BFI Flare – the UK’s longest-running queer film event – has concluded for another year. This 37th edition of the festival saw a number of world premieres including Corey Sherman’s Big Boys, Shamim Sarif’s Polarized, and John Hay’s Willem and Frieda. However, as well as consistently delivering stacked programs of LGBTQ+ feature films, the festival is also known for screening vast collections of short films. This year was no different as the BFI Flare program included no less than 90 queer shorts, and we’ve picked out some of the best.
My Dear Boy
Just because short films have more concise run times doesn’t mean they can’t tell big stories. Expertly condensing an entire relationship into just five minutes, Leaf Lieber’s My Dear Boy demonstrates this beautifully. Whilst one of the characters audibly reflects upon the relationship, audiences are treated to an array of striking visuals that convey a vivid snapshot of this couple’s time together. It’s a gorgeous glimpse of a relationship that wasn’t meant to last forever, but that nonetheless has value. The same can be said of the short itself which is stylish, energetic, and mature, excelling in telling a succinct yet powerful story.
If art imitates life then, shouldn’t it imitate all life? Queer painter Sadie Lee certainly thinks so, and Sarah Myland’s Private View documents her putting her words into action as she paints a portrait of nonbinary writer Libro Levi Bridgeman. It’s more than just a film about an artist painting a portrait: the short acts as an interesting showcase of both Sadie and Libro’s wealth of outstanding work. The pair also have a rich discussion about LGBTQ+ terminology, their life experiences, and why they wanted to be involved in this project. Above everything else, Private View is an unabashed celebration of nonbinary bodies and the power and beauty they hold.
Best known for outstanding turn in It’s a Sin, Omari Douglas’s latest work see’s him taking the plunge in Michael Gamarano Singleton’s short film Swim. The short follows two swimmers who make a friendly connection during their weekly pool sessions. There’s an inherent homoeroticism that comes with men in speedos that might lead you to think this short only has one thing on its mind, and while this might initially seem the case, the actors’ cute and awkward chemistry take the short in a much different direction. However, it’s when they dry off that the real drama occurs and Swim becomes a painfully accurate reminder of just how closedminded people can be when faced with the authentic self-expression of others.
Where Do All the Old Gays Go?
Queer elders are not seen nearly enough on screen. Thankfully, Cathy Dunne’s short documentary makes an effort to remedy this. As she shines a spotlight on a variety of older Irish LGBTQ+ people, they candidly discuss their life experiences and the differences between growing up queer now, compared to when they did. And whilst they each communicate unique stories and insights, one concern they all share is the thought of heteronormative care as they continue to age. The film does a wonderful job at raising awareness of this issue and ultimately is an entertaining, informative, and emotional showcase of some of the queer community’s most overlooked.
With such a suggestive title, you could be forgiven for thinking that John Fitzpatrick’s Outdoors might be devoted to exploring this common kink of gay men. It’s not quite that, but it does begin with a chance encounter in a park. Bim and Nathan – who are portrayed wonderfully by Sam Goodchild and Nathan Ives-Moiba – have electric, flirtatious chemistry which results in one particularly steamy sequence. But there’s more to Outdoors than just sex. It’s a tender, sympathetic film that demonstrates a hopeful and optimistic view of gay dating and relationships, brought to life wonderfully by its central performances.
At its most basic level Brydie O’Connor’s Love, Barbara is an informative snapshot of Barbara Hammer’s impressive career as an artist and director. Although thanks to the involvement of Florrie, her partner of thirty years, it becomes a far more personal piece of filmmaking. As the audience learns more about Barbara, so does Florrie, by way of previously unseen pieces of her work. As viewers watch Florrie comment and respond to the art of her beloved, it reminds us that death doesn’t have to be a definitive ending. What we do in life can help us to continue to communicate with our loved ones long after we’re gone. Love, Barbara captures this with great affection.
Christopher at Sea
In this gorgeously animated short by Tom CJ Brown, a young man has an intense journey onboard a cargo ship as its only passenger. It’s crafted beautifully, capturing the radiant horizons of Christopher’s voyage in visually stunning fashion. This voyage isn’t just a physical one though, as his interactions with the male crew take him on an emotional turbulence as well. Creating this all-encompassing narrative, Christopher at Sea becomes an engaging, erotic and at times ethereal animated experience that adeptly uses its medium to convey its character’s feelings with much effectiveness.
What’s immediately eye-catching about Jim Muntisov’s self-inspired short film Gem is its gorgeous aesthetic. Its use of both 16/8mm film as well as digital creates a truly rich visual style. Its tender storytelling follows Morgan – portrayed brilliantly by Joseph Limm – who’s attempting to make sense of their shifting gender identity. Gem explores not just the difficulty that can come with understanding one’s self, but the complexities of expressing these feelings to others. Muntisov is less interested in providing a definitive solution to this, but rather offers an enlightening insight into the ongoing experience of gender fluidity.
For his job, autistic repair man Ramin spends his days fixing a range of electronics. But after an awkward encounter at a supermarket with one of its staff, he attempts to solve a problem he’s not as well equipped for: socializing. Joshua Griffin is immediately winning as Ramim and the spark he shares with co-star Ed White is delightful. As well as being endlessly charming, Bertil Nilsson’s Repair is technically sound; carrying through the film’s narrative focus on technology in its production, impressing with its editing and sound design.
Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney is the star of Abel Rubinstein’s latest short film Mars. The short, based on Yungblud’s song of the same name, sees Finney’s character Charlie torn between fitting in and embracing her true self. Despite its cosmic title, the short is far from intergalactic in location, instead taking place in Blackpool, England. Yet it imagines Charlie as an infinite space voyager as she tries to make sense of her place in the world. The film is grounded in current realities for trans folks, acutely recognizing their challenges but importantly remaining hopeful and effervescent through its script and the sincere performances of its cast.
All I Know
While it’s paramount for LGBTQ+ films to celebrate the queer community, they can also be vital tools in reminding audiences of the human rights battles that still need fighting. Obinna Onyeri’s All I Know is certainly a difficult watch as it confronts the dangers of being gay in countries where it remains criminalized. It not only conveys the severe threat of violence that queer people must endure if they wish to live authentically, but also the imposed and unjust shame that’s inherent in these settings too. Terrifying, enraging, and empathetic, All I Know is as hard to watch as it is vital to witness.
Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie
There’s a high probability that your only exposure to dissociative identity disorder or DID has come from poor representations in cinema. Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie is here to change this by following a disabled, nonbinary artist who’s just trying to thrive. Subverting harmful stereotypes and educating its audience more reliably, this short always delivers its narrative and message with a healthy dose of humor. Presented in colorful and creative fashion, director Nicole Bazuin takes the phrase “I’m thriving” from ironic self-deprecation to realistic authentic truth in just ten minutes, and it’s a joy to behold. ♦