Tuesday, 24 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - Five Films For Freedom

Despite the best efforts of the Coronavirus to cancel every major film festival over the next couple of months, the BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ Film Festival team have adapted as best they could in these difficult times, moving some of the features and tons of the shorts over to the BFI Player so that people can enjoy them in the comfort of their own homes as #BFIFlareAtHome.

Among the short films is a collection they've dubbed Five Films For Freedom; a collection of dramas and documentaries from LGBTIQ+ filmmakers, telling stories that could only be told by them. Here's a brief overview of what they have to offer.

When Pride Came to Town follows Bjorn-Tore who left his rural hometown of Volda after coming out to move to Oslo to find acceptance. Decades later he's now returning to Volda to attend their Pride parade, the first of its kind for a rural Norwegian town. The film sees Bjorn-Tore find a town much different to the one he left, with his neighbours proudly hanging a rainbow flag outside, although the documentarians do explore the opinions of those locals whose attitudes haven't caught up yet, including one woman who states that "my best friend is gay and I'm okay with that. He's living in sin, of course", and the words of Hans Reite, a pastor who is against Pride parades happening anywhere. The reconciling of sexuality and religion is a common one in films at Flare, and When Pride Came to Town is just the tip of the iceberg for this year. Well structured and presented, this is an uplifting and moving doc that can see the visual power of the rainbow flag and uses it to its advantage.

134 is a short Irish drama that shows a young transgender girl as she competes in an Irish dancing tournament. Largely told from the point of view of the parents as her mother plays scenes from the past in her head from when she was unsupportive of her child's gender identity (something her father is still struggling to do), it only hints at the intolerance her daughter is facing in pursuing their dream, but there's an interesting idea in the exploration of Irish dancing (and competitive dancing as a whole) as an acutely gendered activity that needs to move away from its traditional definitions.

Flare is an international festival that screens films from across the globe, including the Brazilian short After That Party. Leo seeks the help of his friend Carol in working out how best to speak to his supposedly straight father after witnessing him kissing another man at a party. It's a premise that could have been mined for gritty drama, but instead After That Party is pleasantly light, fluffy and comedic in its presentation. It's a sweet natured film that's not interested in digging for drama in Leo's discovery, and is more interested in showing a story of acceptance, albeit with some comedy from the social awkwardness of it all.

The final documentary in this collection is a very short snapshot of Pxssy Palace, a monthly club night in Hackney that champions queer people of colour. In the doc there's a lot of voiceover explaining how they started with house parties before finding a fixed venue (a studio space in Hackney), with footage of them in fashion shoots and as photographers creating "an archive of queer nightlife". What's most surprising is the lack of footage from an actual club night to convey the real atmosphere. Instead the documentarians have given their subjects better lighting and a glittery back drop for them to dance in front of in slow motion, all the better to control their image. How very Hackney. It's a stylish and slick looking film, but plenty of room has been left to expand on the subject.

The final short in the collection is probably my favourite, and a rare genre short for this festival. Something in the Closet isn't shy about its subtext, when after a game of spin the bottle two teenage girls kiss in a closet for the first time. Struggling to know how to respond to the realisation of her sexuality, Madi avoids talking to her mother and faces the bullying of her friends, all while a malevolent force with glowing red eyes appears in her bedroom closet. A mini horror filled with teenage angst, forbidden love and a compelling story; it's a visual metaphor writ large, but done very well.

The Five Films For Freedom are available now on the BFI Player without a subscription, with plenty more shorts and features available to those who sign up. It's well worth taking advantage of a free trial membership just to catch some of the BFI Flare 2020 features that are being added during the festival.

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