A round-up of 2016's BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival

04 Apr 2016 BY Joe Ursell

8 mins
BFI Flare Festival 2016
BFI Flare Festival 2016

Flare is the British Film Institute (BFI)'s annual showcase of LGBT cinema from around the world. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016, the festival has long been a platform for challenging, provocative and celebratory film, leading onto wider social and political discussion regarding LGBT issues. 

The festival is also a great opportunity for young filmmakers to bring their films to a wider international audience, with some seeing their work on the big screen for the very first time. This year's programme of films was particularly rich for stories made by and about young people, and we went along to check out some of the highlights.

Every summer, Flare do a nationwide tour of some of their titles and keep an eye out for many of these films coming to cinemas and DVD soon!

The Kids Are Alright 

The Kids Are Alright is an international collection of short films about LGBT children and young people at different stages of their lives. Tomgirl is an inspiring documentary about Jake, a seven year-old ice-hockey nut who refuses to be restricted by any form of gender binary, while the autobiographical Sixth Grade Slow Dance told the story of an Israeli boy dreaming of dancing with his best friend Noam at the school disco. Nasser is a sensitive story about a 13 year-old Dutch girl of Moroccan descent who refuses to conform to her mother's societal expectations of how she should dress as she enters adolescence. However the highlight was perhaps Siri Rødnes' Scottish based Take Your Partners, an Into Film backed project telling the story of Ollie, who refuses to make her Easter bonnet like the other girls, creating something far more interesting and personal instead. 

Women He's Undressed

Women He's Undressed is a riotously entertaining documentary about legendary Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly. The winner of three Oscars through his work on such films as Some Like It HotCasablanca and An American In Paris, Orry-Kelly was also shunned by many closeted high-profile figures in the entertainment industry, who felt threatened by what he knew about their lifestyles. With brilliantly chosen clips, and a parade of today's most prominent costume artists lining up to both analyse what made his work so brilliant, and to illuminate the impact that costume can have on an audience's experience of film and character, this is a must watch for any devotees of Hollywood's golden age, or dedicated followers of fashion.

Coming Out 

It is increasingly common for young LGBT people to document their coming out process and share it with the online community. These videos can inspire people who may be feeling scared or isolated, providing access to a community they did not know was there. Filmmaker Alden Peters takes this one stage further with Coming Out, turning his story into a feature length documentary. Alden is nervous, but determined to have his story be an empowering one. Using home-movie footage from growing up, as well as monologues from other YouTubers, the result is a serious, heartfelt but wonderfully uplifting and often extremely funny film. Peters stated that he wanted to make the film he wished he'd seen before coming out. He succeeded. 

Real Boy 

Much like Coming Out, Real Boy is a documentary that focuses on the positive impact social media is having on young people's experiences of coming out. Here, it is a 19 year-old trans man named Bennett, who finds love and support through the online community, even as many in his own blood family are struggling to accept him for who he is. Movingly documenting Bennett's journey, as well as that of his mother, the film is an unflinching look into the realities of addiction, the physical process of transitioning, and at learning how to deal with what comes after. For Bennett, a hugely talented singer-songwriter, the answer to the latter question is complicated, but overwhelmingly positive. 

Henry Gamble's Birthday Party 

Henry Gamble is about to turn 17 and his devoutly religious family are throwing a pool party for him and his friends. Over the course of the afternoon, all sorts of secrets emerge from a wide assortment of characters, particularly those - like Henry - that are struggling to conceal their identities, or are still discovering who they are. This is a charming, powerful story that is at once ambitious and very human. Refusing to reduce any of its characters to caricature, and exploring prejudice in many of its destructive forms, the film is an affecting story of friendship, repression, desire and love.

Departure

A sensitive, slightly pretentious teenage boy and his mother head down to their holiday home in the south of France in preparation to sell it. He becomes infatuated with a biker boy who lives nearby, while his mother is dealing with her own loneliness, with the boy's father back in England. This is a confident debut feature from director Andrew Steggall, influenced by many realist French films, that isn't afraid to engage with complex issues. There are strong performances across the board, particularly from Alex Lawther as the boy and Juliet Stevenson as his mother. Full of small, quiet moments of heartache and tenderness, this is a worthy addition to the complex world of coming-of-age cinema. 

Closet Monster

We also sent along Anisha, one of our young reporters, to watch Canadian coming-of-age drama Closet Monster. This is what she had to say:

Watching Stephen Dunn's 'Closet Monster' truly reminded me of the momentously affecting nature of film. Before the screening, Stephen Dunn introduced his debut with an impassioned welcome, which left the audience, myself included, acknowledging the dedication and meaning behind the film. I admired how elements of metaphor and stylisation worked in conjunction with the protagonists realisation of his own sexuality. The Q&A with Stephen Dunn afterwards also stressed the significance films like this hold for cinema and its surrounding community. With the movies themes resonating in mind, I left Flare feeling part of something great. I also learnt that it's effective and important to consider truth and empathy when representing identity and sexuality in film.

We couldn't agree more with Anisha's assessment, and thoroughly recommend seeking out some of the titles mentioned above and embracing the rich, diverse world of LGBT cinema that exists across the UK. And be sure to make your way down to Flare for the next festival in 2017!

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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