One of the largest and most significant celebrations of queer cinema in Europe, the 33rd edition of acclaimed LGBTQ film festival BFI Flare, returns to the Southbank from 21st March to 31st March this year.
Featuring a powerful, thought-provoking and eclectic mix of features, shorts, discussions, talks, workshops and club nights, this year’s festival reflects on themes of sex, identity, politics and community.
With more than 50 full-length features and 80 shorts by filmmakers from across the globe, we spoke to festival programmer Zorian Clayton, to help shortlist a selection of essential docs from this year’s programme.
Little Miss Westie
This touching doc about a Connecticut family avoids a lot of the usual cliches that surround trans-youth. Many films about trans-kids have a sadness or wariness to them, by contrast this is so joyful in so many ways. The parents are incredibly open to being educated by their kids about non-binary and trans-identity. It’s a real breath of fresh air. It’s a lovely look into the life of this progressive family in New England whose children enter a local talent/beauty pageant. Neither kid is striving for a stereotypical beauty aesthetic, they enter the competition as individuals – they do what they want, look how they want and make no attempt to copy what the other kids are doing. It’s really open-minded and free and fun – it has a ‘be yourself’ joy about it.
Whilst watching Man Made I found myself rooting for every contestant completely! The subjects are all bodybuilders going to this annual FitCon, the world’s first trans-fitness competition, and they open up to the director with a frankness and honesty you could only get from having a fellow trans person behind the camera. It’s a window into this supportive community formed by guys from across America and all across the world. It’s revealing in a way that’s never once salacious. The people in it are all very different and at different stages in their transition and the bravery of some of the performers, who stand on stage, topless, some of them without having had top surgery, is staggering. It’s such a supportive environment that the competitors are able to momentarily break away from their personal body dysmorphia. It’s a lovely feature, and great to see trans filmmakers telling the stories of the community.
Leitis In Waiting
The Leitis, like many places in the Pacific Islands and across Asia, have a historic third gender – one that sort of occupies a space close to trans or non-binary identities. Because it’s an area of the world that largely avoided colonization they managed to develop a more inclusive understanding of gender. Now that binary identities have begun to make their way to these Polynesian islands, people who have been accepted for many, many centuries are under threat. Homophobia and transphobia is being brought over now with the arrival of western culture. It’s a really unique insight into how precarious these traditions can be, but it also offers a potential look at how our thinking about gender could change for the better.
Shelter: Farewell To Eden
This doc is a stunning co-production with Italy and France about a trans-migrant from Libya. Crucially, to protect her anonymity, you never see her face. The filmmaker travels with them through the mountains of Italy, through France and right on through to Britain. It’s a perilous journey spent living in tented communities and forests, by motorways and under bridges. It’s beautifully shot and really illuminates what life can be like in these ‘nowhere places.’ The subject, Pepsi, is striking – she’s so philosophical about the world and their situation. She’s almost sage like. On paper it sounds like a very grueling story, but in reality it’s an extraordinary journey that’s beautifully shot.
This is a fascinating film. Before watching it, I had no idea the American military was the largest employer of trans-people in the USA. Before Trump began to roll back protections for trans service people there were activists inside trying to reform the military’s rules about trans identity. One point where it looked like real progress was being made, was the question of uniforms. The US military used to have very strict rules about what uniform trans people could wear based on whether they could ‘pass.’ It resulted in a situation where trans people were pitted against one another, with some allowed to express themselves and others not. This doc tells the story of the veterans who’d been fighting this stuff for a long time, and what happens to the progress they’ve made when their futures are completely thrown into question. Transmilitary does a great job illuminating how people exist in such a gendered system.
The Fruit Machine
In the 1960s huge swathes of people were rounded up and kicked out of their jobs by the Canadian government just as legislation was being passed to ensure legal protections for LGBT people. The government, before these laws were passed, realised they had very limited time to get rid of people. I think around 8,000 queer people in the army, police and civil service were fired in the most humiliating way. These people were bombarded with question after question about their sex lives for days on end in windowless rooms. People who were a part of it couldn’t believe what was happening to them, they had their rights completely trampled. The Fruit Machine is a really arresting look at government sponsored persecution.
Call Her Ganda
Though it’s tough to watch, Call Her Ganda is an absolutely essential film. It’s a triumph of documentary storytelling and really important that these cases are being spotlighted. The film provides a long overdue deep dive into colonial history and its wide ranging effects. It reminds me a bit of the Free Cece film we screened a couple of years ago which was about a black woman who’s attacked, unprovoked, by transphobes and who ended up being sent to prison herself for fighting back. There are a lot of parallels. It’s hard-hitting but really important that these films are getting out there and getting a big audience. These kinds of things can change policy, they can really educate people.