This was my first time covering the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival and it was an exciting opportunity for me to open my eyes more to films made and presented from an entirely new perspective. I watched 9 films in total, ranging from documentaries to coming-of-age dramas, and in the following article I will be doing a brief round-up and what I thought of each film watched.

Film #1 - Jump, Darling

Director: Phil Connell
Cast: Cloris Leachman, Thomas Duplessie, Linda Kash
Synopsis: A rookie drag queen, reeling from a break-up, escapes to the country, where he finds his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home.

The dynamic between Thomas Duplessie and Cloris Leachman is what makes Jump, Darling a pleasure to sit through, providing the film with a resonating emotional heartbeat. There isn't particularly a lot of depth to the film but Phil Connell ensures what we do get is a really sweet story of finding your feet and reconnecting with an elderly relative through a really sharp script. 

Film #2 - Mama Gloria 

Director: Luchina Fisher
Cast: Gloria Allen
Synopsis: Meet Mama Gloria. Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen, now in her 70s, blazed a trail for trans people like few others before her. Emerging from Chicago’s South Side drag ball culture in the 1960s, Gloria overcame traumatic violence to become a proud leader in her community. Most famously, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender people that served as inspiration for Chicago playwright Philip Dawkins’ hit play Charm.

An insightful documentary about an inspirational figure I didn't know anything about, making for an educational time in the company of someone who has done a hell of a lot for those in her community. Well worth a watch if, like me, you are unaware of the journeys people like this have to go through to have their voice heard. 

Film #3 - The Greenhouse

Director: Thomas Wilson-White
Cast: Jane Watt, Rhondda Findleton, Kirsty Marillier
Synopsis: Grieving the death of her mother Lillian, Beth Tweedy-Bell wakes one night to find a portal to the past in the forest surrounding her family home. Swept away by visions of her idyllic upbringing with her three siblings and two loving Mums, Beth becomes mesmerized by the past, unable to see the dangers that lie ahead.

The Greenhouse had an interesting setup and I was with it for a while but then it lost me by the end, proving that messing around with time travel can come back to bite you with a bit of a vengeance. I have to applaud the ambition of the film though, even if the execution isn't quite right to pull it off with flying colours.

Film #4 - My First Summer

Director: Katie Found
Cast: Markella Kavenagh, Maiah Stewardson
Synopsis: 16-year-old Claudia has grown up in isolation from the outside world. Stranded on a remote property after her mother's death, she is shocked when Grace, a spirited local teen, appears in the garden like a mirage, a breath of fresh, sugary air. The pair find in each other the support, love and intimacy they need, and teach each other the restorative power of human connection. But their idyllic peace is a fragile one as the adult world closes in and threatens their secret summer love.

One of my favourite films watched at BFI Flare, My First Summer is a sweet and tender exploration of the innocence of youth threatened by an outside world, that world being adults. Markella Kavenagh and Maiah Stewardson are really great together as the pair who form a friendship that turns into more, Katie Found showing a deft touch that allows the film's core relationship to feel so genuine. Suicide is a looming subject matter over the film too and Found handles it incredibly well.

Film #5 - Cured

Director: Patrick Sammon, Bennett Singer
Cast: Harry Adamson, Gary Alinder, Irving Bieber
Synopsis: "Cured" takes viewers inside the campaign that led to a pivotal yet largely unknown moment in the struggle for LGBT equality: the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

It's hard to watch Cured without getting enraged by the fact these feelings were so prominent in our world not too long ago, and still prominent in some areas of the world to this day. A lot is packed into this documentary, which might not suit some people however, I feel it makes it more impactful and, like Mama Gloria, a must watch. 

Film #6 - Cowboys

Director: Anna Kerrigan
Cast: Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight
Synopsis: A troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife runs off with his trans son into the Montana wilderness after his ex-wife's refusal to let their son live as his authentic self.

My personal favourite from BFI Flare, Anna Kerrigan's Cowboys features a fine performance from Steve Zahn as a doting father, willing to let his trans son be whoever he wants to be even if it means going on the run to do so. The relationship between the father and son drives the film towards a really satisfying finale with some touching and funny moments along the way, Sasha Knight delivering a very good debut performance alongside Zahn.

Film #7 - Firebird

Director: Peeter Rebane
Cast:  Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii, Diana Pozharskaya
Synopsis: At the height of the Cold War, a love triangle between a junior officer, his best friend and a handsome fighter pilot enters dangerous territory.

Firebird features a forbidden love amidst a Cold War backdrop that is beautifully performed by Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorodnii, while being an incredibly appealing film visually thanks to Mait Mäekivi's cinematography. It does run out of steam by the time it reaches a conclusion and I feel subtitles with the film not spoken in the English language could have provided the film with a bit more authenticity.

Film #8 - Dramarama

Director: Jonathan Wysocki
Cast: Anna Grace Barlow, Nico Greetham, Megan Suri, Nick Pugliese, Danielle Kay
Synopsis: In 1994, a closeted teen struggles to part ways with his 4 high school drama friends at their final murder mystery party before they leave for college.

I had a hard time taking to Dramarama in all honesty. Found the characters too irritating and the constant pop-culture references started to do my head in as they were being fired out left, right and centre.  So much so that I lost any interest in the plot and didn't really care with whatever issues this group of friends were facing.

Film #9 - Sweetheart

Director: Marley Morrison
Cast: Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith
Synopsis: A socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager named AJ is dragged to a coastal holiday park by her painfully 'normal' family, where she becomes unexpectedly captivated by a chlorine smelling, sun-loving lifeguard named Isla.

Hardly breaks the mould with a teenage girl who sees herself as an outsider in her own family forced to spend a holiday with them at a coastal holiday park. What it does do is deliver some good performances and a narrative that, may seem by-the-numbers, but it's done well enough to certainly remain watchable. The main character was a tad irritating which made it quite hard to connect with her on a more complex level however, Nell Barlow does well in her first lead role.


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