin, Michael Y. Chow and Mary Burke.

“It’s such a profound honour and joy to be opening BFI Flare this year,” says Al-Kadhi. “BFI Flare has been utterly instrumental to my career. The fantastic BFI Flare x BAFTA mentorship programme was where I met Savannah James-Bayly, my now forever producer and best friend, with whom I went on to make four shorts, almost all of which screened at the festival. So, we are deeply proud to be bringing our first feature, Layla, home to BFI Flare. Layla is a film dedicated to the creative resilience of the queer community, and a love-letter to queer joy — to be opening the festival where I first felt the impact of joyful representation on screen, found my people and laid the foundations of my career, is a cosmic gift, and I simply cannot wait to celebrate Layla with my community.”

Lady Like is the first feature film by Luke Willis, whose previous credits include Pool Boy and The Summer House – both BFI Flare official selections. Willis produced the film along with Cookie Walukas (Saleh and the Spades, Black Is King).

Willis says: “I cannot think of a better place to premiere Lady Like than BFI Flare! This story builds to Lady Camden‘s long-awaited return home to London to perform for the first time at the very nightclub that he ever went to as a young gay boy – Heaven. It will be such a blast to share this inspiring story that starts in Camden, finds itself in San Francisco, traverses the globe, and ends in London with BFI Flare audiences!”

The full programme for BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival will be revealed on Tuesday 13 February at 11am.