The annual transformation of BFI Southbank into London’s most vibrant gay venue is upon us. Until Easter Sunday, this is the home of the 32nd BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and it’s another year of great movies, cool events and lots of flirtatious dancing under Waterloo Bridge.
The opening film is My Days of Mercy (Wed 21st), starring Ellen Page as an activist who travels around America protesting outside prisons where executions are taking place. Unexpectedly, she’s drawn to pro-death penalty activist Kate Mara.
Closing night is Postcards From London (31st Mar), starring Beach Rats hunk Harris Dickinson as an Essex teen who runs away from home, and in Soho is adopted by a group of rent-boys who service art patrons.
The centrepiece screening is A Deal With the Universe, a documentary about a trans man’s unusual journey to start a family. And there’s also a special presentation of 120 BPM, the rightly acclaimed French drama tracing a love story amid AIDS activists in early 1990s Paris. The film opens in cinemas soon, so this is a rare chance to see it with an appreciative queer audience.
Among films focussing on romance and relationships, the highlight is Love, Simon, the gay high school love story currently taking America by storm, winning triumphant reviews. It stars Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as a teen who is pushed to come out to his family and friends.
There’s also the award-winning The Wound, an astonishing South African drama about a rite of passage and secret sexuality. And The Happy Prince is written and directed by Rupert Everett, who also stars as an ageing Oscar Wilde alongside the likes of Emily Watson and Colin Firth.
Also worth a look: Hard Paint (an erotic webcam drama from Brazil), Mario (a Swiss drama about love between macho footballers), The Revival (a controversial drama about a young Arkansas pastor who hooks up with a hot drifter) and Rift (an Icelandic mystery thriller about a guy who lures his ex-boyfriend into the wilderness).
In the section exploring sex and identity, the highlights include Freak Show, which stars Alex Lawther (Departure) as a camp teen who decides to run for homecoming queen. And Bette Midler plays his mum! David Hoyle is also back, so watch out for Uncle David 2, which follows his 2010 gem with what promises to be a twisty, disturbing sequel. And then there’s the unmissable Martyr, a controversial and almost overpoweringly homoerotic drama about a group of furry Muslim men in Lebanon.
Keep an eye out also for Alaska Is a Drag (about a preacher’s son training as both a boxer and a drag queen), Coby (which documents a young man’s transformation in small-town America), Conversations With Gay Elders (the new doc from We Were Here filmmaker David Weissman) and Pulse (an offbeat Australian drama with a body-switch twist that cleverly tackles gender, sexuality and disability).
With mostly documentaries that touch on art and politics, the hot tips in this section include The 34th, which chronicles the fight for marriage equality in Ireland. And Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco details the story of the iconic New York fashion illustrator who unapologetically charmed, and usually slept with, everyone he met. Along the way, he also launched the careers of Grace Jones, Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange.
Also worth a look are Rebels on Pointe (an inside look at the all-male dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo), and a pair of archival docs: Cherry Grove Stories (a documentary about the pre-Stonewall gay community on Fire Island) and Dear Fredy (exploring the life of the openly gay Czech gymnast who carried on helping others even after the Nazis sent him to Auschwitz).
Throughout the programme, there are 12 short film programmes and several movies from the archive, including a special collection of films exploring how HIV/AIDS has been depicted on-screen over the decades.
Festival events include the annual Big Gay Film Quiz (Thurs 29th), for which revising is recommended, and Gay Garb (Thurs 29th), a clip lecture celebrating queer costume designers in early 20th century.
Of course there are also club nights throughout the festival. Debbie Does Flare (Sat 24th) is a night of all-girl disco hits. Club Kali hits the Southbank on Thursday 29th. The Prince Farah Show (Fri 30th) arrives with even more disco. And Unskinny Bop (Sat 31st) is the closing night bash, with tickets available to the public.
It all wraps up on 1st April with Second Chance Sunday, where for only £8 you can see the best of the festival along with the year’s top queer movies, including Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country and A Fantastic Woman.