Who doesn’t love a makeover? For more than a quarter of a century, it’s been the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival but last year, the British Film Institute decided it was time to change things up and went looking for a new name for the capital’s biggest queer screenfest. The result is BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival, and its debut edition – which would have been the 28th LLGFF – runs from March 20-30 at BFI Southbank. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday February 26) for BFI members and on Monday March 3 for everyone else, so seems a good time for a trawl through the programme.
There’s lots to get a bit moist about. The opening film, Lilting by Brit director Hong Khaou, sees gay actor Ben Whishaw in his first gay leading feature role, while closing title 52 Tuesdays, by Aussie Sophie Hyde, is a conceptually intriguing view of a trans parent’s yearlong transition. The Scream Queens: Gay Boys and the Horror Film strand looks under the bed to see why the gays love a good slasher while We Loved Caged Lesbians recalls how orange has always been the new black.
There’s also a chance to see veteran provocateur Bruce LaBruce’s take on intergenerational lurve, Gerontophilia, and portraits of several substantial queer artists: Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton profiles the San Francisco poet, filmmaker and eventual radical faerie, I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole showcases the pioneering pornographer and ballet dancer, and a short film about Peggy Shaw screens with Croc-A-Dyke Dundee, the Legend of Dawn O’Donnell, a strong contender for best punning title of the fest.
But for the following round-up of 10 titles to catch at the first BFI Flare, I’ve gone for things that hit that Not Television sweet spot, where film and moving image intersect with live performance, club culture, big-hearted community-making and fuck-you activism. What’s not to like?
“Shoes and a smile, that’s all you need…” Charles Lum and Todd Verow’s brilliant portrait of Vauxhall’s trailblazing fetish club The Hoist is at once a history of sexual liberation and a warning against complacency. It’s sweet, funny and defiant and features both thematically appropriate hardcore sex and familiar faces, from Peter Tatchell and the BFI’s own Brian Robinson to Jeffrey Hinton, Ingo Cando and Ashley Ryder. The whole film is stolen by the cleaner, though, who among many gems comes up with the phrase that should have been the film’s title: “If this sling could talk…”
This is a fine companion piece to Age of Consent (above), another documentary about an iconic sexualised queer venue, in this case the Continental bathhouse that redefined New York’s gay nightlife culture between 1968 and 1974. Sauna, performance space, disco, roof garden, celebrity patrons, even operatic ‘black towel’ events – the Continental had it all. It also gave the world Bette Midler and Frankie Knuckles. What’s most impressive is owner Steve Ostrow’s apparently equally sincere commitment to incredible high-end hedonism and heartfelt social justice.
Writer, performance artist, ‘recovering Scientologist’ and gender outlaw Kate Bornstein has long been one of the wittiest and most humane trans voices around – albeit one with a taste for a scrap too. This documentary profile promises copious archive material, on-the-road footage and lots of animals.
As a DJ, photographer, filmmaker and more, Jeffrey Hinton has been making and documenting queer London nightlife culture for more than 30 years, with a particular soft spot for alt drag insanity. The V&A and NPG have cottoned on, showcasing special compilations of Hinton’s unique archive material, and now he’s taking to the BFI stage for a screening and chinwag in what’s sure to be a stand-out event. Afterwards catch a bit more proper history in The Alternative Miss World, a rare screening of footage from the 1978 Clapham Common edition of Andrew Logan’s cult underground event featuring Divine, Little Nell and John Maybury.
This sounds intriguing. Drako is an exhibitionist and performer with a CV including work with Dalí and Jarman; a look that embraces cape, waxed tache and tattooed cock; and a rare form of amnesia that leaves him without short-term memories. (Plus the weirdly lovely animated short Benjamin’s Flowers.)
One of the performance highlights of 2013’s LLGFF was Gender Failure, a mix of song, video and spoken word by Canadian trans polymaths Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon. Spoon’s back this year with a formally adventurous doc about their ambivalent yet intense relationship to the prairies and people of Alberta.
This shorts selection showcases work with a performance element, including the recreation of a trove of queer photos from 80s Poland, a new spin on All About Eve, a musical take on Larry Craig and nekkid fun from supersexy, superfreaky NYC performer and Pussy Faggot regular Gio Black Peter.
As you might have noticed, riot grrrl is enjoying a bit of a resurgence – as is one of its key figures, Kathleen Hanna, late of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Sini Anderson’s doc aims both to introduce her to newbies and to account for the radio silence that had fans pondering what became of Hanna in recent years.
Brazilian men, teenage cops, experimental cabaret, an ‘asshole song’… You had me at olà. This drama recreates the lives and loves of a taboo-busting performance troupe that somehow flourished under Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 70s. Sex, drugs and glittery satire-a-go-go.
A special addition to the ongoing celebrations of what would have been Derek Jarman’s 70th birthday year, this never-before-screened footage was shot on video by Jarman at Benjy’s nightclub in the east end in 1984 as a recce for Nighthawks director Ron Peck’s 1987 thriller Empire State. Screening unedited, it’s less a film than a curiosity, a grab-bag of awkward bar conversations and attempts to get more than a handful of people onto the dancefloor. But it’s suffused with period character, from the music (Relax, Jump (For My Love)) to the clothes (geometric patterning, jackets with rolled-up sleeves) to the dance moves (breakdancing, bodypopping, vogueing). And it’s punctuated with fascinating moments of Jarman’s thinking in action, experimenting with video light trails or spinning round while he dances with The Angelic Conversation’s Phillip Williamson or an older patron dressed all in white.
BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival is at BFI Southbank March 20 to 30. More info here.