Flare film festival is a showcase of films with LGBTQ themes and for some it seems to have passed its sell–by date. Hey, these days, we have gay marriage and the Irish PM with his husband at the White House. Yet, as a diverse cavalcade of global filmmakers thronged at BFI South Bank, news came in that the Sultan of Brunei was tightening up sharia law which mandates death by stoning for gays.
Diversity has made huge strides but equality still varies hugely country to country. Britain’s biggest celebration of pink cinema retains a necessary function as a space of tolerance. Visiting delegates from some certain countries find themselves in the warm embrace of modern values of which – for the moment – they can only dream. It gives delegates pause for thought. There is many a wake up call from visiting delegates who have a daily LGBT experience from a bygone age in the UK but is daily life in certain countries.
With this in mind, sponsors, who have put money and resources into Flare, do so in the knowledge they are supporting a tolerant and inclusive set of values. With perfect timing, ally George Clooney penned a strong message to boycott the Sultanate’s posh hotels to protect the repressive new measures. Flare might be flamboyant but it retains a role as a standard bearer of progressive values.
Leading the charge for change was José which won the Queen Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It’s a rare insight into Guatemalan gay life and one of the lovers is a construction worker.
While Flare retains a key role in promoting a gay-friendly agenda in more religiously conservative countries, films this year also put a more nuanced twist on the traditional coming out schoolboy film–Giant Little Ones.
Amidst the serious task of addressing tolerance and freedom of expression, Flare certainly stuck to the brief of rainbow community celebrations. The Opening Night Party at the May Fair Hotel was a cheery, colourful and camp gathering which got proceedings off to a suitably upbeat start.
In amongst the agitprop was a varied selection of films which brought to the big screen the huge variation of the world of gay, lesbian, and trans experience. Little Miss Westie saw a trans take on – some might say takeover of – that all American institution the beauty pageant. Director Joy E Reed recognised a nod to the quirky Little Miss Sunshine, as she shines a light on the trans prom experience.
Documentary is a key part of the serious business of Flare and they lifted the lid on the ups and downs of a maiden voyage on a lesbian cruise in Monica – Loose on a cruise.
Something rather more gritty and gory was Knife + Heart, which starred French siren Vanessa Paradis in her most edgy and lesbian role to date. This was a rather daring part to accept given her longtime association with the deluxe brand as the face of Coco.
Fashion was very visible at Flare this year with the screening of Halston, a documentary about the legendary New York couturier. This small town big from Des Moines, Iowa, took the Big Apple by storm and hit the skyscraper heights of Manhattan as the go-to designer for the hedonistic set who flocked to Studio 54. He is still remembered in the Chic-produced Sister Sledge classic He’s the Greatest Dancer “Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci.”
Also putting the gay into the dance floor was a very special screening. Another most colourful of rainbow reminders of a quarter of a century ….which just slipped by….was the 25th-anniversary screening of Priscilla Queen of the desert. To present in NFT1, sporting a dramatic white shock mane of hair, was Terence Stamp who played veteran drag queen Bernadette. The Sixties hunk and heart throb’s decision to take on this rather outlandish role was a brave move at the time and the result has stood the test of time. The audience whooped and cheered their way through the antics of three drag queens who headed off into the outback in a bus called Priscilla and into cinema history.
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