• Luke Dowding

BURNING BRIGHT: BFI FLARE 2021

The BFI Flare Film Festival is usually something that my husband and I love to annually attend. We're not huge film buffs, and I'm personally more of a fan of a serialised drama than a standalone two-hour epic, but it is incredibly powerful to see LGBTIQ+ stories on the big screen. These stories might not be seen, heard, and felt if it were not for film festivals like the BFI Flare.


This year (17th - 28th March), of course, we can't attend the screenings in person - and whilst I'll miss the cinematic experience, I'm glad that I'll be able to access more of the films thanks to ticket costs which reflect the necessity to watch from home. I'm gladly supporting LGBTIQ+ artists and stories from my sofa this year, whilst hoping that the festival might be back in person for 2022.


We've selected six films to watch from the much more manageable 2021 programme (in previous years the sheer abundance of content has left me feeling a little lost on how to choose), and as we watch I'll be writing up some thoughts and reflections, which I'll add to the below. Stay tuned!


It's still possible to book tickets for many of the films, and I'd really encourage you to try something new this year and give something you wouldn't normally watch a go!


So, here's our list to delightfully work our through over the course of the festival (alphabetical by Director's surname):


Rūrangi

Director: Max Currie ****

A sensitive and provocative film that is truly needed in today's anti-trans climate. Whilst passionately exploring a difficult homecoming and all that might entail for trans people, Rūrangi also grapples with the complexities of other marginalised communities, the abundance of crippling shame for so many, and the power of claiming our own identity. Perhaps many LGBTQ+ people will likely identify with the drive to find fulfilment and purpose in helping others like us, and the impact that this can have on our mental and physical wellbeing.


Sublet

Director: Eytan Fox

****

The meeting of generations is often bumpy, but this brief visit to Tel Aviv manages to guide us through this connecting of two very different souls. There are the needed references to a broader complicated life for Israelis and Palestinians, the expected but not clichéd disconnect between a man who has lost loved ones to AIDS and his counterpart who doesn't see why everything always has to be so depressing and "gay", and the beautiful moments when peace is fleetingly found.


Poppy Field

Director: Eugen Jebeleanu ***

Grey Communist tenements set the tone for this well-focussed exploration of masculinity, religious animosity, and the conflicts caused by our hidden selves. Through minimal but not limited locations, we are drawn further into the rage, fear, and internalised homophobia that fuels Cristi's suffering. It's setting in Romania where, like much of the post-Communist states of the region, the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people remain subjective at best, is a presence like the shadowy architecture the film slowly begins with.


Sweetheart

Director: Marley Morrison ***

Experiencing your teenage years with constant access to all that's going on the world certainly provides the protagonist, AJ, with more than her fair share of guilt and concern for the state of things. A film that nostalgically reflects on the "British seaside holiday" and reminds us all of those fleeting holiday romances, whatever our age, with wit and sensitivity. This is not a "coming out" film, but perhaps a "coming to terms" film instead - where each of the lead characters has an opportunity to consider who they are, and why... even 9 year old Dana, bless her.


I Am Samuel

Director: Pete Murimi

**** Contrasting the sprawling buildings of Nairobi with the almost red fields of Western Kenya, we are invited to share the experiences of life as a gay couple in a state that still criminalises homosexuality. Alternating between the difficulties of making enough to live in the city, and the endless work required to manage farmland, we are witness to the depths of struggle that LGBTQ+ Kenyans face, in civil society and in their own homes. There are also glimmers of resounding joy in amongst the inevitable conflict, and beautiful, yet simple observations of Kenyan customs. This is a documentary that seeks to speak honestly to queer experience in Kenya, and the complex tapestry that is woven between families, friends, partners, society, and culture.


Boy Meets Boy

Director: Daniel Sánchez López

***

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Mirrors feature briefly in this film, but in many ways the two leads use each to see parts of themselves long forgotten or ignored. They are alike in worldview, career, or upbringing, and so over the course of their day long date after a chance encounter on a night out, opportunities to ask compelling questions are unearthed. What drives our desire? How do we respond to it? Who am I as a sexual being? What prevents me from realising my potential? The simple concept provides space for discourse, without forcing resolution.

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