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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.Mar.20

BFI Flare: Five Films for Freedom 2020
Reviews by Rich Cline | MORE BFI FLARE SHORTS >
Five Films for Freedom

The British Council and BFI Flare present a selection of shorts each year during the festival, inviting viewers from around the world to watch and share the films in solidarity with LGBTIQ+ communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited, under the tagline "Love is a human right". Over the past five years, almost 14 million people have watched these films in more than 200 nations. This year's strong selection includes dramas and docs from four countries. See also: More Films for Freedom

walker dir Nosa Eke
scr Alexandra Kessie, Nosa Eke
with Demii Lee Walker, Sophie Lovett, Sacharissa Claxton, Francesca Barker Smith, Delainey Hayles, Mona Lisa, Daniel Davids, Harrison Watson, Nathaniel Farah
19/UK 12m

Something in the Closet  

Something in the Closet This dramatic short has a gently intimate tone, as it centres on Madi (Walker), a teen who is secretly in love with a friend (Lovett), which gives her the sense that there's a monster lurking in her closet. Yes, this is because she's hiding her sexuality from everyone, and it's eating her up inside. Her anguish increases as her friends ask which boy she likes, then threaten to humiliate her. Her mother (Claxton) tries to talk to her, but she's terrified to open up. And her sense of fear only grows when she's on her own, seeing beady red eyes peering at her through the closet door slats. The metaphor is a little on-the-nose, but the story's authenticity is powerful, as Walker nicely plays out a range of conflicting emotions that are swirling in Madi's head. The film is skilfully written and shot, produced to a high standard, and it carries a strongly emotional kick.


cornally dir-scr Sarah Jane Drummey
with Bill Cornally, Mary Murray, Eric Lalor, Freddy Cornally, Lewis Kraiem, Jimmy Smith, Anne O'Donnell, James Finnegan
19/Ireland 12m


134 A dry comical attitude brings this important short to vivid life. It centres on Jack (Bill Cornally), a young boy who identifies as female and is determined to take part in an Irish dancing competition wearing in a spangly dress. Her parents (Lalor and Murray) have very different feelings about this, arguing loudly. "He's my son," Ronan screams when Christine refers to Jack as "she". Eventually, it's up to Christine to support her child, while Ronan struggles with his own feelings. And the film has a terrific sense of Jack's life, including cleverly integrated glimpses of her as an even younger child (played by Freddy Cornally and Kraiem). The title refers to Jack's competitor number, adding a subtle sense that he's not alone in the way he feels. Of course, there are plenty of boys competing, but none in dresses, and the way Christine sensitively offers compassion and assistance is remarkably moving. But both parents are on a journey in this clever little film, which is finely written, directed and acted to make its themes resonate deeply.


drummond and carvalho dir Caio Scot
scr Lucas Drummond, Mel Carvalho
with Lucas Drummond, Mel Carvalho, Charles Fricks, Alcemar Vieira
19/Brazil 15m

After That Party  
  Depois Daquela Festa     4.5/5

After That Party From Brazil, this comical short is a clever look at coming out, with a snappy script and likeable performances. Pai (Fricks) thinks it's funny that his son Leo (Drummond) and childhood friend Carol (Carvalho) hang out so much, doing things the other one hates just to be together. Leo counters by noting that his dad oddly hasn't met anyone new since becoming single. Then at a party, Leo and Carol see Pai kissing another man (Vieira). Leo is shocked, but Carol points out that he shouldn't be upset because Pai is probably just afraid to be himself. "Why would he hide something like this," Leo wonders before launching into a Google search to figure out how to talk to his dad about this. His attempts to broach the subject are hilarious, leading into a remarkably honest moment of connection between father and son. Sharply written, directed and acted in a relaxed, almost homemade style, the film is full of witty sequences that play on issues of masculinity and sexuality without falling back on the usual cliches. As a result, it's powerful and genuinely moving.


When Pride Came to Town dir Julia Dahr, Julie Lunde Lillesaeter
with Bjorn-Tore Berge, Ragnhild Berge, Anbjorn Steinholm Frislid, Roald Didriksen, Hanne-Birte Koppen, Ingeborg Matre, Anja Nas, Hans Reite
18/Norway 18m

When Pride Came to Town  
Bygdehomo   4.5/5

When Pride Came to Town Opening with the pronouncement that "Norwegians must repent or be struck by misfortune and famine", this provocative short documentary explores the clash of opinion as Norway prepares for its first small-town Pride march in 2018. It's a finely shot and edited film, maintaining an unusually balanced tone as it allows a range of people to express themselves. After a tough childhood in rural Volda, 52-year-old Bjorne-Tore moved to Oslo to escape homophobia and live openly as himself. He knows that many people go through struggles as they come out, so he decides to return home for this momentous Pride march. Meanwhile, religious leaders like Pastor Hans are leading protests and declaring eternal damnation. While saying they want to protect future generations, these people don't realise that they are merely speaking out of hate and fear. "I'm not the one passing judgement," says one parishioner, "but...." By contrast, other religious leaders are annoyed that Hans is taking lines from the Bible out of context. And Pride organiser Anbjorn speaks about trying to help people feel more accepted after decades of socially sanctioned abuse (the film's Norwegian title means "built gay"). There's a terrific sense of mixed emotions running through the film, honest feelings about where the culture is and where it has to go. The filmmakers quietly ask each interviewee to explain their opinions, bringing out surprising textures and deeper issues. So where this goes is hugely heartwarming. Especially as Bjorn-Tore is overwhelmed by the level of public support, including his flag-waving mum.


