The 2015 BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival featured over 100 short films across the eleven day festival. Eight short collections screenings were held as part of the festival program in addition to shorts being paired with full length features. The shorts were added to the themed category HEARTS, MINDS and BODIES.
BODIES – stories of sex, identity and transformation
Age 17 (17 Anni), Director Filippo Demarchi
A sombre short film portraying the challenges of navigating one’s sexuality at a young age, set in a small Italian-speaking Swiss village. 17 year old Matteo (Fabio Foiada) has taken a liking to a local priest Don Massimo (Ignazio Oliva), a middle-aged, intellectual man who strives to be a positive force in the lives of the people he connects with. The short film follows Matteo’s growing infatuation and repercussions of his immature decisions.
The short film sets a pensive mood with stark lighting against a picturesque setting that symbolises the entrapped feeling one might feel while trying to understand their own identity, bringing a powerful foundation to a movie that is mostly a display of this eternal struggle that all LGBT youth face. Life is an ongoing struggle between revelation and application, and what Matteo has experienced will bring him closer to what he needs, even if it hurts at first.
Boy – Director Lucas Helth Postma
Boy shows an intimate and difficult moment in the life of a young transgender boy named Emil (Laura Emilie Hancock), who was born with the sex of a female. Emil is confident of his true identity, but struggles with making his mother understand. Over the course of the preparations for and celebration of a holiday, Emil is increasingly frustrated as his mother tries to fit him into gender-norm roles, forcing him to buy a dress for the holiday as friends and family will gather together.
The film must be applauded for tackling a complex subject, with a dedicated cast that impart wonderful pathos to the proceedings. However, the intricacies and true struggles of the real life version of the film’s material feel too easily washed away after one simple conflict, making the viewer wonder how much of a conflict this really was in this family’s life. Nevertheless, unnerving handcam cinematography amps up the tension effectively, and combined with the cast’s performance, the film reaches a level worth recommending, if not necessarily praising.
Caged (Uitgesproken) – Directors Lazlo and Dylan Tonk
Caged shows a slice of life between emotionally charged young adults in The Netherlands, starting with a lap around the running track between friends David (Joel Mellenberg) and Niels (Josha Stradowski). Both accomplished athletes, David finds himself embroiled in the typical feud between testosterone-fuelled sports atmospheres and friends of alternative lifestyles.
The short film plays gay conflict at a sometimes overly simple level, but the ambiguity introduced in regards to the status of the sexual identity of Niels, and his lack of importance to the critical narrative arc of David’s emotional growth is a welcome change from the norm. Although the film makers struggle with subtlety when portraying the elements of society that make life hard for LGBT individuals, they do well to preserve the innocence and integrity of its main characters, creating a heart-warming look at the strength and resilience of true friendship.
Kids on Gender – Director Jasmine Doyle Pitt
British children are interviewed about their conceptions of gender. The answers range from the typical to the curiously insightful. One particularly precocious girl seems to have a better handle on the complexity of gender identity than most adults.
The interviewer has selected to remove themselves entirely from the proceedings, using only audio from the children, creating a spontaneous feeling as if the children naturally think about such topics. Thankfully, a wide range of children have been interviewed and recorded to leave a lasting array of answers to such questions as “What does it mean to be a boy/girl?” More of a short documentary than a film, Kids on Gender is sure to spark conversation between any audience members that view it together.
Trucker Patti – director Beau J. Genot
Trucker Patti tells the remarkable story of one trans woman and her travails from early in her life as a member of the American military. As a documentary, this films retains an earnest, warm, conversational quality to it that helps it from seeming cherry-picked, and more as an organic understanding of the plight of transgender individuals.
Almost the entire film takes place inside the cab of Patti’s semi as she drives across America, lending the proceedings an air of spontaneity that helps to reinforce the visceral nature of her confessions and prognostications. One can’t help but feel sympathy, while at the same time admiring her for her pluck and willingness to carry on and continue to embrace the true nature of her own identity.
