Hearts, Minds and Bodies: BFI Flare

You want to know about one of the longest running and most respected LGBT festivals in the world? Luckily, Emma Street knows one that is starting today! In a town near you! (Assuming you live near London.)


Flare, the BFI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Film festival begins today. The festival is thirty years old this year. From any perspective, there has been plenty of change in that time. When it comes to LGBT rights, well, it was a whole different world in 1986. The mid-nineteen eighties were a pretty unforgiving, discriminatory, homophobic place when viewed from the happy shiny vantage point of 2016. We have same sex marriage now! People serving in the military no longer get sacked for not being heterosexual ! Schools don’t ban books that promote “the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

We’ve come a long way. Not that I’m taking any personal credit for the advancement of mankind since I was eleven, you understand. BFI Flare probably can take a bit of credit though. The arts have always had a hugely important role to play in social change.  And the people who have invested time directing, producing, screening and promoting films about LGBT issues for the last thirty years have shaped the world that we now live in. The organisers of Flare have every reason to be feeling pretty pleased with themselves.

To celebrate 30 years of the festival, the BFI have published a list of the 30 best LGBT films of all time. Here’s the top ten.

  1. Carol (Todd Haynes, USA 2015)
  2. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, UK 2011)
  3. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong / Japan / South Korea 1997)
  4. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA / Canada 2005)
  5. Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston, USA 1990)
  6. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand / France / Germany / Italy 2004)
  7. My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, UK 1985)
  8. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain / France 1999)
  9. Un Chant d’Amour (Jean Genet, France 1950)
  10. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, USA 1991)

Number One on the list, Todd Haynes’ Carol is being screened as part of the festival.


Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, this 2015 film stars Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as aspiring photographer Therese Belivet. The two women embark on a relationship as Carol tries to navigate her way through a difficult divorce. Her husband petitions the judge for a “morality clause” claiming that Carol’s involvement with another woman makes her an unfit mother. It’s a love story about the sort of love that in the mid twentieth century, was still classed as a mental illness.

The festival starts with Ben A Williams’ The Pass, a film about two young footballers (Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene) and ‘the pass’ that made between them in a hotel in Bulgaria the night before their first big game. It has been adapted from the stage production written by John Donnelly.

Sadly, if you want to catch The Pass at the festival, you’re all out of luck as it is currently sold out. As is Look at the Pictures, a documentary on Robert Mapplethorpe; the work-in-progress screening of Rebel Dykes and Night School an evening of BDSM related short films. But don’t worry if you haven’t booked any tickets yet, here’s a quick round-up of some of the films for which (at the time of writing) tickets are still available.

Barash (Michal Vinik)

Super-cool new girl Dana arrives at Barash’s school and Barash falls in love her with because, let’s face it, it would be hard not to. Ridiculously pretty, blue-eyebrowed confident teenage lesbians saying things like “So many girls here need us to show them the light” were pretty thin on the ground when I was at secondary school. Although to be fair, even if they had been there, I’m not sure they would have taken much notice of me.

The Chambermaid Lynn (Ingo Haeb)


After being discharged from a psychiatric hospital, Lynn works as a chambermaid at an upmarket hotel which allows her to indulge in both her desire to obsessively clean and her urge to spy on the lives of the hotel’s residents. This throws her into the path of Dominatrix sex worker, Chiara which leads to a sexual encounter of the rather kinkier kind.

Yes, We Fuck! (Raul de la Morena, Antonio Centeno)


This film is part of an ongoing project in collaboration with Spanish activist movement del Vida independiente supporting people with disabilities when it comes to matters of the heart. And genitals. Because achieving a satisfactory sex life is a tricky business at the best of times and when getting your needs seen to comes with additional accessibility requirements, well, that doesn’t help. The film’s participants are a diverse and open group of people whose sexual experiences range from those who have never intimately touched their own bodies before and those know who know exactly what they want.

Inside the Chinese Closet (Sophia Luvara)

Same sex marriages weren’t even close to being a reality at the first Flare festival. Or even the eighteenth. Civil Partnerships weren’t a thing until 2004. But now happily – in the UK at least – you can legitimately marry the person that you love and want to spend the rest of your life with regardless of the shape of their genitals. However being able to walk down the aisle with your life partner is still very much a geographical lottery.

Same sex unions are not recognised in China. Only 30% of the population are in support of same sex marriage so being young, gay and eligible in China comes with a whole load of family pressure to just buckle down and marry someone of the opposite sex regardless.

Sophia Luvara’s documentary explores the culture of “Lavender Marriages” in China where gay men and lesbians marry in order to keep their families happy. There are even “Fake Marriage Fairs” where potential sham brides and grooms can meet one another.  We meet Andy, a successful architect, who is looking for a lesbian wife and Cherry who is already married and is considering having a baby.  Not that she wants one but her mum is very insistent. “If she doesn’t have a child then who will look after her?” she asks.

It’s a sensitively handled documentary dealing with a heart-breaking subject – that of having to subjugate a fundamental part of who you are because the people around you aren’t able to deal with it. It’s a theme which, unsurprisingly, frequently features in the films shown at Flare.


There are over a hundred films being screened as part of the Flare festival. I have barely scraped the surface, here. In order to see the full line-up, check out BFI Flare‘s website.

There is almost certainly something for everyone. You want to take part in A Big Gay Film Quiz? Well then, you really should. You fancy a Sing-along version of Calamity Jane? I, for one, am not going to judge you.  Or maybe you want to see a collection of short films which includes a zombie film set in Chariots called – amazingly and groan-inducingly – Sauna the Dead. Oh go on, fill your boots.

BFI Flare runs from 16 to 27 March, showcasing the best LGBT films produced throughout the world. That’s what they do. They’ve been doing it for three decades. They’ve probably got the hang of it by now.

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