BFI FLARE: The UK’s Leading LGBTQ+ Film Festival at 33

Film Editor | Graciela Mae Chico

Last March saw another successful year of the BFI Flare Film Festival, the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ film festival. The 33rd edition of Flare was opened by Chanya Button’s highly anticipated Vita & Virginia and closed by the European premiere of Justin Kelly’s JT LeRoy. Over the eleven-day festival, the BFI also programmed insightful talks such as Lethal Lesbians andTrans Creative at the Moviesto accompany the selected titles, as well as discourse currently surrounding the community. This year, the BFI also partnered with the British Council for #FiveFilms4Freedom — a digital campaign that gave the public free access to five selected LGBTQ+ short films. With the endangered rights of the LGBTQ+ community in countries such as Brunei, the campaign truly proved itself as groundbreaking. The BFI reports that the films were played over 3.9 million times globally.

With screening attendance and online viewership numbers higher than ever, the public interest for queer content is unquestionably there. In a media landscape which is still just scratching the surface at LGBTQ+ representation, events such as Flare offer filmmakers and audiences a platform to share their stories and to finally be represented on screen. Split into ‘Hearts’, ‘Bodies’, and ‘Minds’, the festival must be lauded for its showcase of stories from marginalised voices within the queer community itself. While not as heavily advertised as the white-centric opening and closing feature films, Flare’s selection of short films such as Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Anemone — a wondrous insight into a second-generation teen’s exploration of gender identity — and Singaporean animated film Between Us Twoby Wei Keong Tan, promises an even brighter and more colourful future for queer cinema.

Four Films from Flare

Vita and Virginia: The Reinvention of Literature’s Oldest Love Affair
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As if mirroring its elusive subjects, Chanya Button’s highly anticipated Vita and Virginiafinally had its UK premiere after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. While the love affair that catalysed one of Virginia Woolf’s most iconic novels, Orlando, is no secret, this cinematic reimagining of Woolf’s legendary relationship with Vita Sackville-West is the first of its kind. With Elizabeth Debicki playing Woolf and Gemma Arterton portraying Sackville-West, the magnetic chemistry between the two literary figures is there, but the latter manages to steal the show. Arterton depicts the twentieth-century socialite’s beguiling charm so effortlessly that you are seduced to focus on her electric performance throughout the film. Button binds the century-old tale with flares of contemporariness; using CGI to anchor the two lead’s fourth-wall breaking monologues, and having an electro-pop score by Isobel Waller-Bridge.  This undeniable feeling of modernity perfectly anchors the ‘contemporary’ nature of its subjects — fantastically encapsulating the story of Vita and Virginia in a way that is unafraid to reinvent the conventional period drama. Vita & Virginia comes out in UK cinemas on July 5.

Giant Little Ones: A Confused Coming of Age Tale

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 Canadian coming-of-age drama Giant Little Onesfocuses on sixteen-year-old Franky, the typical happy-go-lucky jock, he seemed to have it all, a picture-perfect suburban neighbourhood surrounding him as he cycles to school every morning. With a white, male protagonist at the forefront of an LGBTQ+ high school drama, it is easy to see why it has been compared to last year’s Love, Simon. However, writer-director Keith Kehrman presents a film with a much grittier and complex narrative. Rather than Franky coming out, the film focuses on the consequences of an incident with his best friend Ballas. The two drunkenly stumble in the same bed after Franky’s seventeenth birthday party, their ‘experimentation’ eventually making its rounds across the high school. However, rather than facing the bullying together, Ballas is revealed to have initiated the gossip — telling everyone that it was solely Franky who initiated everything. Reflective of the teenage stories it’s trying to tell, the film is, at times, messy, inconsistent, and fuelled by raging hormones. While the film must be lauded for its attempts at representing older generations coming out, as well as inferring characters’ embrace of sexual and gender fluidity, it tries to tackle too many narratives in its short ninety-minute runtime. In the end, it leaves you hungry for more concrete conclusions and backstories, but it does succeed in portraying a glimpse of the ever-changing world of teenagers.

JT LeRoy: Stewart and Dern Shine in a Monotonous Biopic

Bookending the other half of the Flare programme is another film about a literary icon, this time about the fraudulent literary persona JT LeRoy. Created in the 1990s, JT Leroy was a persona created by Laura Albert (Laura Dern) to author three ‘autobiographical’ books based on JT’s life as a teenage boy who experienced immense poverty, drug use, and emotional and sexual abuse during his coming-of-age. Eventually the success of the novels needed its author to face the public, Laura asks her sister-in-law (Kristen Stewart) to play JT — playing on gender and public presentation. Albeit a hearty bio-pic, the film fails to go beyond the conformities of the genre. Alongside the newfound ‘relatability’  for today’s social media age, the only other key selling point of the film is the remarkable performances from its two stars, the film really allows Dern and Stewart to flex on their comedic skills. While Justin Kelly might not have created a revolutionary addition to the world of biopics, it is still a film wherein Laura Dern purposefully puts on a ghastly British accent and Kristen Stewart gets to be her mysterious and alluring self.J.T LeRoy comes out in UK cinemas on August 12.

Carmen and Lola (Carmen y Lola):
A Tender Tale of First Love

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For her feature directorial debut, Arantxa Echevarría explores an untouched area in coming-of-age films. Centring around a close-knit Roma community in Madrid, Carmen (Rosy Rodriguez) and Lola (Zaira Romero) fall deeply in love in place which strives to tear them apart. The classic tale of opposites attract is revisited in Echevarría’s film, while Carmen is a recently engaged and glamorous aspiring hair salon owner, Lola is a tomboy and street artist who dreams of becoming a teacher. Albeit the film does fall into well-worn narrative tropes, the film is absolutely vital in starting the conversation surrounding a community that is not often represented on screen; the script unafraid to point out the community’s rather patriarchal and heteronormative ways. What creative risks the cinematography and editing lack is retrieved by phenomenal performances — not only the actors playing the titular roles but the supporting cast, too. Consisting of mostly non-professional actors, Carmen and Lolahas such a purity and realism in it that makes you fall in love when the characters do, as well as feeling their heartbreak and pain during the scenes which showcase the consequences of their romance. Echevarría and her team clearly made the film with such passion and love, and that unquestionably comes across on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: https://variety.com/2018/film/reviews/carmen-and-lola-review-1202816670/// credit: Super8

 

For her feature directorial debut, Arantxa Echevarría explores an untouched area in coming-of-age films. Centring around a close-knit Roma community in Madrid, Carmen (Rosy Rodriguez) and Lola (Zaira Romero) fall deeply in love in place which strives to tear them apart. The classic tale of opposites attract is revisited in Echevarría’s film, while Carmen is a recently engaged and glamorous aspiring hair salon owner, Lola is a tomboy and street artist who dreams of becoming a teacher. Albeit the film does fall into well-worn narrative tropes, the film is absolutely vital in starting the conversation surrounding a community that is not often represented on screen; the script unafraid to point out the community’s rather patriarchal and heteronormative ways. What creative risks the cinematography and editing lack is retrieved by phenomenal performances — not only the actors playing the titular roles but the supporting cast, too. Consisting of mostly non-professional actors, Carmen and Lolahas such a purity and realism in it that makes you fall in love when the characters do, as well as feeling their heartbreak and pain during the scenes which showcase the consequences of their romance. Echevarría and her team clearly made the film with such passion and love, and that unquestionably comes across on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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