Push Me – Director Tove Pils
Push Me captures an elegant moment of a woman tapping into her inner desires and exploring her full potential. Siri (Louise Peterhoff) is a Swedish woman who clearly longs for satisfying her fetish, a desire to engage in the dominant part of S&M. Her best friend Lee (Aleksa Lundberg) is a transgender woman who is clearly comfortable with her own sexuality, and encourages Siri to take control and act on her desires, although Lee cannot be the partner with which Siri can begin.
The two attend a S&M instruction class that is perhaps the highlight of the movie, as it tastefully and honestly portrays the care that most members of the S&M community take in understanding issues of consent while also relishing pushing the boundaries. The scene unfolds almost like an arts and crafts lesson at a local gymnasium, with all attendees caught between a mixture of shyness and eagerness as their instructor, played with delight by Zanne La Bestia, carefully leads her audience through the steps involved with safe and fun S&M play.
MINDS – reflections on art, politics and community
Bikini – Director Daniel Macintyre
Bikini is a captivating short film that makes use of archival footage of the dawn of the American surfer culture, contrasted with the nuclear arms testing on Bikini atoll, a rollicking original surf rock score, an audio track with beguiling messages, and somewhat homoerotic imagery also taken from 1950s American beach culture.
The meaning of the film is somewhat opaque, but as the reviewer, I’ll share my thoughts. It appears to be a juxtaposition of the carefree attitudes of American pop culture from the 1950s, which took place at the exact same time as much of the bomb testing that led to the development of the hydrogen bomb, without much awareness in the American public. While the Bikini atoll gave the world the name for the much appreciated women’s swimwear, it was devastated by these tests, creating an enduring symbol of the fragility and fear of our times. In the audio track, appreciation of the masculinity of one beach goer can be understood as an appreciation for American power post World War II, and the developments in the voices heard over the audio over time suggest an unnerving scenario between this muscle man and an admiring woman, which could perhaps evoke some of America’s more forceful endeavours around the world after originally being loved by many.
I Am Delighted By Your Alchemy, Turning Everything in My Kingdom to Gold – Director Karly Stark
In this short film, viewers are treated to an erotic array of imagery, of crumpled bed linens, pawing hands, and gasping pliant bodies. A doubly recurring figure of unclear gender sits pensively, lending an atmosphere to the visuals of ephemeral quality. It appears that director Karly Stark is trying to express the true nature of our scattered memories of passion, which are ripe, powerful and fleeting all at the same time. Her use of black and white cinematography also points to the typical memory of people which transcends colours, focusing instead on spurts of tense movement and release, while using many layers of film simultaneously to evoke an ethereal pace.
And evocative it is. No viewer will take away a new understanding of life or social issues from the film, as it doesn’t seek to do so. It works best connecting with our own reminiscences of passionate past loves, or even of fond memories with our current lovers, encapsulating the interplay of give and release beneath the sheets.
HEARTS – films about love, romance and friendship
An Afternoon (En Eftermiddag) – Director Søren Green
In this short film, two unnamed teenage boys who are close friends are walking home after school, and decide to hang out at one’s home as his parents are away. Inside, they watch some videos online, first looking at parkour clips that showcase extravagant male bodies, before one boy switches to an unseen video of a sexy woman, suggesting that it’s better. He’s also distracted as he chats on his phone with his friend Cecile at school. The other boy assumes that his friend and Cecile are together now, something the friend does nothing to deny. That other boy is clearly attracted to the friend chatting with Cecile, and in his frustration decides to leave his friend’s home.
The film is a relatively straightforward depiction of the awkwardness of LGBT diplomacy at a young age, and although vignettes can often capture poignant moments in the life of the main character(s), this story feels like it would’ve been better served if it was more fleshed out.
