One of the world's longest-standing film festivals, BFI Flare is now in its 34th year. Tickets are now on sale for the 2020 line-up, which runs from 18-29 March 2020 at BFI Southbank, featuring a new Xavier Dolan film, an archival ode to pre-'86 queer life and a serial killer horror from Blumhouse's Into The Dark anthology series. Here's our picks from this year's programme.
For horror fans on this side of the Atlantic, this year’s Flare Festival is giving us the rare opportunity to watch an instalment in Blumhouse Productions' (Get Out, Paranormal Activity) micro-budget anthology series Into the Dark, each by a different director. Up until this point, the Into the Dark series has been primarily exclusive to Hulu, which is only available in the US. #16 in the series, Midnight Kiss, written by Erlingur Thoroddsen and directed by Carter Smith, tells the story of a group of friends who travel to Palm Springs to celebrate the New Year, only to become the targets of a serial killer prowling the gay clubs. Horror has always been a key queer genre, so it will be interesting to see this subversion of the traditional slasher format.
BFI festivals seem to make a speciality of archive fetishism, frequently featuring docs and essay films that unearth forgotten, rare and unseen footage. Ask Any Buddy compiles vintage erotica from the sixties, seventies and eighties to present a window through which to view a lost era of gay culture, or at least the fantasies of a generation of gay men. First-time filmmaker Evan Purchell began documenting this lost era on Instagram, with daily posts of ephemera from his collection of printed material. Starting with his archive of 200 video tapes, he tracked down original copies of edited films and preserved them digitally, spending months editing the feature-length kaleidoscope of footage. Given that these films would originally have been watched in gay pornographic theatres, take the opportunity to get off Netflix and watch in a cinema, with fellow viewers, the way this and indeed all films should ideally be watched.
Claire Oakley's debut feature Make Up blends genres, winding from coming-of-age realism through psychological thriller, and ending up as queer love story. It premiered last year at the London Film Festival and is scheduled for release this summer. Teenage Ruth is staying with her boyfriend while he works the winter in an abandoned holiday park, and she becomes obsessed with evidence of another woman - a make-up smudge and long, red acrylic hair she finds in his trailer. While reminiscent of staples of contemporary British cinema such as Fishtank, Morvern Callar and My Summer of Love, Make Up is still quietly original in its examination of the way our fears and desires are often so closely connected.
This screening celebrates the 25th anniversary of this 1995 documentary, which was used upon its release to bolster the conservative organisation American Family Association’s case for the abolition of public arts funding in congress. The film explores a still rarely depicted and often misunderstood subculture within a subculture–the lesbian leather community. Director Michelle Handelman, who is now an associate professor in film and media at the Fashion Institute of Technology, is primarily a video artist and critical theorist. Bloodsisters, her only documentary, fits into a fascinating career spent uncovering hidden and forbidden narratives in queer feminist culture.
No, not Spiral, the next instalment in the Saw franchise. Not the 1998 Ringu sequel Spiral either. Nor the weird 2000 Japanese horror movie where everyone gets killed by spirals(?!). There are 67 ‘Exact Name’ matches for ‘Spiral’ on IMDB, which implies that it’s really time to name future movies something else. However, now that the word has lost all meaning, if you’re able to book the correct film, this queer take on folk horror, set in the nineties, looks promising and is generating quite a buzz. Malik and Aaron, a gay couple with a teenage daughter, move to the suburbs after a painful experience of hate crime, only to suspect that even darker forces are at play in the small town.
For some light relief from all the psychosexual tension, archive pornography and all-out slashers, Drag Kids follows children travelling from around the world to perform at a drag ball for Montreal Pride. The relatively recent explosion of drag culture into the mainstream via Ru Paul's Drag Race and YouTube make-up tutorials has inspired a generation of tweens to create their own personas and performances, but this event gave them the chance to meet others of their age who share their passion for the art form.
Queer Genius presents an opportunity to engage with the work of lesser-known or underground figures whose work has nonetheless influenced and shaped queer aesthetics. The documentary profiles filmmaker Barbara Hammer, poet Eileen Myles, performance artist Jibz Cameron (aka Dynasty Handbag) and the artists behind Black Quantum Futurism, Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa/Moor Mother. With an unspoken but deliberate move away from the notion of genius as a male domain, we're expecting this to be an inspiring watch.
Already on his eighth film aged 30, the prolific Xavier Dolan makes a speciality of psychodramas, and this latest explores the dysfunctional dynamics within a group of friends. When a friend ropes Matthias and Maxime into kissing for her student film, the event opens an emotional can of worms and causes a rift between the two young men. Dolan stars as Maxime, casting Anne Dorval to play his mother in a self-referential throwback to his 2014 film Mommy. Matthias & Maxime played at Cannes in 2019, and was featured in the London Film Festival in October, and has been generally well-received as a heartfelt and tender love story. Catch it this time around on the big screen.
The power balance and social order of an overcrowded prison is disturbed when a beautiful new inmate arrives. Set in the seventies, and based on a cult novel by Mario Cruz, The Prince is the directorial debut of production designer Sebastián Muñoz (La Llorona, Los Debutantes). With tense and violent scenes, the film explores the need for love, recognition and tenderness in a brutal and hyper-masculine environment.
Cinephiles will love this journey through trans representation on screen. As programmer Zorian Clayton notes, Disclosure would make a brilliant double bill with the highly recommended The Celluloid Closet, a seminal essay film exploring and exposing queer subtext in Hollywood movies. Trans celebrities such as Laverne Cox, the Wachowski sisters and director Yance Ford feature as talking heads, and trans stories are exposed in both obvious and unlikely places.
*As from Monday 16 March, The BFI have made the decision to cancel the the 2020 edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic.