Best queer films from London’s most important festival

This year, our Managing Editor, Miruna Tiberiu, was invited to participate in the 37th edition of the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, one of the largest and most ground-breaking pursuits of its kind. Throughout the course of these two weeks, many films were watched, more tears shed, and, most importantly of all, the best queer talent in the film world, old and new, came together to celebrate our well-merited place at the forefront of filmmaking today. With many films holding their international premieres at the festival, now is the perfect time to catch the best of this year’s Flare in cinemas while you can. Here are our recommendations!

 

Winter Boy

Newcomer Paul Kirscher blows us away with his first lead role as Lucas, a 17-year old queer teenager living in rural France whose life is unexpectedly changed following the death of his father in a car accident. Narrated through retrospective voiceovers from a future Lucas looking back at this tumultuous year of his life, Christophe Honoré’s latest feature collapses time and everyday reality into a dreamy haze of a cinematic diary entry. It is through this eerie landscape that he brings in discussions of grief, the queer experience in rural life, self-destruction, and fate, incessantly prodding the audience with the questions: What is a grown up? Do we ever finish growing up? For fans of Xavier Dolan’s complicated families, colourfully-constructed shots, and camp disco soundtracks, looking for a tonally-mature depiction of teenage mental illness, Winter Boy is not one to miss.

The Stroll

The trans women of colour who once breathed life into New York City’s Meatpacking District come back now, three decades later, to immortalise through cinema a neighbourhood which is a crucial piece of queer American history, and which now risks being lost to the demons of gentrification. The titular ‘Stroll’ on 14th Street was where trans women earned their living through sex work, protecting each other during the process. It was also the site of violence – violence from police, from customers, but also from neighbours who were, more often than not, members of the LGBT+ community themselves. Kristen Lovell, a member of this community, weaves together interviews with archival footage from the 70s to the 90s, as well as animated recreations of personal stories, breathing a new, cinematic life into these stories of survival, and of creating living communities on the margins of society. After being left unsatisfied by the portrayal of The Stroll community in an older documentary, Lovell decided to take matters into her own hands, merging subject and object of the documentary into one. A film made by and for trans women of colour, The Stroll is the freshest film of its kind this year.

The Stroll (2023), dir. Kristen Lovell. Courtesy of BFI Flare.

American Parent

On the one hand a masterpiece in guerrilla filmmaking in the modern age, and on the other a heart-warming study of a young queer family getting by during the pandemic, American Parent follows two new mums as they raise their infant daughter whilst battling the odyssey of adult life and the pandemic context which makes everything a little more difficult. Steering clear of the tropes of the still young ‘Covid Cinema’ genre, director Emily Railsback’s film is instead refreshingly heartfelt, and so funny. Zoom backgrounds go wrong, the ‘hold’ music of an insurance company fills the stagnant silence of an afternoon, their daughter sits in the back of the car playing with a mask, and so Railsback draws giggles out of this monotony. Our two leads, Bette and Elsie, a theatre-maker and a university professor, battle these challenges head-on, smiling as they do so. As Bette says, ‘motherhood’s been pretty creative’. We can all find something within American Parent; it is not just a film about queer parenthood, or pandemic parenthood. It is a film about love, on all levels, about creativity beyond the regular tools for art, and about finding humour in the uncertain. 

Who I Am Not

Who I Am Not is a Romanian-produced documentary about intersex identity in South Africa, following Sharon-Rose Khumalo, beauty queen, and Dimakatso Sebidi, intersex rights activist, throughout their daily lives. These two subjects expose the multifaceted nature of the intersex experience, converging as they become friends, and share their hopes and fears for the future of the community in South Africa. We follow them through a series of spaces, both private and public, meeting their families, friends, significant others, but equally experiencing their everyday existence as they visit a laundromat, go to job interviews, or pay visit to the doctor. A more thorough exploration of how societal perception of the intersex community affects these small, everyday experiences is hard to come by. Moving between these cinema-verité vignettes and stylised, more abstract sequences, Who I Am Not removes the microscope that has incessantly towered over the two subjects’ lives since their births and allows them to take full control of their own identities for once.

PEAFOWL

South-Korean queer legend Choi Hae-jun brings her sharp wit and incredible dance skills as PEAFOWL’s lead, Shin Myung. Set partly in Seoul, and partly in the faraway village where Myung grew up, the film tells the story of a trans queen, well-known in waacking (a form of voguing) circles in the city, who gets news of her father’s death and must return to her closed-minded childhood home to pay respects. There, she is persuaded to perform a traditional dance ritual at his memorial in the hopes of receiving the inheritance he has left her, which she will use for her gender affirming surgery. Whilst wading through the waves of homophobia and gossip which wash over this small community, Myung persists, finding a small queer community in the village nonetheless. Crisp sound-mixing and ambitious cinematography bring to life the dazzling dance scenes, be it in dingy Seoul nightclubs, or the spring valley of the village. Whilst initially forced back into a past she had wanted to forget, Myung instead finds the roots of her love for dance in the Buddhist practices of her childhood and learns that you can both love and hate someone, even if they are your father. Whilst having tear-jerking moments, PEAFOWL emerges as a full-of-life celebration.


Honourable Mentions

Fierce: A Porn Revolution

Following the Swiss ethical porn production company Oil, this documentary captures, with enough fierceness to merit the title, the sheer passion and community-building required when you are young and fighting to make a change.

Chrissy Judy

This self-consciously pretentious dramedy follows a drag queen duo as they grow up and drift apart.

The Five Devils

Set in a rural French community, this smell-oriented sensory trip merges sci-fi and thriller with themes of memory, trauma, and forbidden love.

 

Stay tuned on the platform for more BFI Flare content coming soon! To read more about the festival, visit their website.

 

Miruna Tiberiu is managing editor of GAY45. She is a student at Cambridge University. Tiberiu has written for numerous publications, including The Cambridge Review of Books, and the Cambridge Language Collective. She is the co-founder and co-editor of Cambridge’s first all-queer magazine, Screeve. Tiberiu is currently in Paris carrying out her dissertation research on Franco-Romanian cinema and intend to continue this work as a postgraduate at Cambridge.

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