Pxssy Palace dir Laura Kirwan-Ashman
with Aidan Lewis, Arun, Bernice, Nadine
19/UK 6m

Pxssy Palace  

Pxssy Palace This warm, personal documentary packs a lot into six minutes as it explores the London-based collective Pxssy Palace, a modern-day variation on the vogueing movement of 1970s New York (see Pose). "It's more than clubbing," say the participants. "It's about a sense of community, taking care of each other." They started the group out of a frustration that going out meant feeling unsafe, so they created their own space in house parties for queer people of colour who respected each other. As these events grew, they formed a team to administrate the group and organise lively club nights, workshops and a range of other events. They also acknowledge that there are still issues that need navigating, as they work to maintain harmony amid a variety of perspectives and opinions. The film is smoothly shot and edited with a nice sense of personality, energy and vividly hued imagery. This is a brief but telling look at an important movement. Pxssy Palace is a place where people can transform, let out their inner diva and let their colours shine. And as one person says, there's no reason why the dance floor can't be educational.


More Films for Freedom 2020
Reviews by Rich Cline
Five Films for Freedom

The Men Who Speak Gayle
Free to access over the summer as part of the international Pride celebrations, these three short films were commissioned by the British Council and the BFI to explore LGBTIQ+ stories. They're ambitious shorts made by UK filmmakers in partnership with locals in Palestine, South Africa and Syria. Like the Five Films for Freedom, they will screen over a limited time only (one month each) before heading to festivals around the world.

Nowhere dir-scr Christopher Manning
with Mouna Hawa, Murad Hassan, Gil Weiss, Sana Jammalieh, Emad Housary, May Jabareen
release 15.Jun-14.Jul.20 #MoreFilmsForFreedom
20/UK 21m


Nowhere Strikingly well-shot on location, this dramatic short has a doc-style urgency that elevates its deeper themes. It's also performed with raw honesty by a terrific cast. The story centres on Azhar (Hawa), a young Palestinian fleeing an arranged marriage. She gets her friends to smuggle her across the border into Israel, abandoning her headscarf to avoid problems, then meets her friend Laila (Jammalieh) and continues onward to find her big brother Daher (Hassan), who left home five years ago. But Daher has a new life, a job in a restaurant and an Israeli flatmate Uri (Weiss). It doesn't take Azhar long to work out that they're actually a couple, and she has a lot of questions.

Beautifully produced, the film highlights the perilous position of Palestinians in Israel, living without options in either their family life or society at large. Azhar is in danger, because travelling around the country is illegal for her. But for both Azhar and Daher, returning to their tyrannical father is even scarier. Manning's astute writing and direction include a gentle sense of real-life humour and a mostly understated approach to urgent themes. A frank conversation between Azhar and Daher highlights a range of issues that are deeply shocking. Sadly, they're unable to help each other beyond offering words of support and hoping that each finds a way to either escape or endure a miserable, potentially perilous, life. It's a provocative, moving, eye-opening film.


The Men Who Speak Gayle dir Andrew Brukman
scr Nathan Kennedy
with Nathan Kennedy, Louis van Brakel
release 15.Jul-14.Aug.20 #MoreFilmsForFreedom
20/UK 11m

The Men Who Speak Gayle  

The Men Who Speak Gayle With echoes of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, this short documentary centres on drag performers in rural South Africa, opening with a fabulous man in a frock walking into a dusty town muttering, "It's too whelma in this desert for this lolly!" Gayle is a secret language invented in the gay community because homosexuality was illegal under Apartheid. The drag queen is Nathan, and as he prepares to put on a show in this town, he's looking for someone else who speaks Gayle. He's delighted to meet Louis, who agrees to appear with him in the show.

Filmmaker Brukman tells this story organically, letting these men reveal themselves on-camera, telling their stories and revealing their true selves through drag. It's sharply well shot and edited, packing a lot into 11 minutes. The conversations between Mason and Louis bristle with big issues both men have faced over the decades. Louis is an older white man, Nathan is younger and mixed-race, but they share this earthy slang that was designed to conceal their sexuality if anyone might be eavesdropping. It also allowed them to live life more fully during a terrible time in history. By contrast today, the whole town gathers excitedly for Nathan's show, warmly embracing the colourful performance. And rather a lot more men speak Gayle than people realise. By the way, whelma means hot, and lolly means wig.


Let My Body Speak dir-scr Madonna Adib
with Madonna Abib
release 15.Aug-14.Sep.20 #MoreFilmsForFreedom
20/UK 10m

Let My Body Speak  

Let My Body Speak Writer-director Madonna Adib takes the audience on a lyrical autobiographical exploration of her life as reflected in her physicality. The film opens as she speaks about her years as a child in Damascus, getting in trouble for being late to school and for smiling at the wrong people. Harshly disciplined by her teacher, she was regularly called a tomboy and told she wasn't doing things right. Feeling panicky and angry when puberty arrived, she struggled to accept social ideas like shaving her armpits. And she filled the space of her desire for women by sleeping with a lot of men. After the revolution, her only possession was her body, and she listened to it, falling in love with a woman.

In voiceover narration, Adib discusses things her body knows and remembers, and how it reminds her who she is. Her off-camera voice is accompanied with beautifully shot images of life in Syria, including old photos and home movies of a colourful childhood, as well as her military service. These scenes are punctuated with a series of papers and identity cards, plus extreme closeups of her body. It's a striking collage-like approach, gentle and introspective, with an almost confessional quality that's both elemental and deeply involving.


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