As a city with a thriving gay community, London has gestated a long-standing reputation for queer cinema. And, in this regard, BFI Flare is the unrivalled champion. From its humble origins in 1986, as an annual season of gay and lesbian films entitled “Gay’s Own Pictures”, the annual festival has become recognised as the biggest LGBTQ+ film festival in Europe. Traditionally combining a mix of retrospective, present and future films, Flare’s programme is one which explores and examines key issues from across the queer spectrum. Film narratives celebrating sexual and gender identity, examining queer relationships, and dismantling anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice saturate the ten-day agenda.
After kicking off on the 21st of March, this year has offered an abundance of indies which have yet to hit UK audiences: the festival opened on Thursday evening with Vita & Virginia, which explores the all-consuming love affair between Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki); Mapplethorpe, Matt Smith’s critically acclaimed turn as the eponymous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, opened the next evening; and they were later joined by TransMilitary, a controversial documentary about trans soldiers serving openly in the U.S. military which collected the 2018 SXSW Audience Award.
There are some great foreign-language hits on offer, too. Armando Praca’s Berlinale darling Greta is a gorgeously kitsch debut exploring the friendship between two ageing queer friends; Rafiki, which made its British debut at the BFI London Film Festival in 2018, explores the illegality of a passionate romance shared by two Kenyan women; and The Blond One, the eighth feature by queer arthouse favourite Marco Berger, examines the relationship of two gay men in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. This is all capped off by some wonderful retrospectives, including the inimitable The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied, one of few films pre-Moonlight to explore the experiences of black, gay men.
Obviously, we can’t forget Flare’s iconic after-parties, which are totally free, totally public, and totally gay. The music promises to be as diverse as you’d expect from a series of queer kikis, with sets spanning from Bollywood and Arabic (Club Kaki), to women-fuelled pop and rock hits (‘Debbie Does BFI Flare’), to an evening of underground disco and electronica inspired by indie cult hit Knife + Heart (Saturday 30th). Mine’s a Long Island Iced Tea – what’re you having?