Curtains – Director Nathan Evans
Curtains, tells a sharp tale of a love triangle in the frequently incestuous workplace of stage theatre. Jason (Dave Kelly) is in a relationship with thespian Tom (Andrew Shire), and although the two seem to be blissful at first, it’s clear that there are some cracks. One day, Jason comes to Tom’s residence to find out that an important part of Jason’s schedule has been forgotten, and that Tom has spent time in bed with their mutual queer friend Julie (Sarah Louise Young). Jason tries to be understanding at first, but it’s clearly hard for him, while Tom seems to just pass the buck until a row breaks out where Tom admits that the fit of Julie’s genitalia feels good for a change, breaking down Jason’s spirit. Jason realizes that the ship has sailed, and breaks things off off-screen, confronting Julie in a futile attempt to assert his agency in the situation.
The film is fascinating in its utilization of nuance and unspoken, yet understood, events. Another credit to its favour is its willingness to forego simple sexual orientation identities, as both Tom and Julie are at first understood to be homosexual, yet clearly the situation is more complicated than that. Rather than settling for typical normed conversations of sexuality, the film endeavours and succeeds to portray the characters of the story as fascinating, complex, and fragile individuals, not bound by “type”. The cast must also be applauded for their commendable portrayal of their various characters, with only a slightly stereotypical gay theatre ringleader sticking out a bit as a sore thumb.
Mirrors – Director Neil Ely
In mirrors, two men, played by Jody Latham and Liam Boyle, meet up at a gay nightclub and share some drugs in a bathroom stall. Though strangers at first, the two hit it off immediately, sharing funny and sad stories from their lives, and both divulging their own lack of interest in their respective girlfriends. Although reluctant at first, both confess to their attraction to men, and the chemistry that had been building comes to a head with a bout of oral sex. Afterwards, their continued interactions are cut short when a bar staff knocks on the door and tells them that their time is up, causing the two to head back to the bathroom sink area, then parting ways, with one feeling much less confident than the other. An amusing coda showcases snippets of some of the other customers in the club bathroom as well, each with their own life sharply presented.
The film sets the mood of the nightclub quite well despite being limited to the confines of a bathroom, and mostly just one bathroom stall. The use of the stall, though also true to life, is clearly a metaphor for being in the closet as well. The chemistry between the two lead actors is palpable, and the attraction feels real. Director Neil Ely has crafted a compelling short narrative about the daily struggles of life as a gay man, without ever seeming cliché.
Stockholm Daybreak – Director Elin Overgaard
In Stockholm Daybreak, we see two young male friends, Alex (Tom Ljungman) and Love (David Arnesen), who’ve clearly had a long night out sharing an intimate moment as the day begins in the beautiful backdrop of the Swedish capital. The two discuss the course of their lives and especially of their loves, and playfully taunt each other, until, like the sky surrounding them, the fact of their attraction to each other dawns on both. In an ecstatic exchange, the two find themselves eventually rolling on the streets of Stockholm in each other’s arms.
The short is simple, yet unbelievably sweet in an unmistakable way. The two young lead actors feel grounded and perfectly cast for their parts, warming our hearts as they find their way to each other through their furtive glances and loaded laughs. The soundtrack features fairly typical acoustic guitar, yet still is as sweetly evocative as the events of the film, and the colours and style of the city only serve to enhance the whole.
Morning Is Broken – Simon Anderson
Morning Is Broken begins with two men enjoying the end of a wedding reception. Sam (Matthew Tennyson) expresses mixed emotions about the very concept of weddings, and Nick (Nigel Allen) heartily agrees. After the bride and groom head off for the night, Nick offers to take Sam back to his place to show him his vintage collection of machinery and vehicles, something he pursues as a hobby. Sam agrees, and two ride in a vintage car back to an idyllic English cottage. While there, Nick decides to take Sam to a pond nearby to enjoy a slow ride in a rowboat. After some flirtatious exchanges, Nick makes a move to kiss Sam, but Sam reacts with horror, falling out of the boat, swimming to shore and running away through the woods.
The film makes use of almost absurdly beautiful English backdrops, recalling many of the most classic love stories in English literature. Director Simon Anderson has, overall, crafted a tender portray of the struggle many young men go through.